The 3-Step Way to Make Smart Decisions at Work—and in Life

asweatlife_The 3-Step Way to Make Smart Decisions at Work—and in Life

Mid-day workouts. Freedom to pursue the projects I love. Furry interns. The life of a freelance writer has many perks—and right now, I wouldn’t trade it for any other path.

But of course, it also comes with challenges. As I’ve mentioned before—both in this post and at the #SweatworkingWeek Lunch and Learn I participated in earlier this month—one of the biggest is the sheer volume of decisions to make.

From small daily choices about how to spend my time to weighty determinations about big-picture strategy, every day comes packed with options. And in the company of me, I’m the one responsible for each and every call.

One of the best decisions I’ve made since launching on my own was to work with Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago dietitian and wellness superstar, on her new book The Superfood Swap.

Now, Dawn knows a ton about nutrition. But she’s also a super-savvy businesswoman who specializes in helping people transform their lives for the better. She’s practically overflowing with positive energy—and also with the practical tools to harness it, a rare combination I strongly believe is key to her success.

One of the helpful strategies I picked up from her was a decision-making matrix of sorts, a series of questions I now ask myself every time I’m faced with a choice of accepting or pursuing a new project.

Here’s how it goes, or at least, how I personally go through it:

1. Is it a hell yeah?

Sometimes, when you hear of a new opportunity, you immediately know you should go for it. So, you want to offer me a dream assignment at a high pay rate with a reasonable deadline? Sign me up, no further deliberating required. Job posting for which you’re 100-percent qualified, with a 50-percent bump in pay? No-brainer—you’re applying.

2. If not—is there a way I can change it to better suit my needs?

So, not every potential path will be a slam-dunk. But often, when presented with a prospect that’s not *exactly* what you’d hoped, you can shift either the assignment itself or your approach to make it a better fit.

For example, say you are asked to explain how to use the new time-entry system at a department meeting. You’re not exactly thrilled, but what you would be excited about is sharing ideas for building mini-workouts and mental health breaks into your workday. Well, what if you combine the two? You’ll deliver a useful service and work toward building your rep as the office wellness guru. Win-win.

This could also take the form of negotiating for a little more cash or creative freedom, taking on a cross-disciplinary task that brings you in contact with new people in your company, or—in my case—asking to shift the focus of an article so I can interview an expert whose worked I’ve long admired. Maybe it’s quitting your job to pursue a whole new path—or, maybe it’s staying put, but with solid goals and targets for your side hustle.

Whatever it is, before you say “no” to a certain route or task, ask yourself if you can tweak the situation in some way to your advantage. If it doesn’t quite become a “hell yeah,” this often moves you to the category of “well, why the hell not?”, making it a gamble worth taking.

3. Do I want more of this in my life?

The last reason I might choose to do something is the likelihood it will open up another door later on. Perhaps it’s an assignment on a subject outside my area of expertise—but for a publication I’d been hoping to break into. Or, it’s a chance to practice a new skill or flex a different sort of creative muscle, or tackle a topic I feel passionately about, or one that brings me into contact with people I really want to know better. All valid reasons to move forward, even under conditions that otherwise might not be ideal.

So, there it is. Looking back, every time I’ve said “yes” to something when I couldn’t have answered “yes” to a single one of those questions, I’ve come to regret it. Not only do I devote time to something that’s not in alignment with my goals or values, I’m certain I don’t deliver the same quality of work or effort. Not to mention, I’m now hoarding that opportunity from someone who would have actually been excited about it. Everybody loses in the end.


Making decisions still isn’t easy—but the more I use this framework, the increasingly confident I’ve become in my judgment. I use this strategy most often for work, but with some minor tweaks, I think it works with just about any situation in life. Try it out sometime—and let me know how it goes for you! And here’s hoping for a year full of “hell, yeahs” for all of us.


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About Cindy Kuzma

Cindy Kuzma is a freelance health and fitness writer and a contributing editor at Runner’s World magazine. She grew up in Texas and moved to Chicago to earn her master’s in journalism at Northwestern University; once she saw the lakefront running trail, she decided to stay. She’s finished 19 marathons and also loves lifting heavy weights, yoga, live music and running to the Green City Market from Andersonville and taking the bus home with a ridiculous haul of fresh veggies. Cindy is the producer and co-host on aSweatLife's podcast, #WeGotGoals. She’s written for Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Shape and other publications as well—you can read her work at

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