How to Make Decisions: a Simple System


What's Working and What's Not

In my previous business (we sold German children’s books through a website), I started off with a ton of ideas and endless energy …but not a lot of organization. I gradually evolved systems and forms, documents and procedures to the point where I felt like my own one-woman bureaucracy!

[Note: This article was originally published in 2014. ]

For instance, I had a form for every day that I shipped books so I wouldn’t forget to do a bunch of things including sending the email confirmations, logging any postage that I purchased, and scheduling a pickup with the Postal Service. I had a lot of other things documented, too.

I felt a little silly having all those checkboxes and forms to fill out, but you know what? It made a huge difference in my business and I actually liked the organization.

One of the forms I developed is called “What’s Working … What’s Not.”

This form utilizes a simple system for decision-making. By brainstorming and asking yourself a few questions, you can evaluate a difficult situation or decide between a few options that you’re faced with.

Systems like this aren’t just for businesses.

I still use this form regularly. It’s great for all kinds of situations parents face.  I know you’ll love it!

Printable decision-making form
Click to download the decision-making worksheet.

You can evaluate any situation, schedule, or activity using this simple system.

Take my download and brainstorm items for each section.

Don’t worry about sentences, grammar, spelling or neatness. Don’t worry about whether an idea is do-able or not; write them all down. This is the time to jot things down as they come to you.

Brainstorm for 5 or 10 minutes (or until you can’t think of anything else).

If I’m trying to determine when to have my son practice his violin, I could write the following notes:


Once I did this analysis, the answer was clear to me.

The only time M can reliably and regularly practice his violin is in the morning right after doing his chores.

Since we homeschool (update: we’re no longer homeschooling), we have that flexibility and we should take advantage of it.

My oldest son will be doing schoolwork upstairs and won’t be bothered by the noise. My 6 year old can do worksheets or play with the toddler and I can supervise all of them while being available to help with the music.

This simple system gives you a lot of power.

For me, jotting down everything about a particular problem or situation in one place helps me see the big picture again. When I write down all my thoughts, the choices become clearer to me. I don’t always like the answers that pop up, but at least I can see the options available to me and go from there.

By answering the 3 simple questions above, you can come up with a range of ideas to help solve your problem or answer your question. It’s the power of “fill-in-the-blank.”

Your brain will jump to answer these questions. Frequently when I am faced with a dilemma, I spend a lot of time thinking about it, and going around and around with the same concerns and worries.

It’s not until I get the ideas out of my head and into written words can I see the forest for the trees.

This decision-making system works for creative as well as analytical types.

If you are more of a creative, right-brained person, you can brainstorm the answers to the questions in a highly visual way – use lots of color, draw pictures, and make diagrams. If you are more of a logical, step-by-step type person, write bullet lists, make an outline, and prioritize your lists. Either way, you are generating solutions to your problem in a way that fits your personality.

Get another set of eyes.

It’s helpful to ask someone else to review your notes with you to see if there are other things you’ve missed. Ask your husband or a friend to brainstorm with you. Another person will bring a different perspective to the problem which may be very helpful.

Come back later and review.

It’s also good to keep this form and revisit it after you’ve made a change. Did it work out the way you expected? Were your changes a total disaster? Do you need to tweak anything? If you have the form available, you may find you see things yet again in another light after some time has passed.

Uses of this system

This system can be used with any problem you are having or situation you are assessing. I have used it in the past for the following situations:

  • to evaluate homeschool curriculum for the new school year (Is this program suited to our needs?)
  • to make business decisions (Should I launch another product line?)
  • to make scheduling decisions (Do we have time for another extracurricular activity?)

You can use it for little issues like this violin practice question or great big ones (should we sell our house?). Just use more paper if you need it and brainstorm everything you can think of.

While you may not need a whole bureaucracy, having a few forms like this at your disposal can be very helpful.

If you are facing a problem or trying to improve a situation, consider using the What’s Working… What’s Not system to uncover a solution. You might be surprised what you come up with. Grab your free download here.

How do you make decisions? Do you have any specific strategies?

Photo by snigl35


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3 thoughts on “How to Make Decisions: a Simple System”

  1. Wow…this is a great format for people such as myself who,has such trouble with certain decisions!! It’s so helpful to have something in writing to refer back to, and add to if needed. Thank you!


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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