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Planning for September: A Tool

A "September decision"

A mum heard her 10-year-old son mention that his dance class, an extracurricular activity he loves, was becoming stressful, and he was considering quitting. To determine the best course of action, she helped her son complete a weight-and-rate exercise to identify what mattered most to him. He identified his priorities—improving his dance skills, reducing stress, having more free time, and performing in the recital—and assigned numerical weights to these criteria based on their importance.

 They then listed his options:

  • Maintain his current schedule.

  • Keep the same number of class hours per week to perform in the recital but condense his schedule to fewer days at the dance studio.

  • Take fewer class hours per week and be disqualified from performing in the recital.

  • Leave his current dance school and look for a less rigorous option.

 After evaluating how each option aligned with his values, the son confidently decided to change his class schedule. Taking the same amount of dance hours on fewer days allowed him to reduce stress, spend time with friends, improve his dance skills, and still perform in the recital.

 “Having a chance to think about this decision in a structured way with defined steps helped ground him. He could talk about how he was feeling about it in a calmer, more rational way,” the mum said.

 The mum is a staff member at the Alliance for Decision Education. This is a true story.

A Tool For Structured Thinking, For Every Age

Most of us have heard and perhaps used weight-and-rate tools as decision-making aids.

It’s those tables that involve assigning weights to various criteria to reflect their relative importance and then rating each option against these criteria. The combined weighted ratings help identify the most favorable option. Here’s an apt example by the Alliance for Decision Education.

They are helpful when evaluating and comparing different options based on multiple criteria. Whether we are 10 years old or 90,  weight-and-rate tools can help us determine, objectively, the course of action that most aligns with what is important to us, our team, our family.

Perhaps their greatest strength, to me at least, is that they create transparency. For others, yes, to be able to see and discuss with us. But more importantly, for ourselves. When we use one, it forces us to connect better with our values and assign those weights to our criteria. Plus, we are essentially documenting our thinking and are able to revisit and adjust it.

 But, we’re sometimes taught these tools as the answer to our problem. We’re led to believe that if we follow the steps, we’ll get to a definite answer, backed by numbers. That it’s the right one, despite what our intuition tells us.

So what?

 Having used one many times to help me with my decisions, my appreciation for them has evolved from ‘this is the answer’ approach to ‘it helps me think’.

 Here’s a few things that can go wrong when using weight-and-rate tools:

  • We include too few options (two) or too similar options, making it complicated to then rate each option.

  • We may even include options that look good on paper but we know are not a good fit for us – hence wasting our time and making it more confusing.

  • We don’t think carefully about our criteria (which should stem from our values and objectives) and risk not including some criteria that are important to us.

  • We get influenced by what’s important for other people (but not us), or what ‘should be’ important, and assign weights to those criteria that do not really reflect our own values and objectives.

  • We pick criteria that’s easy to measure and neglect others that aren’t.

  • We rate each option without doing sufficient research, relying on unverified data and drawing from others’ opinions.

  • We confuse the weighting of criteria with the ratings of options on those criteria.

  • We do the exercise in a hurry, in one-sitting, without a clear head.

  • We rely solely on the result to make our decision.

Now what?

Weight-and-rate tools are helpful and we should use them as decision aids.

Like any tool (like a hammer or car), it requires respect in handling. The math is easy but our input is what determines the result. It’s our input that requires careful consideration.

 Here are some of tips and things to watch for: 

  • When you pick out alternative options, make sure they are DIVAS! That is, distinct, interesting, viable, alternative strategies.

  • Connect back to your values and objectives to create your list of criteria. Alliance folks also point out that, while identifying a large list of criteria can be helpful, be careful not to create too many. It becomes difficult to get useful relative weights in this case.

  • Remember, this is about you and how you see things. While input and discussion is important, the weight that you choose to assign to each criterion is ultimately your choice. Otherwise, you’re sabotaging yourself.

  • Treat all criteria the same, irrespective of whether they are hard/easy to measure or hard/easy to get information on.

  • Revisit your table after some time has passed. Do the scores feel wrong? Is there something you would change, add, subtract?

  • Remember that the score does not always drive the decision. This is a tool to help improve your process and help you gain clarity.

P.S. What’s a decision you or a loved one are facing that involves comparing different options based on multiple criteria? Can you use a weight-and-rate tool (here’s a suggested one) to help you in the process?

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