In an age of too many options, four simple questions can provide a clear approach to making those frequent decisions in a way that saves us time.
We live in a time of unprecedented options. Those of us in developed economies of the 21st century, even with average incomes, have more choices than ever before in what we eat, what we wear, our jobs, where we live or travel, our entertainment and education… and the list goes on.
Our ability to customize the details of our lives is dazzling, but it is not free. Abundant options require abundant decisions, and decisions require energy. Life’s never-ending buffet brings byproducts: too many options can paralyze us, and fear of taking the wrong option can haunt us.
We can benefit from thinking about how we make decisions, and intentionally adopting practices that help us manage the cost of decision-making and feel more confident in the choices we do make.
Let’s examine a class of decision that we face every day: stay or go, fish or cut bait, keep on the same path or change direction. More specifically, we’ll consider people and companies we pay, whether at work or at home:
Do I like my accountant, or is it time to switch?
Should I change gyms?
Do we need a new marketing consultant?
Is our lawn care guy charging us too much?
There are both cost and benefit components to these questions. If your gym is nearby and your friends go there, it may be worth twice the price of a different gym with the same equipment because you’re more likely to go and use it. That’s an easy case. Other decisions aren’t so easy, and sometimes those questions of “Am I paying too much for this?” keep lingering in our mind without a clear answer.
Replacing Gray with Black and White
Those lingering questions are expensive in themselves; they are a form of worry. Worrying is like leaving the front door open on a cold day; it’s a waste of energy. We can shut the door by answering four questions and making a decision.
Question one: How unhappy are you with the vendor or value you are getting now?
If the current solution doesn’t work or causes you stress or expense, then you have a problem you need to fix. Assign a number 1 to 5, where 1 is completely happy and 5 highly dissatisfied.
Question two: Does this represent a large expense for your budget?
The more you are spending, the more money you might possibly save. Assign a number 1 to 5, where 1 is a small expense, and 5 is a large expense.
Question three: How many options are out there?
How many realistic options do you have: many, or just a few? Again, choose a number from 1 to 5, 1 being low or no competition, 5 representing that you have many other different potential sources.
Question four: Would it be relatively easy is it to switch vendors/providers/companies?
Time, cost, and risk all make it harder to switch. To avoid overestimating or underestimating the switching cost, identify the specific steps to switching and write down what each would cost in money and time. A 1 here means difficult to switch; 5 means easy, quick, and low-risk to switch.
The Answer Key
Add up your scores and see where you land:
– 8 or lower: Sleep easy
– 9-11: On the Bubble
– 12-15: Start looking around for something better
– 16 or higher: Find a new solution, ASAP!
This simple quiz is arbitrary and imperfect. But an imperfect framework is still useful if it frees you from anxiety and procrastination. You can tweak it or find a different method to simplify these common decisions. By giving some thought to how you decide what you decide, it’s possible to spend less energy processing and analyzing. Then you can get back to enjoying the buffet.
– Jack Quarles is a speaker, trainer, consultant and author of Amazon #1 bestsellers How Smart Companies Save Money and Same Side Selling, as well as his latest, Expensive Sentences: Debunking the Common Myths that Derail Decisions and Sabotage Success (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Jack has co-founded several companies, serves on two non-profit boards, and received degrees from Yale and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business.
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