How to make hard decisions: even/over statements
We face decisions every single day, big and small. Sometimes those decisions have tradeoffs that feel impossible to decide between, which naturally will feel particularly hard to settle on.
For example, let’s say you’ve been struggling to enjoy your current role at work, and you’re ready to make a decision about how to address that. You’re feeling some stress about the volume of work you need to get done every week, but you also recognize that you don’t have relationships or strong connections with your colleagues.
If you prioritize feeling more connected, you’ll have less time to check things off your to-do list. But if you focus on checking more things off of your to-do list, you won’t have time to foster those relationships that you also need to feel more satisfied at work.
So what do you do when two or more important core needs are competing? Unfortunately, you can’t solve it all. You ultimately have to choose what to prioritize. And whether you like it or not, sometimes you need to let some fires burn while you address a different issue.
Plus, we sometimes have lots of autonomy—too much autonomy!—over the things that matter to us, or those that will have a big impact on those around us. When you feel like you’re at an impasse with a big decision, or you just can’t decide between two important things, try this fill-in-the-blanks tool:
In order to [thing], I’m choosing [x important thing] even over [y important thing].
This tool can come in handy for both work choices (should I choose to optimize for speed, or quality?) AND for personal decisions (like choosing a new role).
Use this tool when you have two equally important things to choose between, and it’s feeling impossible to make the decision. If the tradeoff was easy, you wouldn’t be feeling so stuck! It’s time to make a decision that, for the time being, requires you to choose to focus on one of these very important things over the other.
Here are some examples of even/over statements that I’ve worked with coaching clients on:
In order to feel some progress, I’m choosing to focus on the short-term even over making decisions that’ll last.
In order to have a healthier work-life balance, I’m choosing to ship quick fixes even over building expertise**.
In order to move my career forward, I’m choosing to take big risks even over maintaining work/life balance.
In order to lead my team, I’m choosing to take a bird’s eye view of the work even over diving into interesting technical problems.
Each of those even/over statements names two equally important things. So how do you choose the order?
Start with the first blank: “in order to [thing].” What are you trying to accomplish? What’s the goal right now? What’s your core need? Not forever, not for future-you: today, what’s the outcome you’re looking for?
Flip a coin. Really! Make one of the important things heads, and the other one tails. Flip the coin and fill in the sentence with the result: “In order to [thing], I’m choosing [coin flip result] even over [other side].” How does it feel to say out loud? Does it feel right, or not?
Now do the reverse: flip your two important things. “In order to [thing], I’m choosing [other side] even over [coin flip result].” How does this version feel?
Believe it or not, this exercise can be really helpful in honing your spidey sense and coming to a decision. What is your gut telling you here? What do you want to try next—knowing that you can try something different later? Choose the one that feels better to say out loud.
Make it time-bound
One of the biggest hesitations that I see people have when we do this exercise is “but I can’t do that forever!” Using the example from earlier: if you want to enjoy your work, you can’t choose building connections over making progress on your work forever, just as you can’t progress on your work forever and never build connections. RIGHT?
RIGHT. We are choosing this even/over statement for today. And maybe tomorrow. And maybe for three weeks! It’s important to be specific about the time frame with your even/over statement, both as a reminder that it’s not for forever (you’ll choose something different in the future!), and to reinforce that you have permission to do this today.
If your brain really gets hung up on the other stuff you feel you should be doing right now, set yourself a reminder on a future date to check-in on your even/over statement. Put it on the calendar for 2-4 weeks from now. If you start to question your even/over statement, remember to look at the calendar and say, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about updating this for another two weeks.”
(And to make it even more meta: in order to be able to hone this skill of letting some fires burn, I’m choosing to stick with my decision for two weeks, even over revisiting my choice.)
Make a Post-it note version
Our brains are delighted by simple, memorable phrases—not lengthy sentences that are hard to remember in their entirety. So what’s the version of your even/over statement that would fit on a Post-It note? Try summing it up: [x over y.]
For example, this even/over statement is pretty long: “In order to feel better about my current role, I’m choosing to build connections with colleagues even over making progress on work.” The Post-it note version of this (which is handy for our brains!) is “connection over progress.”
Make your Post-it and stick it where you can see it. I like to put mine on the wall behind my monitor, or on the bottom half of my laptop next to the mousepad. I’ve heard that others write on the sticky side (upside down) and stick it on the top panel, peaking over the screen. Putting it in view helps me be routinely reminded of what I’m optimizing for right now.
If you find yourself hung up on making this decision, see if adding a date to a corner of the post-it helps. This date indicates when it’s time to revisit your even/over statement—so if that date is in the future, it can be an easy reminder that you CHOSE this current even/over path! And it’s time to stick with it; don’t revise it yet. :)