Struggling with an important decision? Use this simple yet powerful tool to hack your decision making process

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“It’s two great options.” My coachee sighed. “Gosh, I really don’t know what to do, Kathrin! I know, it’s a luxury problem to have, but which one is the better offer? They’re so hard to compare. What would you do if you were me?” I never answer this question, for one simple reason: It doesn’t matter what I would do. Because I am not her. What’s right for me might be entirely wrong for someone else. Of course I have an opinion. But expressing my personal preference could make matters worse. So what do I do in these situations? Well, fortunately I have something else I’m about to share with her.

It’s interesting how at times we struggle with decision making, especially since we actually are decision machines! The average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions per day, most of which are made by our subconscious self, by the patterns and habits that we’ve built up over our lifetime. Our emotions and our intuition speak a clear language, and thanks to past experiences, our brain is used to quickly navigating us through different scenarios without any involvement of the left brain.

But what if the decision at hand is complex and needs rational involvement? What if it touches many different aspects of your life all at once and triggers different internal responses? We’ve all been there! Running in circles, with your hair on fire, not knowing what to do. I believe I have a fairly good intuition, but the primeval parts of our brains sometimes trigger false emotions of fear, greed or anxiety that can cloud our judgement – especially if we misinterpret it as our gut talking to us. Therefore, in some situations it is necessary to also apply rational logic and focused thinking and prioritizing to make solid decisions.

This was definitely the case for me about 4 years ago, when I was about to make a very important decision: to leave Europe and work on building my international business acumen. But into what scenario? What country? What setup? The situation included both personal and professional decision drivers, and as you can imagine, it was highly emotionally loaded. I was overwhelmed by all the different factors that seemed to play into it.

So I developed a tool. With excel.

Anyone who has ever reported to me will likely burst out laughing right now. I have a certain reputation of trying to summarize business scenarios in tables. My nickname amongst my peers was the “German Engineer” – you get the idea. Well, I created a spread sheet. One that would incorporate different goals and values and combine that with the ability to give them different weight and importance, and then ranking each possibility carefully, item by item. In the end, it summarizes each one of your options into one number: a percentage of perfection. Easy to compare. Bringing a complex situation down to a clear overview that helps you create order in the messy world of your head..

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It really isn’t rocket science, but since it has massively helped me in assessing different scenarios and making a solid decision that turned out to be game changing for my personal and professional life, I started sharing this with job candidates and coachees in situations that called for decisions that they were overwhelmed with. With great feedback! People tell me it simplifies the decision making process, looking and assessing all angles before coming to a conclusion. I’m sharing it with all of you who might be in a similar situation, caught between options. Before you download a version of this though, I do want to spend some time on explaining the homework involved.

Step 1) Envision yourself in 3 years from now! This might be the funnest part of the process, although it may take a while to get into the mood. Try to clear your mind from all worries or emotions, close your eyes and let the pictures flow in. If you get to design your situation, your job, your life, your setup – what exactly would that look like? Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? How much time do you spend doing what? What is your income? Your title? Or is that even important to you? Try to look at this situation like a movie of a future self. Then open your eyes and think: What are the tangible things that need to happen in your life in order to get there? What are really nice to have’s, what are non-negotiables? And how do you need to grow to get there?

Step 2) Define your decision drivers, and think about their importance! These can be as many as 10 or as little as 2, but make sure that you collect all that matter to you. If you use it to evaluate job offers, these are the decision drivers that most of my candidates had in there somewhere: Starting salary, benefits, and perks, position title, decision-making autonomy, challenge of tasks, access to professional development, company/industry growth, promotion potential, commute, work environment, co-workers, direct manager, values of executive leadership, corporate culture.

This process is critical, as you will rank your options against all of these factors individually. Some of these might actually be conflicting. Which ones are most important in regards to where you want to go and who you want to be? How much weight do you give them? Which areas overrule others?

Step 3) Download my decision making matrix! Then take down the decision drivers and assign a weight to each of them, anything from 1 as in barely important to 10 meaning non-negotiable. Spend some time with this and look the over several times until you feel like it really represents your values and their importance to you. I have pre-filled the sheet with some of the things I keep hearing, but your drivers might include much more emotional or complicated scenarios.

Step 4) Rank option by option, goal by goal! Include the ‘null’ option, where you stay where you are. Try to see each option only through the lens of the very specific perspective you are ranking it on. Make sure that the rankings make sense if you compare them to each other. For example, is option 2 really a 6 or should it be lower compared to option 3?

Step 5) Compare your final scores, your PoPs, “percentages of perfection”! The spread sheet is designed to calculate a percentage, include your weighting, and give you one number per option. Now. Do you like what you see? Does it surprise you? Does it make sense? Play with it, if you feel like it. Is option 2 not more attractive? Try to change the weight for some of the things you were unsure about and check the results. But be honest with yourself – is it true? Is compensation really not important, or did you just feel like you had to weigh that low? Or high?

Nice work! I hope this exercise has given you some more perspective on your situation. Of course, this tool won’t provide ultimate answers. This is not necessarily its purpose. The answer lies not only in the sheer percentage points it provides, but in the process of feeding it with information and checking your own reaction to some of the information it will throw at you.

Happy decision making everyone! And please let me know your feedback in the comments!




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