Better Decisions With A Decision Journal

Leaders and managers produce decisions more than anything else. So it stands to reason that you want to hone your decision making skills. The best way to do so is to learn from your precious decisions.

The problem is that our brains don’t exactly make this easy. For starters, we tend to judge a decision by its outcome, not by the quality of the decision in the moment it was made.

We also tend to remember our choices as better than they actually were.

In other words, our memory is a poor tool for reviewing the accuracy and efficacy of our decisions. But what if we decided to be much more meticulous about recording our current decisions, so we could review and reflect on them more accurately?

This is where a decision journal comes in.

What is a decision journal?

A decision journal is a place where you log your most important decisions, their context, what you expect to happen and why. The point is both to clarify your thinking in the moment, and to have a record of decisions you can review and reflect on.

Taking a bit of time after writing your decision down can already help to spot flaws in your thinking, before you’ve commited to the decision. And reviewing your decisions after 3 to 6 months will let you see where you were right, where you were wrong, and why.

Using a decision journal will give you much clearer insight into the quality of your decisions, and helps you to improve over time.

A decision journal template

In order to make the most of a decision journal, you’ll want to include the right information. Farnham Street’s Shane Parrish recommends writing down the following for the important decisions you face:

  • The situation. What is the situation, and what is the context?
  • The problem statement. What is the problem you’re trying to solve, or the goal you’re working towards?
  • The variables that govern the situation. What are the most relevant variables that can move the outcome one way or another?
  • Alternatives. What were some alternatives you seriously considered, but did not choose?
  • Range of outcomes. What are various scenarios that could unfold based on your decision?
  • Expected outcome and probabilities. What do you actually expect to happen, and what probabilities do you assign to that outcome?
  • Date, time and mental state. When are you making this decision, and how do you feel?

Here’s an editable template you can use.

Click for the Google Doc

This template covers the basics, but feel free to adapt this template to your own style and process. Here are a few examples of things you could include:

  • What are the second and third-order consequences?
  • What is the worst-case scenario? Why is that OK?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What additional benefits could this decision yield?
  • What is the opportunity cost of doing this?
  • Who should make this decision?

Each of these has very specific trade-offs, and it can be extremely valuable to review the outcome of your decision.

An example decision

To show what this looks like in practice, here is a real example of a decision I made earlier this year.

Here are some more videogame-specific examples of decisions that are worth documenting and reviewing:

  • Do you hire a new employee or get freelance help?
  • Do you find a publisher or go the self-publishing route?
  • Do you make a sequel or make an entirely new game?
  • Do you launch on one platform at a time or go multiplatform right away?
  • Do you get a booth at that conference or do you arrange something else?

Using your decision journal

Every couple of months, pick up your journal and review some decisions. Add insights on what actually happened, and what you learned. Take the time to reflect on both your decision and your decision making process.

Sometimes, you’ll be right about the outcome, but not for the reasons you thought. Other times, you’ll be right about some of the specifics, but not the outcome. And of course, sometimes you’ll just be plain wrong.

Before long, you’ll start to see patterns. You can then adapt your process to account for any strong or weak points in your reasoning. In time, this will lead you to make better and better decisions.

Next steps

Here are some next steps you can take if you like what you’ve just read:

  • Subscribe to my newsletter to get new essays just like this one straight in your inbox, every two weeks on Tuesday.
  • Making better decisions is just one of the things I help my clients with. For example, if you want an outside perspective on your business, or someone to run important decisions by, my Executive Sparring services could be just what you need. Schedule an introductory meeting through my calendly page and let’s see if there’s a fit!