How to Use a Decision Matrix to Figure Your Life Out

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A few years back I was feeling really confused about which direction to take my life. I was coming to the end of my second contract in Nicaragua and unsure whether to stay or go, and if I went, whether to go somewhere new or head back to Canada. And if I went back to Canada, did I attempt to remain in International Development and head to a city in the East, or head back to Calgary and pursue another direction? And on and on.

The sheer scope of possibility was exhausting me. There really is such a thing as too many choices! Especially when they all have something good to offer.

My bestie had the brilliant idea to utilise a tool she had learned in business school that’s generally used to determine the viability of an idea.

Enter: the decision matrix.

It’s simple to use and even if you don’t want to “abide” the decision it spits out, it’s great for giving you a real indication of how you feel and a logical place from where to make your decision alongside those feelings.

Here’s what one might look like:

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As you can see, you place all of your decisions in the left column. Whatever ideas are rolling around in your head and clouding your ability to move forward, put them here. Don’t disillusion yourself; put them ALL here, even the ones you don’t think you’d actually choose.

Then across the top you put all of your personal values or priorities. Anything that’s weighing into the decision or at all or that you think should weigh into the decision. You can see for me those things might include finances and a work/life balance. In other iterations it included things like establishing roots and my dog’s safety. You’ll have to decide what makes sense for you!

Now, without overthinking it (that’s important), you ascribe each box a number between 1 and 3, depending on the certainty or excellence of the option.

1 = very uncertain; not great; unlikely

2 = unsure; okay; possible

3 = certain; great; very likely

So for example, quitting your job to write a book might rate a 1 in terms of financials but a 3 in terms of long-term goals. Or getting a second job might rate a 3 in terms of financials but a 1 or 2 in terms of work-life balance.

Again, don’t overthink them, just go with your gut. Then total everything at the end. Then list them from highest number downward.

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IN THEORY, this would give you the logically best options for you.

OF COURSE, this is not a flawless system so please don’t just jump into the next major life decision based on this system alone. But DO use it as a measuring stick.

How do you feel about the results? Is there something you think that’s skewing the reality one way or another that makes you uncomfortable? Did something end up at the top that really surprised you and could maybe use a closer look?

I really found this useful when I couldn’t get so many swirling options out of my head. At the very least, the exercise of creating a decision matrix let my mind relax knowing it had listed out all of the options and what essentially amounts to a simple and sophisticated pro and con list (Rory Gilmore would be so proud).

Have you ever done anything like this, friends? Could you see yourself using a decision matrix to help you figure out something in your life?

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