But first a story
Whilst writing my previous post, I was one week into my move to Berlin. There was another big decision to be made: Where should I live?
In the back of my mind I thought it would be another suitable case to apply the framework. However I didn’t, and I think there are two main reasons why:
- Available options
Despite wanting to take my time choosing the perfect place, with the right balance of price, location, nice flatmates, size, interior etc., time was not on my side. I had a week before I started my new job and I was burning money staying in an airbnb. I wanted somewhere permanent and settled as soon as possible. Also with the nature of the rental market in Berlin, I knew that I could move somewhere else quickly if needed.
Equally, the number of options available were not exactly high. Of course I was somewhat selective, and I knew intuitively which places would be okay, and which would not be. But after sending out many many messages on flat-share sites and facebook groups, the reply rate was low, so I knew I couldn’t afford to be too selective.
With these two factors at play, I viewed a few places, asked for advice from my local airbnb hosts and in the end, I went with my gut.
After a week of living in my new flat, I’m overall pretty happy. However, I am aware of the compromises I’ve made, and I’m sure I could have done better had I spent more time.
The point of this story is that applying logical thinking is not always appropriate in all decision making processes and quite frankly it would be too time-consuming.
In Tim Urban’s very long but very inspiring post on How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) he writes about the ‘The Cook and the Chef’ analogy in logical reasoning. In this post, he likens the decision making process to being chef-like or cook-like.
Making decisions like a chef means experimenting with ingredients, trying different things, and essentially trying to invent something new. Whereas being a cook means you look at existing recipes and essentially copy it. All your decisions boil down to one or the other approach, or more often than not, somewhere in between. However, of course being chef-like takes a lot of time and effort because you’re inventing something new each time. This is clearly an unrealistic approach for all decisions. So for example, when it comes to deciding what to have for lunch (although it sometimes seems to take a long time), the kind of deep thinking that I might use for choosing a new job is simply not warranted.
What this and choosing a new flat has highlighted however are the times where it is appropriate to use my framework. For example, when choosing my next place to live, I will probably use the framework, because I will have more time, more options, and I expect to live there for a while.
So how do you know what warrants deep thinking?
So when thinking about which decisions justify applying a deeper process, I think there are a few factors involved:
- Impact on your life
- How long it will impact your life
- How many options you have to choose between
- How much control you have over the decision
So put simply, if the decision will have a big impact on your life, it will impact it for a significant period of time, you have many options, and you can control the decision, then it’s a worthy candidate for applying the framework.
Below are some simple matrices that show what qualifies as an important and realistic decision.
For me choosing a job is in the long-term, high impact quarter of the graph — which qualifies it as an important decision. Also I have control over the decision and many options (luckily for me) — which qualifies it as a realistic decision.
In the case of choosing a flat, I didn’t deem the impact big enough, felt that impact wouldn’t last long (as I could always move), my options were limited but I did of course have control over the decision. Later down the line this probably will be an important and realistic decision.
Lastly, for me choosing an outfit on a regular day sits firmly on the bottom left. However if I was a model going to New York fashion week, or a going on first date with the girl of my dreams, the decision would probably move closer to the top right.
So as this demonstrates, where life decisions fit on these matrices vary, and they are not the same for all people and in all situations. Right now here are some decisions that qualify (or have qualified) as important for me:
- My next job
- My next place to live
- Choosing a partner
- Where to move abroad
- What to have for lunch
- What outfit should I wear
For other people, decisions about getting married, breaking up, picking a honeymoon destination, starting a family, having another child, choosing a school for their child, which university to go to, what degree to take, buying a new car, relocating to a new office, would all be valid for applying a logical framework.
Applying the framework to important and realistic life decisions
So without further ado, I’ve decided to have a go at a few others:
Where to move abroad
When deciding which country to move to, I hadn’t developed this framework. However I used a really great tool called Teleport that helps you pick your best place to live and work, and has some really great data on cities’ performance against some of these factors. I did this one retrospectively:
As you can see some of these values need further detail. For example, the environment I’m living in is important to me, but what does that mean exactly? For me it means having access to green spaces, being close to water, low pollution levels and good facilities for cycling.
Frankly, many of these values could have another graph to represent the detail behind each of them, but I’ve kept it simple for now.
Again, visual thinking allows you to weigh up what you’re willing to compromise and what you’re not. It’s probably a good tool for couples deciding to move abroad too, where compromise is a given. Similarly, you could analyse where you are living currently to see which attributes you’re not getting enough of, or to reflect on how lucky you are.
Interestingly London performed pretty high on many of these values — turns out I just wanted a change.
Picking a new house
So the next time I move house, it’s more likely to be long-term and with any luck I will be buying it. That for me qualifies it as an important decision.
When this decision comes about, I will revisit this, as it’s likely my context will have changed.
Choosing a partner
This one is a worthy of a separate blog post (maybe I’ll do that one day) because the thinking for this requires knowing yourself very deeply. Whereas for my career, I’m in the lucky position of knowing what I’m passionate about, the type of things that motivate me and demotivate me; I am not in the same position for finding a suitable partner. Furthermore, the control and available options that I have in this situation are not as favourable.
This particular decision highlights how difficult it can be to identify what to populate the axes with. This, like many of the other decisions may need experiencing many relationships, many jobs, many places, many houses, to understand what you value.
Furthermore, choosing a partner is a decision that’s probably easy to claim as too emotionally driven for this kind of thinking, but I think it’s because of that, logical reasoning should play an even more important role. As Jesse Richardson says in this youarenotsosmart podcast episode:
‘We aren’t intuitively very good at making rational sense of the world, we actually need to invest in a mindset and do work to attempt to counteract what biases we have…We need tools, we need to consciously interfere with our intuition to be able to arrive at a more clear understanding of what’s going on.’
Having listened to and read a lot about psychology and neuroscience I’m learning to trust my brain less and less, for me that means typically emotionally driven decisions carry an even greater need to take on a more logical mindset.
So when it comes to weighing up your options how do you actually make a decision? Well it all comes down to doing your research.
Choosing a new job
When I was planning my next career move, I first did my research online — starting with the website, blog posts, press releases, crunchbase for investment information, linkedin, glassdoor for reviews.
At this point I could map how well the company matched my values, and could use this as tool to reflect on during the interview process. From the initial conversations to formal interviews, this is the best chance to validate or disprove your perceptions of the job.
Beyond this you could speak to other people at the company. I even showed my framework to my interviewer at Twyla (the place I’m now working) and this gave a clear picture of what I wanted from the job, but you could equally just do this behind the scenes.
This process is more or less the same for any other life decision.
Research online, speak to people who’ve visited, speak to people that live there, visit yourself and stay with locals.
View many houses in person, hang out in the area, look at price comparisons online, go to a local cafe and talk to the staff.
Once you’ve done your research, the decision should be easy. You’ll quickly dismiss the options that don’t match your values, and you’ll be left with only good options. It’s then just a matter of picking which one fits the best, or at this point which one feels right.
Thinking visually can help to untangle some big important life decisions. I hope this framework helps you to decide which decisions are important and realistic, and to use it to make better decisions of your own. If you want to do this yourself here is a link to some templates on Google Slides. Just create a copy and edit away!
Stay tuned for my next post — designing the universe (just kidding).