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Our lives are full of decisions. Where shall we go for lunch? What movie shall we see this weekend? Which job should we take? Should we go back to school? Or start our own business? And the list goes on.
For most of us, the bigger the decision, the more difficult it is to make. After all there’s not much riding on which movie we rent. If we make the wrong decision what do we lose? A couple of bucks and a little bit of time.
Other choices – like changing jobs or opening a business – can change our life. Dramatically. If we make the wrong decision it can set us back strategically, financially and emotionally. Anyone who’s been there can tell you, it’s the difference between gaining momentum and grinding to a screeching halt.
So what can you do to help ensure you’re making the right decision? Lots of people still rely on the old Pros and Cons method. You know the routine, make two columns, list all the Pros on one side, and list the Cons on the other. While this approach is better than flipping a coin, it’s not the best way to make a major decision.
When you’re faced with a life-changing decision, using the Criteria method will help you clarify your thinking. This is a step-by-step process that involves evaluating your options based on whether or not they meet your Criteria. Yes, this method takes more time than listing Pros and Cons. But, it’s easier to make the right decision 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:
When you’re doing this exercise, try to list the 10 to 20 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.
|Job is close to home
|One-hour train commute
|Forty-five minute drive
|Salary, $40,000 (or more)
|Yes, after one year
|Yes, after three years
|Yes, boss is great
|Yes, boss is great
|Room for advancement
|Yes, they promote from within
|Yes, open due to promotion
|Casual dress code
|Have time to spend with family
|40+ hour week, some weekends
|35 hour week, most people leave by five
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. But, the pace and 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 you live in a small town you may not be able to find a high-salaried position close to home. If you’re changing careers you may have to take a pay cut. You need to keep your long-range goals in mind.
Making decisions isn’t easy. The higher the stakes, the more difficult it is to make up your mind. The next time you’re facing any major decision try using the Criteria method. You have a better chance of making the right decision once you’ve established what you want.