The method for good decisions

Being good at making decisions is an important skill, both personally as professionally. What house to buy, what job to pick, what candidate to hire. Ironically, humans aren’t good decisions makers. A good decision is one you would make in a year, with the same information you have now.

And that’s exactly the key to making a good decision: information. What do you want, know, feel and expect about the upcoming choice? Once all information is gathered, you can sum it up, prioritize and even score it. As always, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Let me explain how I do this, hoping this helps you too.

I’m currently thinking about my next step professionally. I’ll explain my method using this as an example. It goes without saying that you can use this method for any decision.

It all starts with a simple excel sheet (❤ excel). I made a sheet for us as a template, check it out. Feel free to copy it. Keep it open while reading forward.

Screenshot Tab A

Tab A is my example about a new job , which I’ll use for now. Tab B is an example about a hiring decision. Here’s a step by step guide on how to use it:

  1. Gather all information: what do you want, know, feel and expect? Brainstorm about all the variables in play. Put all of them in column A in random order. Try to cover everything: practical stuff like money and working hours, but also abstract stuff you care about. Stuff like hierarchy, communication or the brand. Just write everything down, you can strike later if needed. Note: this is the most important step, don’t hold back on your list.
  2. Prioritize information. Which variable is most important to you? Start with your top 3 and go from there. Prioritize by comparing and challenging your variables: is X more important then Y, and why is that? Put number 1 on top, number 2 beneath etcetera. Would you go for the job if had your 2 and 3, but not your 1? Why? Try to challenge your intentions behind it. Is money important to you? If it is, that’s okay, just be honest about it.
  3. List all your options. Write down all your options in row 1. In this example these might be concrete offers, vacancies or even just companies you like.
  4. Score. Give every variable at every option a rating. I like a 5 point scale, but go nuts. You’ll notice you can’t give a clear rating for every variable, that’s okay. This means you lack information, so have to fill that gap by gathering more info before you make a decision.
  5. Sum up all the scores per option. This will give you a total score per option under every column. Tadaa, your best option scores the highest.
  6. Bonus: weigh in your priorities by adding a simple formula the sheet. Look at tab 3 in the example. I don’t want my 5 on ‘travel time’, to weigh in as much as my 5 on ‘challenging job’. So I add a column and multiply my high priorities by 2, middle by 1.5 and low by 1. This way my highest priorities weigh in the most on the total sum.

You’re done, nice work! In this example, the ‘Boomboomboom’ option won clearly, so I would have confidence to go for this option. When still in doubt, try shuffling with the priorities, scores and variables.

Wrapping up, this is why I think this is so powerful:

  • It quantifies things.Your gut without guidance is a bad advisor. With this method you quantify your gut.
  • You can challenge your own reasoning.
  • It’s easier to spot and fill information gaps.
  • It forces you to make hard choices in terms of priority.
  • It’s easier to ask for help on making a decision with a filled in excel sheet. Let someone play devils advocate and challenge your on you scores and priorities. ‘So if your new job would have point 1, but not 2, would you want it’?
  • Explaining your decision later will be a lot easier if you’ve done this first. Handy when it comes to a job interview.

Currently part of People Ops at Google. Formerly head of HR at Blendle. Opinions our my own.