Can’t decide? Try this tool to make wiser choices

Overwhelmed by choice? Not sure what to do next? Unable to make a choice? Too many options? Help is at hand. If a simple list of things to do isn’t working, or you think you know what’s best, but just want to be sure, try a criteria analysis (sometimes known as a Pugh or Decision Matrix). This handy tool can help you with heaps of decisions, from what your priorities need to be at work today to which house to buy.

Get pen and paper  – or a spreadsheet – and let’s get started. (If you want to see a worked example, there’s a link at the end of this post.)


Step 1: Options

The first step is to list down all the options, one option per row.

Do this down the left-hand side of a landscape format sheet.

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s imagine you and your friend can’t decide where to go for dinner. So you’d list your agreed shortlist of the restaurants you both like, down the left-hand side.


Step 2: Criteria

The second step is to identify what’s important to you in this decision, or your criteria.

Do this across the top of your sheet. Now you’ve got a grid.

So your restaurant choice criteria might include price, location, vegetarian options, quality and availability.


Step 3: Score

The next step is to score each option against the criteria. To keep it simple, score out of 5, where 1 is low (doesn’t really meet the criteria all that well) and 5 is high (nails it).

Even agreeing the score can get interesting if more than one person’s involved – another reason why this is such a handy tool.

Now some folks stop right here – just add up the raw scores and there you go. However if some of your criteria matter more than others – and that’s usually the case – then it’s best to do some weighting.


Step 4: Weight

Assign a number 1-5 to each of your criteria, according to how important they are, with 1 meaning ‘not very important compared to the others’ and 5 meaning ‘essential’. You can have the same weight number assigned to different criteria. I usually put the weighting next to each criterion.

So if neither of you is vegetarian, the weighting for that is likely to be low. If payday seems too far away, price might get the highest weighting.


Step 5: Do the numbers

Multiply the item’s score by the criteria weighting for each box in your grid to get a weighted score.

Then add the horizontal scores for each item/criteria to get a total weighted score for that item.


A winner will invariably emerge, and it might not be the one you originally favoured. That may mean you weren’t thinking through all the important factors (criteria). It may also mean you hadn’t taken other people’s views into account. Or that what seemed so important at the outset is less significant now.


You can see a worked example here, courtesy of Mind Tools.


Or you can decide to go out to dinner.


You may also find this blog post interesting: Stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself

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