Category Archives: Decision Making

Why the 90-Day Rule is So Powerful

With the advent of the internet, and then smartphones, we’re able to access the outside world on-demand from just about anywhere.  The flipside is that the outside world can access each of us just as easily.

Friends and colleagues can send us an email or text at any time.  They can use a selection of apps to “ping” us from across the world with information, photos, articles, or project status updates.

And, although rare these days, people can even call us on our smartphone…trust me, it still happens.

In all these instances, the expectation is that we’ll be fully accessible, and ready to respond immediately to any and all issues, questions, or opportunities that come our way.

An immediate-response, immediate-judgment, immediate-decision-making model of interaction is the new norm.  We train our brains to quickly scan complex situations with the goal of rendering snap decisions that we can provide as part of our response(s).

There’s just one problem:  creating this speedy-response capability eliminates the one thing that many decisions (especially complex and long-term decisions) require:  TIME

Time and space are exactly what we need to make our most effective decisions.

Time to absorb information at our own pace.

Time to immerse ourselves in a new situation before being forced to judge it or make decisions about it.

Consider the person who gets a new job.  This new job is going to be amazing.  It’s what they want to do, and it pays a lot more than their last job.

It’s normal to visualize all the ways to be successful in the new job.  It’s normal to think of how to spend the new-found money.

It’s also normal that once the work starts, the new job won’t be as amazing as it seemed.  After the first week, the job and the people at the new job may seem like a nightmare.

Or, the new job is as amazing as it appeared and the people are awesome.  But the work is highly technical and challenging.  Doubts can creep in about whether it’s a good skill set fit.

The truth is, in the first week (even the first month) of new things like jobs, relationships, or workout routines, we don’t know enough to judge.  We may think we know.  We don’t.

This is where the power of the “90-Day Rule” shows itself.  What is the 90-Day Rule?  It’s something I made up that says for the next 90 days, I’ll immerse myself in the new thing (job, workout routine, etc.) without any preconceived judgment, without any pressure to decide, and without any thoughts about alternatives.

If I’ve decided to do this new thing (after days, weeks, months, sometimes years of contemplation), I’m going to give it at least 90 days before judging it.

In the new job example, consider how freeing a 90-day moratorium on judgment will be.  You’re not judging the new people.  You’re not judging the new company.  You’re not judging your ability to perform in the new job.  You’re not even judging the commute.

No judgments means you can focus on what it takes to be as successful as possible in the new job.  All the energy you would have focused on making judgments and other distracting decisions is channeled fully into the most valuable tasks.

What about all that new money you’re earning at this new job?  What if you give yourself 90 days before spending it on all that new stuff?  Have a nice dinner to celebrate the start, and then wait 90 days.  You’ll have plenty of time to spend all this new money on the 91st day.  What’s your hurry?

When was the last time you gave anything 90 minutes before passing judgment?  It’s time to give important decisions at least 90 days before passing judgment.

You’ve decided on this course of action.  Let it play out.  Give it room.  Let it breathe.  See where it goes.

Give yourself the power of time.

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

 

What We Don’t Know

Consider everything you know…

All the things you’ve learned since you were born.

All the things you’ve forgotten…in the last five years.

The capital of Vermont.  Montpelier.  I remember that one from 5th grade, even though I’ve never been to Vermont or Montpelier.  I like the way it sounds, and the word Montpelier always makes me think of potato peelers.

“I” always comes before “E,” except after “C” and in weird words like weird.

Over ninety-eight percent of the population of Australia lives within 25 miles of the country’s coastline.  I learned that from a tour guide.  I assume it’s true.

Now, consider everything you don’t know.

Like, how to sew.  Or, how to find top dead center on a Volkswagen engine.  What about the method for calculating the orbital decay of a satellite?  The percentage of nitrogen and oxygen in our atmosphere?

How about the exact weather forecast for a month from now?  What your customers will want or need or expect one year, two years, five years from now?  The truth is, they probably don’t know either.

I’d venture to say that what we don’t know is “Infinity minus One” larger than what we do know.  Sounds hopeless.

But it’s the unknowns that make our little journey interesting.  Discovering the secrets of an unknown is the reward for our curiosity.

How does cruise control work?

How and when did someone decide it was a good idea to pick certain red berries, dry them in the sun, then put them over a fire for just the right amount of time (whatever that is), then grind up what’s left and run hot water over it to make coffee?

Where does castor oil come from?

Curiosity and the humility to admit our ignorance, in pursuit of new knowledge is the key to learning.

Understanding that our decisions will never have the luxury of complete or perfect knowledge.  We’ll never know everything before making the decision.

In fact, taking that risk and making the (uninformed) decision is another way we learn.  If our decision is wrong, we learn from it (hopefully) and make a new decision that is less wrong.

Knowledge is power, and ignorance is bliss.  Both are right.

But I believe ignorance can have more power.  The power to try.  The power to seek.  The power to chase the unknown.

What do I know?  I know that I don’t know much, even though I know a lot.

Knowing that I don’t know drives me to ask the dumb question(s), to search for answers, to seek the unknown, to leap, to discover, to practice, and most of all, to never stop learning.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

 

 

 

The Dodge

Here’s a paradox about productivity:

I’m often most productive when dodging the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

I always know when I’m avoiding a task, even if tell myself I’m not.  That task that seems undoable, requires multiple synchronized steps, requires difficult decisions, involves lots of other people who may not be “on board,” or the task with a nebulous benefit way out in the future.

It’s easy to dodge these challenging tasks and focus on the simple stuff.  That list of to-dos I can knock out in an afternoon.

I know I’m not doing the tough thing, but at least I’m being productive.  Nobody can accuse me of being lazy if I just keep moving.

This is the curse of staying busy, while not accomplishing anything.

I can dodge all I want.  I can tell myself stories to justify my delay.

It doesn’t matter, the tough task will still be there, waiting.

Here’s another paradox:

When I finally face the tough task, the one I’ve been avoiding, it usually starts to look a lot easier.  The next indicated steps begin to show themselves.  The unwieldy becomes doable.

The dodge makes the tough task appear bigger than it really is.

It comes down to fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the difficult.  Fear of embarrassment.  Fear of failure.  Fear of success (yes, this is a thing).

What if this task is harder than I imagined?  What if it owns me?  What if I can’t do it?  What if someone sees me fail?

The answer to all these questions is, “So what.  Get started anyway.  Stop dodging and start doing.”

“Knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it.” – Seth Godin

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

 

Are You a Time Billionaire?

I heard the term, Time Billionaire, a few weeks ago on the Tim Ferris Podcast (which I highly recommend, by the way).

There are 31,500,000 seconds in a year.

If you live to the end of your 90th year, you will have lived 2,838,240,000 seconds.

Each of us is a time billionaire.  We have billions of seconds at our disposal.

To date, I’ve used about 1.67 billion of my seconds.  If I’ve slept for a third of my life (wouldn’t 8 hours per night be nice?), I’ve been awake and actively (?) living for 1.1 billion seconds.  I have roughly 770 million more active seconds remaining (if I live to be 90).

How many billions of seconds have you used?  How many do you have left?

It’s easy to answer the first question, impossible to answer the second one.

One thing is certain.  If you’re reading this post, you’ve already used billions of your seconds, and you probably have millions more.

The most important question is:  What do you want to do with your remaining seconds?

Love.  Work.  Play.  Explore.  Rest.  Watch.  Avoid.  Climb.  Run.  Accumulate.  Distract.  Hate.  Support.  Waste.  Invest.  Achieve.  Overcome.  Reach.  Reduce.  Enhance.  Ignore.  Engage.  Imagine.  Share.  Write.  Read.  Produce.  Consume.  Hide.  Encourage.  Recover.  Experiment.  Challenge.  Destroy.  Create.  Build.  Live!

We decide how we use our seconds (even when we choose not to decide, or let someone else decide for us).

None of us gets a second helping of seconds.  It’s worth investing some valuable seconds to consider what to do with the rest of our seconds before they’re gone.

 

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Decisions always want more time.

Decisions always want more data.

Decisions always want more opinions.

 

Decisions don’t like risk.

Decisions don’t like being wrong.

Decisions don’t like upsetting people.

 

Decisions choose the path of least resistance, whenever allowed.

 

Decisions like being easy.

Decisions like being popular.

Decisions like being swayed by others.

 

Decisions like to follow.

Decisions like to blame someone.

Decisions like hiding behind distractions.

 

Decisions prefer urgency over importance.

Decisions prefer not to decide.

Decisions rarely see at a distance.

 

Decisions are just ideas until we turn them into action.  They’ll be difficult.  They’ll lack information.  They’ll often be wrong.

Decide anyway!

Each of us gets to make our own decisions…even when we choose not to decide.

All the rest are the stories we tell to justify the decisions we’ve made.

 

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

 

Yahtzee Lessons

I was probably seven when Grandma Anne taught me to play Yahtzee.  I’d spend the night at her house with my cousin, Devin, and invariably, we’d be at her kitchen table, playing Yahtzee all afternoon.

It’s a simple game…on the surface.

Each player gets thirteen turns to complete their score card.

The top section of the score card consists of numbers 1 thru 6.  You need to roll three ones, three twos, three threes, etc. to get your “minimums.”  You could also roll four fives (or four of anything), which comes in handy if you were only able to roll two threes on a previous turn.  The idea on the top section is to score at least 63 total points, so you can get the 35-point bonus.

Yahtzee! scores 50 points.  That’s when you get all five dice to be the same during your turn.  Some players focus solely on getting Yahtzee at the expense of everything else.  The theory being that 50 points is huge, and if you get a second Yahtzee that one’s worth 100.  Of course, the odds of getting a Yahtzee are against you, but the payoff is big when it happens.

Grandma was always clear that while a Yahtzee is nice, the most consistent winning strategy is to get your bonus on the top section.  Rely on those 35 points as your foundation.  A Yahtzee, or a big four-of-a-kind on the bottom section of the score card would be icing on the cake.

Relying on the foundational 35 and less on the Yahtzee probably explains many of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

Each turn, you roll five dice to start.  You get two more rolls in your turn.  Depending on what the dice show after your first roll, you may not need to take those additional rolls.  Life is good when you roll a complete large straight or a Yahtzee on your first roll!

The bottom section of the score card has three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind, full house, small straight, large straight, Yahtzee! and Chance.

Chance comes into play when you’re rolling for something that doesn’t happen.  Like, you already have your small straight, and now you’re rolling to complete a large straight.  Unfortunately, that last number doesn’t come up.  You count-up the total of all the dice and enter that number into Chance.

Chance is a lot like a mulligan in golf.  A do-over.  In this case, you get to capture some points even though the rolls failed to produce.  They say there are no do-over’s in life, but I disagree.  There are plenty of second chances, if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness (mostly from yourself), learn from your mistake(s) (hopefully), and try again.

How often do three sixes come up in a roll?  How likely is it that you’ll be able to roll that one specific number you need to complete your straight or full house?  When you’ve used up your Chance spot, and your rolls have led to nothing, which slot are you willing to sacrifice to end this turn?  Odds and decisions.

Yahtzee seems like a game of chance.  It’s much more.  It’s a game of decisions and imperfect trade-offs.

After a while, we graduated to playing Triple Yahtzee, which entails playing three games simultaneously.  You get 39 turns.  One column is worth triple points, one is double points, and the last column is regular points.

The decisions and trade-offs from the “Single Yahtzee” game are in play, but now you want to maximize the point values in your triple column and consider sacrificing some of the slots in the regular column.

Don’t be fooled.  Mastering Triple Yahtzee isn’t just triple the challenge.  As in real life, something that should be only triple the challenge is often exponentially more challenging than it first appears.

What is the answer to all this exponential chaos?  Methodical effort and focused strategy.  The priorities and the strategy are defined.  The decisions that follow from these priorities become clear.  Maybe even simple.

There’s a certain genius in showing a seven-year-old the game of Yahtzee.  They haven’t fully formed their approach to decision making.  Success, failure, decisions, and sacrifices are in play with every turn.  Excellent practice for the real thing.

Yahtzee illustrates how something completely random and driven by chance can be managed within a solid set of priorities and strategies.

I didn’t just get to learn about rolling dice, counting numbers, and making decisions.  Grandma gave me the gift of lasting memories that I cherish to this day, playing Yahtzee at her kitchen table.

Now that I have six (!) grandkids of my own, I can’t wait to teach them the game of Yahtzee…and then, Triple Yahtzee!

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

 

 

Did You Add Value Today?

I often ask people this question, and I never define what I mean by the word “value.”  I enjoy hearing the range of responses as the person quickly reviews in their head the times in the day where they added value.

No matter what you do each day, where you work, whether you’re paid for the work you do, whether you interact with lots of people, or toil in solitude.  The question matters.

Did you add value today?

Did you improve something?  Did you add a new idea to the world?  Did you help someone else today?  Did you listen?  Did you motivate?  Did you share?  Did you forgive?

If you manage people, did you help your direct reports add value today?  Did you congratulate them on the value they added?

Did you add value today?

A simple question.  It’s most powerful when you ask yourself this question a couple of times a day.

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

 

The Pebble

As in the small rock that somehow slipped into your hiking boot.

Can you give your boot a quick wiggle and move that pebble out from under your foot?  Maybe, but guess what.  It’ll find it’s way back under your heal in no time.  They always do.

Does it matter that you’re making great time up the mountain, and have lots of momentum on your side?  Nope.  That little pebble demands attention.

That’s the way of the small irritant.  It’s there and it won’t be leaving on its own.  It will start to cause damage, become more distracting, and take more of your attention.  Try as you might, there’s no way to ignore it.

The only thing you can do is stop and take off your pack, then take off your boot and dump that little pebble out.

Eliminate the irritant and get refocused on the trail ahead.

Sure, it’s annoying to stop.  But, the alternative is far worse.

Photo by Aneta Ivanova on Unsplash

 

The Power of Chaos

Chaos is easy to create.  Eliminate judgment, eliminate priorities, and you’ve set the stage for a good dose of chaos.

Chaos is seductive.  It gives the appearance of action while preventing forward progress.

All the planning, all the preparation, all the foresight…none of it will prevent chaos when we give it control.

Chaos provides excellent camouflage for mediocre results.

After all, how can I be held accountable when all around me is chaos?  If I’m able to deliver any results amidst all the chaos, I’m a hero.  It doesn’t matter if my results are of the highest quality or even the desired quantity.

Look around you.  Is your work environment chaotic?  What about your personal time?  Chaotic?

Is all this chaos creating a positive environment for the changes you want, or is it sapping energy and stopping progress?

The secret to chaos is that you own the choice.  You decide how chaotic your life is.  You have the power over chaos, even when it appears that chaos is in control.

When you choose your priorities, choose what gets your attention, choose what to ignore, and choose what to eliminate, you take back control from chaos.

Be careful…

As you consciously take steps to eliminate chaos, you will be held accountable for the results you should be producing, instead of the results you sneak past all the chaos.

In the end, living in chaos is easier than being truly effective…probably why so many people choose it.

 

Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash

 

 

Microwaves and Slow Cookers

I recently heard someone make reference to their art not being microwaved.  Their art is the kind that comes from a slow-cooker.

An interesting concept.

The food (or drink) that we place in a microwave is already mostly prepared.  We aren’t interested in the process.  We just want it to be hot, and we’ve relied on someone else to handle the actual work of preparation.

With the slow cooker, it’s up to us.  We choose the ingredients.  We do the preparation.  Separately, the ingredients just sit there…waiting to be part of something.  But, blended properly, with the right amount of time and heat (energy), those separate ingredients (hopefully) combine to create something unique and tasty.

The microwave measures its cooking time in 30-second increments.  Hot dogs wrapped in a damp napkin take about a minute.  Popcorn takes three to four minutes.  Organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s takes four minutes.

Slow-cooking time is measured in hours.  Six hours is usually too short.  Eight to ten hours gets it right.

And, what about the accompaniments?  With a microwave cooking cycle, there’s only time to get your plate ready, find a clean fork, and maybe pour a glass of your favorite beverage.  Linear and task-focused.

Slow-cooking provides time for the cook to consider what goes best with the main dish.  What shall we have for dessert?  Would a loaf of fresh French bread go well with this stew?  The fullness of the dining experience is in play.

Neither method is perfect.

Ever burn popcorn in the microwave?  If so, you know how quickly it can happen.  Something so simple becomes a lump of smoking charcoal.

Slow-cooking disasters are equally possible.  Your reward for that ten-hour wait may be something that’s not even edible (at least for anyone who has taste buds).

Both methods have their place.  Both carry risk.

The question is how are you deciding which parts of your life to microwave, and which parts to slow-cook?

A tougher question might be:  Are you making the choice, or allowing someone else to make the choice for you?