How a Decision Matrix Can Help You Make Big Choices With Confidence

by Sophia Bera on August 28, 2019

Adulthood also means making choices, from small decisions like what to eat for dinner, to bigger ones like which work project to begin tackling first. And making a choice can be scary! What if you make the wrong one? Some consequences aren’t a big deal, like deciding to try a new restaurant and not liking it. All you have to do in that case is never go to that restaurant again. But the prospect of making a “wrong” decision for the big stuff (weighing job offers, moving to a new city, buying a home, etc.) is daunting, especially since those decisions are both emotional and financial. 

If you’re faced with a few options and simply can’t choose one, a decision matrix can help, especially if you’re making this choice with a spouse or partner who may not totally agree with you. 

What Is a Decision Matrix?

A decision matrix allows you to break down one big choice into several different factors affecting how you make that choice. You (and your spouse or partner if it’s a joint decision) can rank the different factors, allowing you to come to an agreement based on what’s most important to you. You can also weigh some factors more heavily — for example, if you’re a hiring manager choosing between job candidates, you can weigh certain skill sets as more important than others.

You can use a decision matrix when making all sorts of choices, like which car you should buy or where to take your next vacation. 

There are tons of free decision matrix templates available to download. Here’s one from Zapier that includes helpful instructions. Simply make a copy of that Google Doc and get started!

An Example of a Decision Matrix

Let’s say you’re deciding between three job offers. They all offer similar salaries (and you’re happy with that salary based on the type of job and the cost of living in your area) and are located where you already live. So, the money is good and you won’t need to move. What other factors can you consider? Here are a few ideas:

  • The commute: A slightly longer commute doesn’t seem like too big of a sacrifice as you decide which job offer to make. After all, what’s an extra 20 minutes in the car each way? Well, according to one study, it ends up feeling equal to a 19% pay cut. Never underestimate how much a long commute will weigh on you once you do it 10 times a week for years.
  • Company culture and work/life balance: Do you get the sense that one of these companies will expect your complete devotion for 12 hours a day? Or is it totally normal for workers to squeeze in a dentist appointment during business hours? Are you going to have to field work emails on your day off, or will you truly get a break? Are you at a place in life where you want to work super-hard to move your career forward, or would you prefer some flexibility?
  • Benefits: Your compensation package is more than just salary. It also includes other benefits with real monetary value (so take full advantage of those, too!). Is there a 401(k) match? Employer-paid disability and life insurance? Stipends to lower the cost of commuting and parking? Flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts where you can make pre-tax contributions for future medical expenses? Subsidized daycare? Discounts at certain retailers? Generous paid time off? Don’t ignore these benefits, because they’re worth thousands of dollars per year.
  • Room for growth: If you view this job as a stepping stone to more responsibility and a higher salary, make sure the company you choose has a “promote-from-within” culture and a track record of mentoring employees.

Here’s what a decision matrix could look like:

In this case, you’re looking for a company with a great culture and benefits, with a commute that isn’t too bad. Room for growth isn’t the most important factor. Company B’s culture and benefits aren’t as amazing as Company A’s, but Company A involves a very long commute, while Company B has a very short commute. This gives Company B a slight edge, but you may end up being happy with either job. This could also lead to a second big decision: whether or not to move closer to Company A to take that job, shorten the commute, and get better benefits at a company with a better culture! 

Company C, meanwhile, has great benefits and a decent commute, but terrible work/life balance and company culture. As a result, it’s the least compelling job offer.

Putting a Decision Matrix to Work for You

A decision matrix can help because it forces you to really evaluate a choice and prioritize what’s truly important to you. This can be especially helpful when making a joint decision with someone else, because the act of weighting each factor forces you to communicate with each other about why one factor is more of a must-have than another. A decision matrix can also help you quickly identify and eliminate the losers — the lowest-scoring options that will make no one happy. Cutting those out enables you to focus on the options that are most likely to fit your needs.