Set Important Decisions to Opt-out

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

There is such a thing as decision fatigue. Your willpower and ability to make effective decisions changes over the course of a day from mental weariness. When it comes to trying to respond and keep up with the demands of knowledge work, it’s hard to stay sharp and it’s easy to push out things that are important in exchange for the urgent.

There are important things I want to happen regardless of the tsunami of inputs. I want to spend time with my wife and kids. I want to fit into my pants and be able to climb a mountain without problems. I want to enjoy good friendships and fun. I want my responsibilities as a business owner, family man and consultant to be done well and on time.

Thus, I put the important things in my Gmail task list and my Google Calendar. They are recurring and for me to skip an appointment or task becomes a decision to opt-out. I think important things should be opt-out. Otherwise, the decision has to keep being evaluated, and depending on circumstances, I may bypass what I already decided was important.

It’s better to see that date, my workout or my weekly list of deliverables in my calendar and task list. I show up and get it done. The decision was already made and it’s one less item I have to think about.

What do you want to get done every week or month? How about making a list and getting those things into your calendar. Book that room, pay for that membership, send the invitation or develop a weekly list you have to opt-out of each week. You have effectively saved yourself some decision making fatigue in this crazy world that can easily topple you off your game.

The Value of Bookends

bookends to support commitments

Starting something means you committed in some way. You gave a, “Yes,” and now you are in. Your new yes is one of the items that are in your life and now demands attention, whether small or large.

The temptation is always there to commit on the front end. A moment of inspiration, someone else’s request or a legitimate priority can solicit that easy response.

Starting a thing is highly asymmetrical compared to ending something. It’s easy to get into something and because of our desire to please others or our inability to decide on a good thing vs. a bad thing. We jump in too easily.

Our bias towards the status quo overwhelms our sense of a good thing vs. an irrelevant thing as well. A commitment may have made sense previously, but today’s priorities and reality have changed. However, we find ourselves with a sunk-cost bias still working on something that doesn’t make sense today compared to a week ago.

This is where having bookends can help, something that holds up and defines your boundaries. On one end, you want to let few, but great, things in. On the other end, you want to cross-off or get rid of commitments that simply don’t make sense.

Letting go is hard for many reasons, largely emotional. But burning out, living with a heavy burden of work or relationships, can be costly. How do you get to your goals if you are holding up many commitments by not having clear bookends? It’s not scalable. You’ll simply keep letting half-hearted things in and not letting go of the things you should.

Bookends work because they are clear and defined. You don’t hold onto some clothes you may wear. You get rid of them and get something you love. The same goes for projects, relationships, business ventures and all the pursuits you have built that are part of your life.

Allowing things to stick around because once upon a time you made a commitment is costly. The best things are subservient to the mediocre.

If you can be discriminate about what comes in and vigilant about getting rid of things that don’t matter, I have no doubt you will live a little lighter and a lot clearer.

All You Have to Think About

decision making, age of speed, productivity

The next thing. Isn’t that it? It sounds simple. It is simple. But it’s hard. It’s simple and hard.

The ability to be clear about the next thing is not common. Most people you encounter dialogue or procrastinate around decisions and actions that could be made quickly. In other words, there’s not a lot of difference between the decisions and actions taken a few days or weeks from now than right now. And that inaction and indecision does not match today’s reality of speed. If you hold onto information that doesn’t move to the next step, a backlog quickly develops.

Formerly, executives were the ones burdened to be able to make decisions. Now, everyone has to make decisions because work and information flows in a more matrixed, horizontal fashion. You have to be better to be valuable. To be better comes down to your ability to think quickly, clearly and decisively about the next thing.

Remember those word problems we had to solve in school? I was talking with my daughter the other day about how I approached those in grade school, high school and engineering school.

The goal of those word problems is to obfuscate the things that really matter. Most of the words or points in a word problem do not matter. However, there are a few key facts, stats or data points that are extremely relevant. This is how real life and work actually operate in reality. Most of what is coming at you does not matter. Clarity is about recognizing what does matter and solving problems with decisions and actions around those vital few factors that you can identify.

Some people are much better at getting to the next step because they can make meaning from information efficiently. This is a skill you can develop over time by paying attention and trusting yourself. Yes, you can fail at making wrong decisions and actions. But that is part of building the skill. You have to risk being wrong so you can get better at being right.

If you simply punt and allow someone else to make decisions and actions and tell you what to do next, that may alleviate your fear of failure, but you are falling behind from the flow and pace of business.

Practice one thing relentlessly for the next 30 days. Define the next step and move to action quickly. Don’t let things sit or pile up. Get good at this one skill. Your survival and relevance depend on it.

Fooled by the Law of Diminishing Returns

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At some point, the effort and cost are not worth it anymore. The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in when building a business or even building a life. More investment of your time, money and attention may initially have high returns, but then at some point, the rewards taper.

Will more efficiency make a large impact on your revenue?

How many more relationships start to become a liability to manage rather than pure enjoyment?

Does more money create more happiness after a certain point? They say $75K is that point of diminishing return from research studies.

Sometimes, I can’t find the motivation to do more. Perhaps, that law of diminishing return is instinctive and I’m only responding. Or experience simply shows me that more does not equal better. In fact, more may mean cost.

I see it with business owners that add more headcount and find more headaches or layers of management to deal with. More cost, not less, for more effort and investment.

I see diminishing returns when we sign up for more activities for the kids. Fun can turn to drudgery when the calendar is packed to the brim. It’s different than getting good and focusing on just a few things done well. Less headache and more results.

I think the key is to ramp up specific parts to that inflection point of diminishing returns and leave it alone. Then move on to other areas and invest time, energy, money and emotion to get that working to a point of producing returns.

Much like the story of The Golden Goose, we can get greedy with seeking more output and choke the goose or cut its head off only to find our hopes shattered from overreaching.

Greed and perfectionism can compel us to push too hard in a direction and lose sight of that reality principal we are all facing in business and life that more stops being better at some point.

So, some things I try to do to fight this tendency:

  1. Ask myself, “Does this matter?” and “How much?” It keeps me from pushing into areas that are not going to have a return.
  2. Test the concept on a small scale. If I have an idea, I like to see it in play and work out the kinks before overinvesting time and resources.
  3. Watch my enthusiasm. If I am losing motivation, that’s a sign that something is not worth it anymore. I try and step back to figure out why I may have lost enthusiasm and get as honest as I can.
  4. Look at the numbers. You can simplify most goals and results by looking at inputs and outputs. How much is going in and what is coming out as a result? Typically, you get a boost initially. Later, it’s not so great.

It’s hard to detach and do a gut check on work and projects we become vested in. My emotions can keep me trapped on a path that may otherwise not make as much sense.

Yes, I like excellence. But it makes sense to a point. Then wisdom and business acumen have to kick in to avoid wasting time and energy.

Where might you be spending too much and not getting a better return?

Entrepreneurs Thrive on Resilience

A key differentiator in the marketplace and a way you can compete is to be more resilient than the next person. Resilience comes from both resolve and determination to stick things out when you don’t see an answer, or if you do see an answer, keeping on course until you see the outcome you want materialize.

You may need help to see clearly, get conviction around what you believe and then taking action. Resilience will make you different than those around you used to things being comfortable, defined or secure.

Your own resilience is becoming critical in a world of too much noise. You have to stand out.

Developing resilience comes through life experiences. Here are some ways you can increase yours:

  1. Meet regularly with a business or life coach and get clarity about what is in front of you.
  2. Own the decisions you make. Don’t look back. Write down your decisions either to yourself or emails to your team. Committing makes you have to back your decisions which builds conviction.
  3. Push a little farther in your work. If you say you’re going to deliver something, learn to do a little extra. Create surprises and delights. You have to stick with the work, perhaps not even getting credit, but it will go a long way in seeing something through to the end and then some more.
  4. Take a little longer with people. See if you can study what motivates people. Don’t react in emotionally charged situations. Observe the behaviors you see. You will be learning to subdue your emotions and analyze reality.

There is a lot of work and self-restraint when it comes to resilience.

However, the reward comes from seeing things through regardless of difficulty and circumstance. It’s an entrepreneurial trait that pays dividends as you learn to achieve milestones along the way of success.

How can you be more resilient?

Busy or Productive?

We run into the challenge every knowledge worker is facing today.  We are all overwhelmed.  There are more emails than what we know what to do with.  There are more phone calls than we can return.  There is more news than we can absorb.

Information moves with such abundance and ease that it is hard to keep our bearings.  Often, we shut down and lose what is most important as human beings:

  1. Decision-Making: Information is presented to us in order to move to an action or a decision.  Everything else is noise.  When we develop a continuous habit of letting our inbox fill up and not making decisions, we develop a habit of being indecisive.  The tragedy is that the items that are a crisis are what get addressed.
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