Decisions are Hard – Organize Thoughts with Spreadsheets (Templates included)

Decisions are hard. On a regular day, you can make hundreds of decisions before breakfast. Have you ever felt like some situation is just too big for you to get a handle on and act on? We all have! How can you decide what to do when you don’t have all the information? When there could be a wrong answer? When bad decision could cost you money? When someone else usually makes these kinds of decisions for you?

Decisions are Hard - Organize Thoughts with Spreadsheets

In my work as a professional organizer, I often hear the phrase, “I’m so overwhelmed, I have no idea what to do next.” Anything from moving furniture around a room (What needs to move first? Do I have to empty the whole room?) to moving house (I’m not exactly sure of the date yet, but should I be calling the movers already?) to business decisions (How can I clear my desk to work on the important stuff?) to life decisions (Should I take that job in another city?) can really stop you in your tracks.

When you think spreadsheets, you might be thinking numbers and finances and formulas, but a simple Excel spreadsheet (or Numbers, if you work on a Mac) can help you make the process so much easier. Here are three decision-making spreadsheet templates that I use personally and with clients to help them make better, faster decisions that they feel good about.

1. Make Decisions with Pro/Con Lists

If it’s a big yes/no decision, a pro/con spreadsheet can help. Recently a client was deciding whether to move for a job opportunity. The old-school way to do this is just to fold a piece of paper in half, and answer your main question (only one question) on both sides of the paper, one labeled PRO and one labeled CON. You can also easily do this in a spreadsheet on a comupter or even your phone. The beauty of a spreadsheet is that it’s easy to set up, save, and change as you get new information. My client’s main question was: Should I take the job in NYC? Here’s what her spreadsheet looked like. You can see that not only do the pros clearly outweigh the cons in sheer number, they are pretty substantial pros. The benefits clearly outweigh the short-term hassle of the move and the vague possibility that it “might not work out.”

Decisions are Hard - Organize Thoughts with Spreadsheets pro - con list


Pro Tip: For this to work best, pick your one, most important, biggest question or option, write it down, and place your response to that question in only one column or another.


2. Make Decisions with a Cost Estimate

Sometimes your decision will be determined by cost. I took a quick trip to NYC last week, and I made this quick little spreadsheet. I was trying to decide whether to go for just a daytrip, stay overnight in a hotel in the city, or not go at all. I was able to get prices online for most items like tickets. I filled in what I didn’t know for sure, like the cost of dinner, with a reasonable guess. This kind of spreadsheet won’t actually make the decision for me, but just having all of the information in front of me gave me clarity on what the trip would cost. I could then decide what I wanted to spend with some certainty, instead of being surprised (I spent $400 over just two days???) or deciding not to go at all.

Pro Tip #1: Have Excel sum up your column for you, and the Total figure will automatically update each time any of your numbers change. Excel is basically a fancy calculator, so let it do the math for you. Here’s how to use the AutoSum button.

Pro Tip #2: This kind of analysis is also great for decorating or home improvement projects. You can always decide to splurge or save in some areas when you get into the project, but having a rough idea of what a project might cost up front really allows you to start with confidence.


3. Make Decisions with a Task List

Spreadsheets aren’t just for numbers and finances. They can turn your jumbled, overwhelming task list into an orderly path towards your end goal. One of my clients moved this summer, and we spent a lot of time early in the summer putting together a plan on how to get organized for her move. By starting with list of the big things that have to get done as you head toward a big deadline, you can fill in between the bigger tasks with smaller tasks, like when to call the movers, when to clean the new house, when to move a few things into the new house, when to pack up the animals’ things. Basically, this is a fancy list with deadlines attached to each task. You can keep tweaking it, re-date and shuffle your tasks, and keep updating it right up to your deadline.

Decisions are Hard - Organize Thoughts with Spreadsheets - timelines

Pro Tip: I like to create tasks lists like this one on my main computer, and I also make sure it’s available from anywhere by putting it on a cloud service. I typically save it in Evernote or Dropbox, which are also both accessible by mobile. You could also use Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, or a project management software that you use for work.

Decisions are hard, but spreadsheets can make them easier. There’s no programming or fancy formatting required for any of these decision making templates. Each of these spreadsheets took me about two minutes to put together, so you don’t want to spend a lot of time on format. Sometimes you have to try one format and then switch if you need a different set of information, and that’s OK. Ultimately you should end up with a set of information that will still be imperfect, but it will be a lot clearer than swirling, crashing thoughts in your head that lead you to jump to conclusions before the time is right.

Have a big project that is stumping you? Try putting together one of these spreadsheets, and let me know how it goes.

Need a little help? Contact me for a virtual organizing session, and I’ll build your decision spreadsheet for you while we noodle through your big decision together.