What’s Working and What’s Not: A Simple Decision-making Strategy

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! 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 strategy for decision-making. I have used this form again lately and I want to share it with you now.

Printable decision-making form
Click to download the form.

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

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).

In my violin practice example from yesterday, I could write the following notes:


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

The only time M can reliably and regularly practice his violin is in the morning right after doing his chores (we call them the morning list). Since we homeschool, 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.

A lot of power in a simple strategy.

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” again. 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 strategy 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 strategy

This strategy 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 church 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 method 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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7 thoughts on “What’s Working and What’s Not: A Simple Decision-making Strategy”

  1. Great idea!! This is a great time of the year to evaluate extracurricular activities, curriculum, and family routines. We recently went through a process similar to this for our family budget and realized that in order to save for a bigger house (and need with baby #5 coming soon) gymnastics lessons had to go. The funny thing is that one choice will also solve a couple of other minor issues that just haven’t worked well this school year. You never know how changes in one area will affect another!

  2. Yes! And I find that even though these kinds of decisions may be painful, once you make them there is a great sense of relief.

  3. Great idea!! Makes if much easier to see if something is working for a child or the family by writing it all out!! Coming by via SITS:)

  4. I’m an awful decision maker. I usually like to write it out and something like this seems to be a helpful idea. My hubs and I do a weekly meeting to go over any problems/bills/household things and I find it really helpful.

  5. I really like the idea of brainstorming out a decision on paper. I used to be so organized and somewhere along my journey of being a mom, I lost that precious skill. Thanks for the printable, I’m definitely going to try it and see if it doesn’t help me to at least kick start my organizing and decision making skills.


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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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