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Taking the Stress out of Making Decisions 'A Wholistic Approach

The Decision

There are many times in your life when you are confronted with a decision to make. It might be a fairly big decision related to a career change or a relationship, or it could be a relatively small decision such as deciding which photographer to use for your wedding. Whatever the case may be if there is a lot riding on the decision, the whole experience can be seen as daunting and quite stressful.

Earlier this year I was confronted with quite a big decision to make. I had been working for a medium size software company as a product manager for the last five years. Even though I enjoyed the work, I had got to a point where I was feeling quite stagnant and felt like I needed a change. Fortunately during this time, a former business colleague who was running a small "start up" company was in need of an experienced person who could take over the software development and management of his software products. The job sounded perfect. It was chance to get my hands technically dirty again while having the option of flexible hours working from home whenever I wanted which meant more time with my family. To put the icing on the cake, it was contract based role that offered more money than what I was currently earning.

After assessing my colleague's company sales pipe and financials the decision appeared quite an easy one for me to make. There was an element of risk working for a start up company but I felt confident that if it didn't work out, I could always find another job or contract. I remember feeling very nervous and even somewhat emotional when I handed in my resignation to the CEO. He had not only been my boss for the last couple of years, but had also become a good mentor. His response only made the resignation experience even more difficult. He really didn't want me to go. After an hour of sharing my reasons with him, we agreed that I would spend the day thinking about it. I owed him that much I guess.

Before the day had ended, the CEO asked me to come back into his office to discuss a counter offer. Due to a company restructure that was occurring at the time, there was an opening for a new role as the project group manager for a new project the company had just won, worth over 2 million dollars. Basically he wanted me to take over the responsibility of this project to ensure that the company could meet all the major miles stones. The position involved managing the majority of the research and development team and naturally warranted a pay rise, one that exceeded what had been offered to me by my colleague. From a resume perspective the position looked fantastic.

I walked out of the CEO's office totally dazed and confused. Fortunately it was Friday and I had the whole weekend to think about it. I explained to my colleague what had happened and that I had to reconsider my options. He was very understanding and was happy for me to think about the whole thing. That night I talked it over with my wife. We both agreed that on one hand the start-up role sounded good especially the flexible hours, but on the other hand there was this great position that would make my career. It also probably meant a lot less time with the family. I could see pros and cons on both sides but no clear winner either way. From the time I had left work until now, I had changed my mind numerous times swinging from one way to the other like a pendulum. I decided to just sleep on it and not stress out.

The next morning I felt I was no closer to knowing which way to go. At this point I knew that the only way I could decide was if I used some form of decision making technique. When it comes to decision making there are a numerous methods that are available. Having been a senior manager I was very accustomed to performance indicators as a way to measure the progress of an individual, group, product or project. So this was going to be my first method. However I felt that for such an important decision this was too one dimensional and so my second method was simply to imagine the day in the life of each role, an idea that I borrowed from a coaching seminar. Finally the third technique, which was suggested by a close friend of mine, was simply to meditate on the options.

Decision Making Method 1 'The Analytical Approach

The fundamental ingredient to making a "measured" decision is to identify what the key indicators are. The key indicators that I felt were important to me when making my decision were:

* Low Stress 'The level of day to day stress encountered (or lack of) as part of the job '10 = No stress, 0 = High stress

* Family Life 'The quality time spent with family '10 = Lots of Quality Time with family, 0 = No Quality Time with Family

* Resume 'The impact made on my resume '10 = Great for my resume, 0 = Does nothing for my resume

* Future Prospects 'Related to Resume, the ability to acquire a job in the future based on the experience gained and contacts made. 10 = Assist greatly, 0 = Harm my future prospects

* Security 'How secure the job is '10 = Extremely secure, 0 = Extremely risky

* Money 'The more money the higher the rating

* Health 'The impact the job would have on my health. 10 = Very good for my health, 0 = Very bad for my health

* Job Satisfaction 'The satisfaction felt of doing the job. 10 = Extremely satisfying, 0 = Not satisfying

* Quality of Life 'My ability to pursue and enjoy my hobbies and other activities of interest. 10 = Very good, 0 = very bad

* 5 Year Plan 'A measure of whether this would take me closer to where I wanted to be in 5 years. This was actually a complicated measure made up of a number of sub-indicators.

* Unknown 'I call this the unknown factor taking into account potential risks and unforeseen facts that would have a significant bearing on the decision made. 10 = Extremely high confidence level, 0 = Very low confidence level.

When measuring the new opportunity with the start up company, I came up with the following scores:

* Low Stress = 9/10

* Family Life = 9.5/10

* Resume = 8.5/10

* Future Prospects '8/10

* Security '6/10

* Money '8.5/10

* Health '9/10

* Job Satisfaction '9/10

* Quality of Life- 9/10

* 5 Year Plan- 8.5/10

* Unknown '8/10

This gave me a total of 93/110.

After taking the same approach with the promotion at my current company I scored the following:

* Low Stress = 7/10

* Family Life = 7/10

* Resume = 9.5/10

* Future Prospects '10/10

* Security '9.5/10

* Money '10/10

* Health '7/10

* Job Satisfaction '9/10

* Quality of Life- 7/10

* 5 Year Plan- 8/10

* Unknown '8/10

This gave me a total of 92/110.

Such a close result made it very clear as to why I was confused and undecided. On one hand the new opportunity represented a new life style that was more in line with how I wanted my life to be, but was a little risky and paid less. The promotion with the new job however meant more money with far less risk, but also meant less time with the family and less time doing the other things I was interested in.

Decision Making Method 2 'The Emotional Approach

The first decision making method used was really a logical and very analytical approach to assessing each option. While it didn't give me an answer it brought all the issues to the surface. The second method used however was quite different. Essentially what I did was try to bring each option to life by visualizing a day in the life of each job. I thought this type of approach would really help take into account the feelings and emotions that I might possibly feel.

When visualizing the new opportunity with the start up company, I could see myself waking up in the morning feeling quite relaxed and very eager to start the day. Because I had the option of working both at home and in the office, I imagined having the opportunity to enjoy eating breakfast with my wife and kids without having to rush off to work. I then imagined what it would be like to work in my office at home. This was something I had done before in the past and therefore felt very confident that I had the discipline to stay focused on the job at hand. I then imagined going in to the office of the new company interacting with my former colleague and the other company staff. This was when the feelings of uncertainty began to creep in. Firstly it would take a little bit of time getting to know everyone and stamping my "signature" on the place. This position was going to also involve a lot more technical design and development which was something I hadn't done for a while. I started to feel concerned that maybe I wasn't up for the job. Yet I also knew that I needed a new challenge, to stretch my brain again and basically be pulled out of the standard comfort zone that one develops when having worked in the same role for a long time.

I repeated the visualisation technique with the promotion at my current company. I imagined getting up quite early to attend the management meeting that was held every Monday. These meetings were quite intense and tended to get heated at times especially when it came to discussing product issues and the progress on various projects. Projects inevitably ran behind schedule because of the constant changes of requirements and the development team's inability to estimate accurately the effort involved in a project. However this was something that the CEO believed that I could turn around. The idea of such a challenge actually excited me. As the manager of the development team I imagined having to get more involved in the human resource side of things as well as managing the project schedules. The delivery of products in the desired time frame typically involved some late nights back at the office especially towards the end of the project. This was something I had done many times before for this company. This role too would stretch me but in a different way. I would definitely be forced to acquire new management skills that would greatly benefit my career. But at the same time I was starting to feel a little stressed and could see my self not enjoying the job so much. The thought of seeing less of my family also made me feel a little sad.

This exercise really helped put things into context for me. It reinforced that the new position was more in tune with where I wanted to go. However there was still this high risk factor associated with the start up company that concerned me.

Decision Making Method 3 'The Spiritual Approach

The last decision making method used had nothing to do with reason or logic. It was more an attempt to use that sixth sense or what I refer to as getting in touch with my soul. I simply closed my eyes and meditated. I used a number of standard techniques that are commonly employed in meditation including controlled abdominal breathing as well as emptying my mind. When meditation is done correctly, that is when the mind is sufficiently calm and the emotions within are still, it is possible to achieve a level of self realisation.

After spending what felt like only 10 minutes meditating, I opened my eyes and was surprised to see that I had in fact meditated for quite longer, at least 30 minutes. During that time specific messages had popped into my head. Firstly, it was now very clear to me that it was time for me to move on. Secondly, if I were to take on the new opportunity with the start up company I could mitigate the risk somewhat by offering to work for the old company part time in an effort to assist them with any transitional changes. If things didn't work out with the new start up opportunity, then at least I still had my foot in the door with the old company. I didn't think this would be an issue with the start up as the new arrangement involved contracting. Thirdly I could see that contracting out to multiple companies could actually be lucrative.

This last method not only helped me make my final decision, but I also felt an increase in mental alertness, happier and a just a general sense of well being.

The Result

The CEO of the old company was very disappointed when I handed in my final resignation. However he jumped at the chance of me working one day a week until they could find a replacement. My colleague didn't mind either. He saw this as an opportunity to maintain a connection with a larger company which would keep me in touch of what was happening in the industry. From my perspective it turned out to be the best of both worlds analysing the business problems at the high level one day a week while getting my hands more technically dirty the remainder of the time. And because I was averaging just under 6 days per week on my terms, the money that I would earn was equal to what I would have earned if I had accepted the promotion at my old company, but with far les stress!

When it comes to decision making, the techniques used were by no means revolutionary in anyway. Nevertheless the combined use of these three techniques that drew on logic (the mind), emotion (the heart) and spirit (the soul) provided me a well rounded answer to a difficult decision. The next time you are confronted with an important decision, give this Wholistic Decision Making approach a go.

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