YOU HAVE PROBABLY heard of the technique
of drawing a line down the center of a piece of paper and listing
the pros on one side and the cons on the other to help make a
decision. Apparently this technique has been around a long time.
In a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote to Joseph Priestley in 1772,
Franklin advises Priestley to use the technique, but adds two
extra tips I've never heard before tips that make the
technique much more effective.
The first tip is to take three or four
days to think about it, and during that time to add to the list
of pros and cons as you think of them. That's a great idea. If
you do this all in one sitting, you will necessarily neglect
to consider some things. Take your time and allow things to percolate
up into your awareness as you try to think of what is against
the decision and what is in favor of it. Write them all down.
Then when you have them listed all together
on one piece of paper, try to eliminate as many as you can. This
will help simplify your decision. This is Franklin's second tip,
and it's worth its weight in gold.
But how should you eliminate items from
your list? How can you do it in a way that will help you make
a good decision? In Franklin's words, here's how: "I
endeavour to estimate their respective weights; and where I find
two (one on each side) that seem equal, I strike them both out.
If I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con,
I strike out the three. If I judge some two reasons con
equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out the five;
and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies;
and if after a day or two of further consideration, nothing new
that is of importance occurs on either side I come to a determination
This is a much more sophisticated and effective
way to use the two-column decision-making method. Try to judge
the merit or importance of each item on your list and find one
or two on the other side that has equal weight and cross them
off your list. They balance each other out so you don't have
to consider them.
As you pare your list down, your decision
will probably become clearer and easier to make.
Benjamin Franklin added, "And though
the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic
quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively,
and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and
am less likely to make a rash step; and in fact I have found
great advantage from this kind of equation in what may be called
moral or prudential algebra."
When you have an important and difficult
decision to make, try Franklin's technique. Take three or four
days to think of the pros and cons of your decision
and list them. Then try to find items on either side of the line
that are of equal weight and eliminate them. Then give yourself
another day or so to see if you think of anything new to add
to the list. Then make your decision. In all likelihood,
using this method, you will make a decision you will not regret.