A simple method for stopping decision-making procrastination

Some decisions come easily. It’s a gut feeling and you just know what to do. But other decisions can get us stuck forever. It took me almost two years (2006-2008) to finally decide to work for myself.

I was recently asked how I did commit to that decision and I remembered the process a good friend took me through. It is essentially a “risk management” type process which you can use to forget about long lists or worries and woes about how it will all turn out…

My decision to work for myself did not come without the usual worries : What if it doesn’t work? Will I make enough money? Is it the right time? In the summer of 2008, I was expecting my 3rd child, had bills to pay and my wife was a full-time mother. I didn’t want to get it wrong. And as we all know, fear is a wonderful way to do nothing. In fact, I had already been ruminating for nearly two years.

One day I spoke about it with my friend Kevin and he asked me a few questions that finally sealed the deal. When you are faced with worry about if you really can decide to “do that”, these might help you …

If it works ….

Kevin asked me to estimate on a scale of 1-to-1o the likelihood that it would work out. At the time, I was a learning and development manager with a great bunch of contacts of like-minded learning people and I was planning to start-up as a freelance trainer. I figured someone was bound to give me some work. I had loads of energy, felt very creative and was good at networking. And I had no doubt about my ability to deliver. I estimated a “7”.

Then he asked: “If it does work, how would you measure the impact scale of 1-to-10?” adding that I could think about happiness, money, pride … whatever I wanted. I answered immediately with a conservative 10 🙂 It was exactly what I wanted for so many reasons, I would manage myself and my time, make great money and be much happier.

What if it doesn’t work?

Kevin immediately followed up with that one. “Now estimate from 1-to-10 the negative impact if it doesn’t work out”, he said. On that day, I had 20,000 euros in a savings account, which would give me quite some buffer for not having work immediately. I figured that if I didn’t have ANY work in 6 months, I could double-down for a few more months before I’d be forced to look for another job. As a 30-year old with a pretty nice CV at that time, I thought having a “failed” 9-month attempt at entrepreneurialism wouldn’t be the end of the world. I could always spin-it nicely and surely I’d get another good job one day? Even flipping burgers would pay the bills if we cut back. I estimated the potential impact of failure at a “2”. It would only be money after-all.

And then he asked me: “And what is the likelihood of that all going wrong?” At this point, you might be asking yourself if this method is worth anything at all. Surely these estimations are not worth anymore that that? But as I said in a previous post, we all have tendencies to make up stories that are not worth much. So if you’re already lost in those stories, why not bring a little method to the madness?

So I thought about it: I have a good network, I’m creative etc etc …. I reckon its a “2” again.

When you have measured probability and impact of the reward/risk, its time to do the maths

Anyone who has even been a project or risk manager already knows what we are doing here. Its a typical method. If you want to do it better, you can ask some experts and experienced people to throw in their thoughts on probability and impact. Or you can be a dreamer like me. Either way, you can use this tool to make a decision.

The final step is to multiply the results for reward / risk.

In my case, the result for “reward” was 7 (likelihood it works) x 10 (impact if it does) = 70

The result for “risk” was 2 (likelihood it doesn’t work) x 2 (impact if it doesn’t work) = 4

… and that was that: 70 vs 4. I couldn’t help but say “OK …. I gotta do it”

Now: You can question this method all you want. But this is a tool for when you are stuck with questioning things. So if you are stuck with an important decision, try this and let me know how it goes.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Good luck!

Stay safe,

D

Boldness, Decision and Action

Look at this picture. What’s wrong with it?

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Looks tidy, right? Nice Paul McCartney poster? Nobody died..

This is the small room at the bottom of the stairs in my house. Opposite the sofa you can find my guitars. Sometimes I sit and play there. The door goes through to the entrance of the house and my wife’s office.

But what is that pile of DVDs doing there? We don’t have a television in that room and “all my other DVDs” are nicely organised in their own little space.

 

THAT pile of DVDs is what is wrong with my life and what is wrong with the lives of many other people. THAT pile of DVDs is unfinished, indecision and procrastination. It is the annoying remains of a DVD-classifying and tidying job. No-one knows where to put them and no-one has made a decision. Every time someone sees them, small silent curses are made about what the hell they are doing there, followed (in my case) by mini-anxiety about having to deal with them, but not being sure what to do and where to put them.

In life, many people have their own “pile of DVDs”: The thing at the bottom of the to-do list that isn’t getting done, the dripping tap in the bathroom or the CV that still hasn’t been posted for that job opportunity.

These things remain unfinished and undecided as we procrastinate our way around them. It seems easier to ignore them than to take action. But they niggle away at our souls because they are not in their right place. When I wake up and come down the stairs, the first thing I see is those damn DVDs. And when I go to bed, they are the last thing that crosses my path before sleep.

 

In some cases, the consequences of inaction are quite small: The untuned piano and out of place DVDs will not change much. I don’t lose any sleep and nothing bad will come of it.

But in others cases, the consequences of inaction can be far worse: That niggling image of more important unfinished business eats away at you, causing insomnia and anxiety. What will I do about the wall that looks like it might fall down? How will I pay my credit-card bill? When will I finally get started on living my dreams?

 

In all cases, until there is a boldness, decision and action, nothing will change. The boldness is about daring to move forward with things. The decision is about what matters most, your priorities, the things you want out of life and how you want to feel about yourself. And action is about taking small steps towards satisfaction, one-at-a-time.

 

Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to force you into action: The wall falls down, the bank freezes your credit-card or burnout leaves you depressed and out of work.

In many cases, one of the following ideas might help:

 

Regarding my DVDs, it was Tony Robbins’ idea that got me started: I have been focussing on almost everything else in my life but those DVDs and what that means to me is the same as what my ever-fattening belly means: I am letting some other things go to shit. Action? [Pause from writing]

 

…OK… 30 minutes later they are gone. Some have been put in the children’s rooms.. Disney and The Gruffalo. The music ones have been put with my CDs. And the rest are in the big cupboard with things to sell on eBay. (That last idea is my answer to David Allen’s question: “What is the next concrete action I will take?”)

Whilst tidying, I contemplate the importance of Seth Godin’s idea and realise that it often seems easier to do nothing, plod along and get the same results. Going for gold is scary. What will it look like? How will it work? What if I fail?

 

But if you want to tidy those DVDs, fix the scary threatening wall or find the job of your dreams, you need a little boldness, decision and action to get you on track.