Making tough decisions is by definition — tough. One strategy that I’ve found to work for me is something I picked up from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. In it, Franklin writes about creating a standard “pros and cons” list. But Franklin takes it one step further by assigning values to his pros and cons. The values would represent their magnitude of importance. Finally, he would cross out the pros and cons whose values offset each other. I’ve used this decision making process many times in my life and business. Particularly when I don’t have months to mull an important decision over. I’ve also advocated this approach for my clients with success.
I provide young professionals and small business owners with high-touch financial planning and coaching. This means that I often find myself helping with making tough decisions surrounding their businesses and careers. Indeed some of my clients value that aspect of our work more than the actual financial planning! Many times the ultimate decision doesn’t come down to what strictly makes the most financial sense. Rather it comes down to clarifying my clients’ core values and vision for their life or business.
An excellent way to do this is by stealing a page out of Franklin’s playbook and creating his souped-up pro-con list. I most recently used this to evaluate a piece of software I was thinking about buying for my business. I found the decision to be difficult because it would be replacing software I currently use in my business. It’s also a brand new product so it doesn’t have a long time test track record.
The reason I tackled this particular problem using the Franklin method is that as a small business owner, I don’t have all day to think about whether or not to purchase a piece of software. I need to be able to make good decisions quickly. It may be difficult to tell from the picture, but I decided to move forward with the software.
Here’s how you can (and should) use the same method. The first step is to put it on paper where you can actually see your thoughts. This is a good strategy for thinking in general but especially so when comparing competing considerations. Next, you list all of the pros on one side and all of the cons on the other side. Franklin would do this over a period of a week or so. This has the advantage of allowing yourself to really consider all possible pros and cons.
Next, you weight each pro and con with a value reflecting its importance. This will allow you to see which pros and which cons offset each other. If your list is extensive, then paring down your list in the way will help you focus. If your list is relatively short then it may be easier to total each side to see which carries more weight.
What’s left is a carefully considered decision and the one you ought to go with. If after making that tough decision, you feel like you’ve made a mistake, you left something off the list or didn’t weigh the pros/cons appropriately. Either way, you’ve given yourself new information to work with that just might be what you need to move forward. Often, moving forward is more important than the decision itself!
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Erik Goodge is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and the President of uVest Advisory Group. He holds a B.S. in Economics and Cognitive Science from the University of Evansville. Erik is a Marine Corps veteran of the Afghanistan campaign and Purple Heart recipient. He is from Evansville, Indiana, and currently lives in near-by Newburgh with his wife and daughter.