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TET #003: The One Tool for Better Decision Making

Aug 20, 2022

Today I will walk you through the process of making better decisions using a decision log.

Making decisions is usually a huge part of our job and life. It is arguably THE highest leverage activity we can perform.

Unfortunately, many people don't think of decision making as a skill, something that can be learned. And so they don't put in the effort to get better at it. Let's fix this!

Making Better Decisions Can Be Learned

How often do you struggle with making a decision? How often did you:

  • State the problem clearly?
  • Consider more than one alternative?
  • Think about outcomes and their probabilities?
  • Take all of the complexities into account?

We all know that making a decision can be nerve wracking and at times exhausting. But it doesn't have to be.

Here’s how.

Enter the Decision Log

What is a decision log? It is a place, where you keep track of all the important decisions you have made. Whether a decision is important is highly subjective, but usually you don't want to keep track of your lunch choices here.

The log keeps a record for each decision and prompts you to think about various aspects governing the decision. Whether you use pen & paper, or a digital version is entirely up to you.

Here is what that looks like.

Follow the Prompts to Make Better Decisions

Keeping a log levels your decision making game up. Not keeping a log is regressive.

Let me walk you through the layout that I have build over the past years.

1. State the Actual Decision

For each decision that you encounter, create a new record starting with the time and date. Next, you state the actual decision (ex. Should we spend the next 3 month exploring this new technology?).

2. Base it on Your Current Situation

Now base the decision in your current situation, providing more context (ex. With our current solution we are forced to fix issues regularly, distracting us from working on more important things.).

3. Capture Your Current Mood

Since you are the one making the decision you should also capture your current mood - are you making a decision while being overly excited? Or haven't you slept the last couple of days? You want to record that as well.

4. State the Problem

Next, state the problem (ex. Since we are fixing issues all the time, dedicating another 3 months on something with unclear outcomes is as big ask.) as well as other variables governing the situation (ex. We need to hire additional people or Holiday season is just around the corner.).

5. Think About the Complexities

Then think about all the complexities you may face (ex. What if the new technology is more complex to integrate than we had assumed? What if takes more than 3 months?)

6. Consider Multiple Alternatives

One mistake when making decisions is to only think that there are two options: A or B. But that is often not true, if we only spend some time coming up with more options. By listing all the alternatives considered (and why they were NOT chosen) you force yourself to come up with more options. (ex. Also looked at technology X, but it is no longer maintained).

7. Think About Outcomes and Probabilities

Based on the previous inputs you can now think about the outcomes and their probabilities (ex. Technology helps us - 67%, Technology proves completely unusable - 12%). This requires you to quantify your thinking around these options and helps you choose.

And then.. you make the decision and document it.

Close the Feedback Loop and Reflect

Once all the logging work is done and the decision is made you get to go on with this fun part. All the decision documentation would be useless without getting feedback on how good the decision actually was.

So 3-6 months AFTER you have made the decision you want to revisit your log record and reflect on what ACTUALLY has happened. Why things may have turned out completely different and what you can learn from it.

If you haven't used any structured approach to decision making yet, this should greatly improve your skills over time. The log provides accountability and the underlying process will ensure you will improve your decision making skill. But don't stop here, make it yours and add other prompts you find helpful.

Get the Decision Log Template

We have prepared a free template which you can use to document and reflect on your decisions. You can download it from here.


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