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  • Writer's pictureJon Mechan

How to Make Tough Decisions

There are lots of clever decision-making frameworks out there. A friend asked me the other day about making a career decision so I thought I'd write a little bit about one of them.

I'll use the example today of this career decision and with some minor adjustments this approach could be used for any decision where it would be worth spending a bit of time on analysis.

Assess the Status Quo

The first step is to take a look around and make sure you're analyzing your current situation well. Often when you're in the weeds of your day-to-day it's hard to be truly objective. Taking a step back can help to create clarity. If you're able to take a break away from your usual space to do this, it can be very helpful.

So, taking this career decision example, do the following:

  • Do an energy audit - write two lists - the things about your current situation that give you energy, and the things that drain you of energy.

  • Write a list of what you spend your time doing in an average week or month, with rough percentages if you can.

  • List out any other factors, both positive and negative, such as work arrangements flexibility, salary or benefits, or any other motivating factors. For example, if you're considering a move from a technical role to a management role, how important is it to you that you're still involved in the technical aspects? Is that something that motivates you?

Research the Options

Once you've got a view on your current circumstances, it's time to look at the opportunity in front of you. If you're looking at multiple roles, repeat this for each one.

  • Look at the job description for the new role. Then check it with reality by talking to the current incumbent if possible, and others in similar roles (ideally in the same organization if you can). The aim here is to establish what the job is really like, including uncovering any 'hidden' elements. There are always some things you have to do that aren't listed in a job description. If it's an external move or to a different department or division, do some research into the culture of the new place.

  • Do another energy audit - this time list out what you anticipate will be the energy givers and drainers based on your research.

  • Use the information you've gathered to create a rough list of what you'll be spending your time doing, similar to the current analysis.

  • Again, list out other factors, such as potential pay increase, different career pathing opportunities, perhaps a different bonus or share options scheme.


One-way vs two-way decisions

One other thing to consider is whether this is a one-way or two-way decision. If this is an internal opportunity, could you negotiate taking it for a 6 month trial period and if you don't like it or if it doesn't line up with what you expected, is there a path back to your old role? I've talked before about experimentation - is this an opportunity to experiment and do something new temporarily before committing for the longer term?


One Way

Compare and Contrast

Now you have your assessments of both the present and the future that you can compare side-by-side. Have a look at the three pairs of lists you've created and take some time to think about it. You should have enough information to have a reasonable picture of what the pros and cons are of sticking with the status quo or taking the new role.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will the new role have more, better or larger energy givers? What about drainers?

  • Would you be spending your time doing the things you enjoy? Does the new role fulfill more or new motivators for you?

  • For the other factors, are any of these really significant? Do any of these outweigh any loss of motivators? It's all very well if the new role pays more but that doesn't help if you're miserable doing the actual day-to-day work required.

Talk it all through with a loved one, trusted friend or colleague, or a coach. Give it time for your subconscious to work away at it for a little bit, before making your final decision.

Tell me - what big decisions are you facing right now? Would doing an analysis like this help?

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