Have you ever worked for somebody that always seemed to run away from making decisions?
You’ll come to them with a question and their response would always be, “Let me get back to you on that.” And by that they mean, “Keep asking me about this until the last possible minute when we have to make a decision. Then you’ll have to rush to get the job done.”
Sucks doesn’t it?
It sucks because you have to go around all day (or week or month) with a big open loop in your mind… an oversized question mark that will hang over your days and keep you up at night.
It sucks because it forces you to work in a reactive environment. One where long term projects are always put on the back burner until they nearly boil over.
It sucks because that last minute work is not done to the quality you know you can produce.
It sucks because you can let your imagination get the best of you by thinking of all the negative consequences that will come about if the project fails because you do not have the time or resources to complete it.
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. – Mark Twain
Making Better Decisions In The Now
If you have ever had any of the above feelings, then why would you do it to someone else? And why do you do it to yourself?
Making decisions right when the new information comes to you is one technique that will not only save you time, it will result in less stress and BETTER decisions.
Making Decisions To Clarify
It was recently take-your-child-to-work day. That or the student I tutor – sort of tutor, we spend most of our time reading “Ender’s Game” and he is teaching me Spanish – convinced his dad that it was a day from school he should miss.
My student’s day off from school reminded me of a time I went to my dad’s work for the same holiday. I must have been about 12 at the time. He had just gotten a new job as the CEO of the Wyoming Behavioral Institute. I never really knew what he did, in fact I’m still not 100% sure. But I could tell he was making things happen.
He used more of an old school method of ‘managing while walking around’. He would walk to different departments to observe, make comments, follow up on previous requests, make new requests, remind and clarify key objectives and answered any questions his staff had about his marching orders.
He gave his employees a clear picture of what he wanted and, if needed, the steps required to get to the desired outcome.
While I’m still unsure of the ‘what’ I am confident I am beginning to understand the ‘how’ of his ability to turn a nearly bankrupt hospital around to profitability in a short amount of time.
He was successful because he made decisions when the information showed up. And didn’t wait for small problems to blow up to bigger ones. Like eating a healthy diet or getting your car’s oil changed regularly, making proactive decisions about problems NOW instead of LATER will reduce friction – no heart attack or overheated engine – and allow you to accomplish more because you are not spending your time dealing with emergencies or wasting your energy imagining ‘what if’ situations.
How You Can Start Making Front End Decisions
Below is an an exercise you can do RIGHT NOW to start making front end decisions.
1. First ask yourself the following questions:
- What is one of the decisions that I have been hesitating to act on?
- What is the next decision I can make?
2. Second, make that decision.
To help, I can give a real life example.
Because I’m part of the Asian Efficiency team, I don’t have to live or work in one location. In fact, everyone on our team is remote. Every one of us is in a different time zone (we have some ninja tricks that allow us to function as a tight unit… we may be sharing some of these techniques down the line).
My girlfriend, who is a teacher, and I were talking about spending a month or two this summer living in Costa Rica enjoying the beaches and immersing ourselves in the Spanish language.
I wanted her to delay making any decisions about dates and accommodations. I’m not sure why. I guess I just didn’t feel ready to commit.
Is this location independent job real? Will I be able to be as productive outside my normal working environment? How is the internet access in Costa Rica? All of these questions and more started to swirl around in my head giving me a bit of decision fatigue. So I said those evil words, “Let me get back to you.”
Now I fancy myself a diligent fellow so I will likely get back to her. The thing is, this was last week. Our unplanned trip is now only a month away and I haven’t even made the decision to go or not.
What would this situation look like if I were making decisions as the information came to me?
Well, the first step would be Googling internet access in Costa Rica… [45 seconds later] I’m back and with an awesome infograph on worldwide internet speeds. Turns out Costa Rica has fairly slow internet. Not a good sign for our excursion.
But, Marie, our social media guru, lives in the Philippines and never seems to have an issue connecting on Skype or HipChat. I can ask her how she fares in a country with lower internet speeds. Maybe it is possible to pay a little more for better than average service. Or maybe cities offer the best chance at fast speeds.
I’ll ask her now.
Hmm… so internet in Costa Rica might be more expensive and will likely work better in urban areas. A little more research is needed in the internet department. I will post my question to CouchSurfing Costa Rica.
After that I could talk to Aaron about how he handles his travel and work schedule. Then I could ask Thanh for all of the upcoming conference dates, so I don’t miss any work events.
Okay. I should probably stop planning my trip to Costa Rica and get back to work.
The point here is that making front end decisions is not always, “Let’s do X or not do Y.” Sometimes the decision is, “I don’t know. More research is needed. I will talk to him, Google that or email her.”
What is one decision you’ve been hesitating to act on?
I encourage you to make the first choice… you’ll feel a lot better and you will be one step closer to a successful outcome.
P.S. For those of you with ‘I’ll get back to you later’ bosses. Here’s a system I used with my former employer:
Write up a list of all of your open questions, suggested solutions and the date the decision needs to be made by. If s/he does not get back to you by the end of the week, email your boss that list. And, if an impromptu or formal meeting gets scheduled, you are ready with all of your questions.
My boss learned to appreciate my persistence and even started to make more front end decisions because he knew I wasn’t going to let my questions slide.
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