Improve Your Decision-Making Part 2: Tools

In part 1, we talked about how to reduce the number of decisions you make so that you can conserve your cognitive resources for the decisions that actually matter.  In part 2, the focus is on approaches you can use to actually make decisions.  These tools are simple and "obvious," but how often do we intentionally use them to help us arrive at a decision more quickly?  The simplicity is kind of the point: these tools are checklists that prevent us from expending brain power on how to decide, so that we have more energy for the actual decision itself.

Criteria Screen

This one often happens naturally so it's sort of cheating to list it, but it can make things so much easier if you haven't already used it. It can be handy as an intermediate choice to reduce the number of options. 

  1. List the criteria that the options must meet to be considered.  If you want, you can list "must-have" and "nice-to-have" criteria, but the must-haves are the ones that matter.  
  2. Compare each option against the list of criteria.
  3. Immediately strike any options that don't meet the must-have criteria.

Weighted Decision Matrix

This approach works well when there are a lot of options to consider and/or many criteria to be considered.  It helps to use a spreadsheet for this to calculate the formulas.  This approach can be helpful if it feels like the decision is overwhelming or you want to be as analytical and detached as possible in making the decision.

  1. List the criteria/features.
  2. Assign each criterion or feature a weight of .1 to 1.  
  3. Consider each option individually and give it a score of 1 to 10 for each criterion, with 10 being best/more desirable and 1 being low/less desirable. (This means, for example, that if low cost is a criterion, then lower-priced options would get higher ratings.)  This score can be relative to the other options or based on a range.
  4. Calculate the score for each option as the sum of the weight x the score for each criterion.
  5. Choose the highest score or eliminate the lower scores from further consideration if you need to further analyze the options.

Effort/Impact Grid

This is approach is very simple and can be done as a quick exercise on the whiteboard during a team meeting to quickly compare options.  It could also be done as a spreadsheet, but there is something very powerful about seeing it on a grid.  This method works well for 4 to 10 options.  If you have more than 10, it's probably better to go with the Weighted Decision Matrix.

  1. Make a grid on paper or on a whiteboard, with one axis as effort (low/medium/high) and the other as impact (also low/medium/high).
  2. If needed, quickly discuss what qualifies as low, medium, or high, such as number of weeks, amount of budget, number of people who will benefit, etc.  In most cases, though, it's not necessary to be that precise because it's just relative.
  3. Write each option on a separate sticky note.
  4. Place each sticky note on the grid according to its relative effort and relative impact compared to the other options.Focus on the options that have the highest impact for the lowest effort.

90% Rule

This incredibly simple approach comes from Greg McKeown's book Essentialism and can be used to consider a single decision or to quickly eliminate options from a list.
"As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100.  If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it."  

Paired Comparison

This approach isn't that common because it doesn't taken into account the features of each option, but it can be used to shorten a list of options or to identify the best of many similar options.  

  1. Identify all of the options to be considered and label each one with a different letter.
  2. Create a chart with the options and their letters listed in the first column and across the first row.
  3. Consider each square in turn, and decide which option is superior.
  4. Write that option's letter in the box.  
  5. Repeat the process for every pairing.
  6. Total up the number of times each letter is listed.The highest total indicates the strongest option.

Related posts