How to Be the Data Scientist of Your Own Life

A handy way to help you make a decision you won't regret.

By Liz Funk (Writer)

We’ve all had to make big decisions: what kind of career to pursue, which job to take, whether to break up with your significant other. These kinds of decisions — and the change they bring — are tough. But they’re also how we create lives of our own design. What feels less like expansion and more like a vexed knot in our stomachs is you’re completely conflicted with a decision. Ever feel like you have too many options? All the variables seem menacing: the what-ifs, the opportunity costs, and the ramifications of making the wrong choice. Three years ago, LyAnn Chhay was in this position. She was wearing many different hats as an early team member of the Menlo Park-based tech startup Poshmark, an online platform that enables young women members to create their own online consignment shops to re-sell their gently used clothing. “The company began to scale quickly in a short period of time and it became clear that we needed someone to fully take on managing and growing our community team,” Chhay says. “I struggled with whether or not I'd be able to dedicate the time and energy it deserved, especially given that I had a two-year-old at home. I battled the pros and cons in my mind (which resulted in many sleepless nights!)….” “In an ideal situation, our gut instinct kicks in,” says Jenny Blake, a New York-based career strategist, former Google employee, and co-founder of the tech startup Lucent. “When I say to clients, ‘What does your gut say?’ they always, always know the answer. Occasionally, they’ll say, ‘I don’t know!’ But if I say, ‘Just guess, What does your gut say?’ they know the answer!” Yet, sometimes a gut reaction isn’t there. “We’ll reflect and when the answer isn’t coming, it’s because we don’t have all the information for our gut to give a clear answer,” says Blake. “So, you ask yourself, ‘What data can I collect?’” “And this is where we can become the observer in our life. We can really put ourselves in the role of data scientist…” Blake created a 30-Day Decision Tracker to help people gain clarity around important decisions by isolating how they feel about the issue each day. The steps are simple:

  1. Identify the decision you need to make, and rate how you feel about it each day, without weighing the ramifications of the decision.
  2. Rate your baseline mood (how you feel about everything else).

The template tracks the daily variance and charts the two against each other over the course of one month, in addition to calculating the average rating for the 30 days. Just one more reason to love data. “The reason I created the decision tracker was to be less emotional about decision making and to more clearly see, What does the data say over time? Whenever I was in the moment, I would get flooded by confusion, and have trouble looking backward or looking forward. By tracking for 30 days, I could separate the emotion behind making the decision and just gather data.It took the pressure off of me having to, every day, cycle around the same set of questions.” While LyAnn Chhay didn’t use the decision tracker to help her decide whether to take the VP of Community job at Poshmark, she did come to a decision: “I decided that I would just go for it. Mainly because I knew in my heart that I would be able to focus on doing something I was truly passionate about. Reflecting back now, it was a difficult decision at the time but I couldn't be happier with the decision I made.”


About the guest blogger: Liz Funk is a freelance writer who covers entrepreneurship, startups, productivity, and women’s issues.She has written for Creator by WeWork, Levo League, USA Today, Newsday, and the Washington Post. Visit her online at lizfunk.com and follow her on Twitter at @LizFunk.