You know the feeling; you’ve got so much you need to get done that you don’t know where to start. So you create a to-do list. When you get to write the last item you’re already feeling better. Just the act of writing things down has given you a sense that you have done something useful. This process also, unconsciously, lets you start prioritising the important things, which you absolutely have to get done, over the urgent nagging things that are demanding your attention.
Are you familiar with the game Top Trumps?
In the game of business; Important trumps Urgent; we should all know this but…
Urgent is usually easier and quicker to get done and there is an immediate psychological pay off. The pressure of urgency is taken away which reduces stress and allows us to feel that we achieved something. So what do we do?…the urgent.
Important is usually harder to get your head around. Important issues are likely to come with high tariff decisions that demand investment of either time or money. What goes with this is the often unvoiced fear of “what happens if it (the decision) doesn’t work?” So we put the Important issues in the “think about” list until… they become Urgent.
When we absolutely have to make a decision it takes the agony of decision away because by this point any decision is better than no decision.
Do you recognise this pattern?
There is a better way but, for some people, it challenges the very principles of being business like.
…Cool, logical thinking that leads to a rational decision that is not based on emotion and sentiment.
It is about acknowledging the emotional content of decision making.
Decisions involve the assessment of risk; the cost-benefit equation. What’s the potential cost (risk) over the potential benefit (payoff)?
This is, ultimately, an emotional judgement. If you don’t believe me try this test:
Imagine that you are at the top of a snow covered mountain. The ride up on the ski lift was exhilarating and you’re excited about skiing back down. When you get to the ski off point you have two choices:-
The Black Run: Is steep and fast and you will be back in the ski lodge enjoying your après ski cocktail in 6 minutes. The journey back will test you beyond the limit of your current skills and will be the most exciting thing you have ever done. It will also give you the most spectacular views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. But, it carries the risk of potentially serious injury if you fall.
The White Run: Is shallow and meandering. It leads you through the forest and takes about 25 minutes. The skiing is well within your level of skill and if you do fall the snow is soft and will soften any impact, not that you will be going that fast.
Which route do you choose to take?
When you leave your decision making until it becomes urgent you are creating the above black route and white route scenario in your mind. With any decisions there are always options and it is your attitude to risk that will determine which route you are going to take.
When you deal with important issues first, you give yourself the time to build or acquire the skills you need to take the black route and get the bigger payoff.
The overriding feeling of the need “to do” and take action comes from the anxiety of overwhelm. Being successful in business is about taking action but it’s about taking the actions that will get you the results you want; it’s not about taking actions that just act as a calming balm to the call of your to do list.
When you acknowledge the emotions you are feeling about making a particular decision you will make better decisions. Your emotions are warning signals that something is not quite right. When you are honest with yourself and allow the feeling to emerge it gives you more information on which to base your decision.
Most business teachers say that decisions should not be made from emotion and they are right but if the decisions you make do not take into account your own emotions and those of the people you work with you will find it difficult if not impossible to get the results you really want.