Making a decision

Forget about using a list of pros and cons to make your next decision

Every day we’re faced with decisions. What to wear? What to have for lunch? And occasionally we’re presented with a biggie like should we go back to school and, if we’re lucky, which job we should accept?

Little decisions are easy. There’s not much riding on what we order for lunch unless we’re dining with a new client. But, then knowing you should opt for the Cobb salad instead of the spaghetti marinara is pretty easy.

Other choices - like returning to school or opening a business – have the ability to radically change our life. In those cases it’s essential to make the best decision possible. It may be the difference between gaining momentum and grinding to a screeching halt.

Many people use the tried and true method of making a list of pros and cons. You know the drill, list the plusses on one side the negatives on the other. The side with more entries is the winner.

While this involves putting some thought into your decision making, it’s not the best way to make a major decision.

Establishing Priorities

When you’re faced with a life-changing decision using a criteria-based procedure can help to clarify your thinking. This is a step-by-step process that involves evaluating your options based on how important they are to you. Or whether or not they meet your criteria.

This method takes a little more time. But it’s easier to make right decision for you when you know what you really want.

The first step in the Criteria process is to establish what is most important to you. Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to decide between two jobs. Start by making a list of everything you’re looking for in your next position. Your list might look something like this:

  1. Short commute
  2. Salary, $50,000 (or more)
  3. Tuition Reimbursement
  4. Flexible schedule
  5. Room for advancement
  6. Casual dress code
  7. Spend time with family

When you’re doing this exercise, try to list the 10 to 15 things that you feel are most important. This is your criteria.

The next step is to evaluate your options. Compare the features of each position to your wish list to see which best meets your Criteria. Using a chart like the one below may make this easier.

Making the Decision

Now you’re ready to begin making your final decision. Having everything written down will make it easier to weigh your options.

Looking at the chart you can see that Job A has a higher salary and the company offers tuition reimbursement sooner. However, the lack of a flexible schedule combined with the longer commute may leave you little time to spend with your family. Still, you can go back to school sooner and study on the train. And you may be able to negotiate telecommuting one day a week.

Be realistic when establishing your criteria. If it’s important to you to get your college degree you may want to take a job that offers tuition reimbursement sooner. Just make sure you check their pay-back policy. If spending time with your family is one of your key goals the lack of a flexible schedule may be a deal breaker. When making any decision you need to keep your long-term goals in mind.

Making major decisions isn’t easy. The higher the stakes - changing jobs or leaving to start your own business – make it more difficult. The next time you are presented with a major decision try using the criteria method. Once you establish a list of what’s most important you there’s a better chance you will make a decision that will make you happy.

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