Posts Tagged ‘decision-making’
We live in an era of endless connections, interruptions, distractions and time demands. New tasks come at us at an alarming rate from multiple sources: emails, texts, tweets, calls, friends, fans, family, pings, rings, and vibrations via all sorts of devices. Over the years we’ve developed many ways to cope, capture and conquer the onslaught including urgent and important matrixes , decision-making trees, and prioritization strategies
I would like to propose that the era of endless requires a whole different take on managing our time and tasks, something I call “triaging.”
Triage is a disaster management term. I am a Community Emergency Response Team graduate, which is a civilian disaster preparedness training program. We learn that if adequate resources are available (first responders, medical equipment, trained personnel, etc.), you try to save everyone. But if resources are scarce or limited, ‘triage’ is the process used to quickly sort injured people into groups based on their likely benefit from immediate care. In a hospital emergency room, the people who scream the loudest do not get care first, nor is it allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. A triage nurse quickly assesses who needs urgent care and who can wait because there are never enough resources to treat everyone at the same time.
In the Era of Endless, we need to act like the triage nurse. To some of us triage comes naturally. All day long we’re able to volley the bombardment of incoming messages vying for our attention and mentally shuffle our to-do deck, deciding on the run “do this now,” “this can wait,” or “ok, I was going to do that, but this new thing is more important so now that comes next and I’ll move that other thing lower on the list.” Triaging is based on emotions and intuition. First-responders to a disaster scene will tell you they don’t do a lot of analysis. They simply know how to allocate their resources for maximum effect for the greatest number of people. If you don’t have the triage instincts of a first responder, here are some triaging tips:
Go with your gut
David Allen, the productivity expert, observes, “Prioritize [or in this case, triage – JK] according to energy, mood, intuition, and emotion. Learn to listen to and trust your heart. Or your intuition, or your gut or the seat of your pants or whatever anatomy is the source of that mysteriously wonderful ‘still, small voice’ that somehow knows you better than you do, and knows what is better for you than you do. LISTEN to it…take the risk to move on your best guess, pay attention to the results and course-correct as you keep moving along.”
Verbalize your to-do list
Say what you are thinking out loud. This can be very clarifying. If a task sounds important as you say it aloud, there’s a good chance you’ve made the right call.
Alleviate worry and guilt
“I make a careful To-Do list. I prioritize it every day. I assign A, B, and C to each task and integrate new tasks as soon as I learn of them. Then, when I wake up in the morning, I totally ignore my list and do the two tasks that immediately alleviate worrying whether they’re on my list or not,” a client tells me. Dispelling worry is a great use of your limited time. It clears the head and frees you from emotional drains that will thwart all your other work. Like assuaging worry, doing tasks that free you from guilt will also allow you to focus on other work.
Stop the bleeding and open up the airways
Disaster victims in need of complex medical attention beyond available resources are tagged or located to a special area until more medical help arrives. But first their bleeding is stopped and their airways opened. In organizing terms, stopping the bleeding and opening up the airways means doing the most effective thing possible in the time available to you. You won’t be able to complete a complex project all at once, but there’s always something you can do to be effective. That might mean initiating a meeting, developing an action plan, holding a brainstorming session, or doing something as simple as sending a well-crafted email or making a concise phone call.
Triaging incoming messages, time demands and information is not a perfect analogy to the kind of triaging done in disaster management, but I think it begins to move us to another model of time management better suited for the times we live in.
If you want to learn more about how our world has changed into one full of infinite information, constant distractions and boundless stuff, I recommend my book Getting Organized in the Era of Endless: What to Do When Information, Interruption, Work and Stuff are Endless But Time is Not.
Other Posts You Might Enjoy
Calendar of Upcoming Organizing Events
Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) Annual Conference and Exhibition – September 17-19, 2015, Cleveland, OH.
Professional Organizers of Canada, Virtual Chapter, January, 2016
National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) Annual Conference and Exhibition. May 18-21, 2016, Atlanta, GA
The word resolve comes from the Latin verb solvere which means to loosen or to dissolve. In modern terms, we’ve stretched this definition to mean taking on a big or tough project and little by little “dissolving” it. Resolve also has a second meaning: to make clear and unambiguous, to bring to conclusion. Here the emphasis is on focusing in on the exact outcome you want. Taking both meanings together, you can craft some pretty potent resolutions.
Let’s say you want to get organized. Focus in on exactly what you mean by get organized. Maybe it’s to dig out of a complex, disorganized physical mess. Maybe you want to develop regular, long-term habits and routines that keep you on top of things. Or perhaps your resolution is to become a better time manager. Focus first; then dissolve it, break it down: Square foot by square foot, habit by habit and daily plan by daily plan.
Realize that many resolutions require behavioral changes over time. Such changes always work best when you get some help. Find a supportive, non-judgmental family member or friend to help you with your resolve, or consider hiring a professional organizer or an organizing coach at www.napo.net.
Resolving to Get Rid of Your Stuff
High on the list of New Year’s resolutions is getting rid of excess stuff. For many disorganized people, this is not as easy as it sounds. Some people lack information about the many options available for getting rid of stuff. Others just can’t seem to get the logistics to line up including finding the time, applying the effort, or preparing stuff to go. Most, I think, get stuck on the decision-making process itself.
I developed a set of Get Rid of Your Stuff flashcards. Because they are colorful, graphic and tactile (as well as informative) the flashcards give disorganized folks a simple tool for making what I call “de-acquisition” decisions. “The flashcards helped me learn all the different ways to get rid of stuff,” my client said. “Donations, eBay, CraigsList, consignments, yard sales, giving things away for free to family or strangers – the list goes on and on.”
Professional organizers use them out in the field to help sort stuff, improve decision making, discuss de-acquisition options, and plan the logistics. But the flashcards are designed for anybody who wants to reduce clutter. They make excellent gifts and can be ordered at www.squallpress.net.
Resolving to Plan Your Digital Estate
Recently, I addressed the American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM). My AADMM colleagues report that estate planning is high up on their clients’ resolution lists. I’m not a money manager, accountant, tax or financial professional of any kind, so it’s not my role to give you specific advice about your estate. But I would like to tell you a story by way of introducing you to digital estate planning.
My client Maxine died suddenly. I was helping organize her digital and tangible documents. Maxine’s executor notified the banks and other financial institutions of her death. But there were passwords and user codes and security questions to answer to access Maxine’s accounts that took weeks of hard work to untangle. And just when the family thought the estate was well on its way being settled, digital assets emerged. There was a web-only checking account Maxine had in the cloud with no paper trail and a PayPal account without any hardcopy statements.
We all have tangible and digital assets and information. I read about a guy who owned a “digital sword” he purchased for $17,000 to play high-stakes, international video games and legally it was considered an estate asset. I’d like to suggest in 2015, that you:
- Create a password-protected document (like an Excel spreadsheet) of your login information so your executor and family can settle your account with less fuss and muss. In addition to your online accounts, consider “invisible” (web-only) accounts like Emigrant Direct and Voya and other places money might stowed, like PayPal accounts.
- Next, inventory your digital assets and list how to gain access to them. Include the aforementioned accounts plus Bitcoins, royalties you may have coming in from the sale of eBooks on Kindle and Nook, seller’s accounts you might have with eBay, digital swords – you’d be surprised how many assets you have when you sit down and think about it. Even your domain name might have value to your estate. Find out at sedo.com.
- Consider the Excel spreadsheet or other document you create a part of your final documents. Lock it down with a password, disclosed only to your executor, of at least 15 mixed characters and numbers. Keep a hardcopy with your Will. Download it to a flash drive and hand it to your executor. Keep a copy for yourself on a flash drive and consider not having a copy on your hard drive at all. Some folks also like to store a copy in the cloud at www.legacylocker or www.finaldeparture.com.
Decision-making is a great life skill. Decisions move myriad little daily tasks along to accomplishment, allow us to make progress on complex projects, and keep us on the path toward goal achievement.
Chronically disorganized (CD) people love the thrill of the hunt for information to help them make a decision, but the activity of actually making decisions — not so much of a thrill there. And now that we are living in the era of endless information, the hunt for information can undermine decision-making even more. Truly, we can search the bottomless pit of information endlessly and still there would be more.
“I’ve got to decide what my students need to read each semester,” says “Lisa,” a college professor. Lisa prepares her students’ reading list by reading academic journal articles, reviewing e-books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and reading blogs.
“I love this part, the actual hunting down of information,” Lisa says. “It’s like being on a safari.” She’s so afraid she’ll miss something vital to her students’ education that she endlessly prepares right up to the deadline when the course curriculum and reading list are due. “I run out of time to decide what to include and exclude because I get so caught up in the search. It’s always so stressful.”
Another woman spends as much time researching a new backpack for her child as she does his summer camp.
Quoting psychologist Kent Berridge in an article on Slate, Emily Yoffe writes, “[Information addicts] become obsessively driven to seek [a] reward [on the Internet], even as the reward itself becomes progressively less rewarding once obtained. … [W]e find ourselves letting one Google search lead to another. … ‘[T]he consumption renews the appetite.’
Just sitting in front of a screen can be a burst of a pleasurable mood for some of our clients (a “dopamine squirt,” I’ve heard it called). And then there is all that wonderful “serendipity information,” the accidental and incidental good stuff our chronically disorganized clients encounter on the way to what it is they are looking for.
Are We Done Yet?
Endless information can also cause some people to freeze altogether when it comes to decisions. Many people, CD or not, often choose the default 401(k) plan at work or automatically renew a health insurance policy without considering alternatives because “there is just too much information.”
Endlessly adding data, more information, and inputs leaves us precious little time to stand back; and it is this standing-back, this bit of pull-back, that allows us a little cognitive space for judgment to be applied so we can tell if we’re “done.” Being done is increasingly a moving target when comprehensive information knows no bounds and there are so many decisions to make.
So what are some organizational moves to enhance your ability to make decisions?
- Research/search in proportion to the consequences or risk. A wrong decision about a backpack has much less consequence than a summer camp, so devote less time to it and be a little more proportional in time and effort based on the risk involved.
- Set “done” or “enough” ahead of time. Set a quantitative limit (rather than a qualitative limit) to your informational pursuits (for example, three hours of research, three different brands of backpacks, and five camp selections).
- Pull-back. After amassing information for a project or assignment, plan time to pull back, assess what you have, figure out what’s missing, and fill in the gaps, rather than just going and going.
- Decision-making “freeze” and default decision-making can be the result of a deadline’s approach. Add more lead time to your projects. It may be hard to estimate how long it takes to search and digest information.
- Offload serendipity information and save it to the side to look at later so you won’t be distracted from the main search, research, or informational hunt.
And finally, be at peace with your decisions. Making decisions large and small, living with those decisions, and moving onto the next decision is healthy.
If you are paralyzed by decision-making, live in fear of making a wrong decision, or are obsessed about finding just the right information, seek the advice of an experienced ICD professional organizer or a counselor with anxiety specialization.
Making decisions is a good use of time. Decision-making moves a myriad of little daily tasks along to accomplishment, allows us to make progress on complex projects, and keeps us on the path toward goal achievement. In the Era of Endless when information never ends, decision-making is profoundly impacted. Endlessly adding data, more information, and inputs leaves us precious little time to stand back and put all the pieces together. Take the example of the April, 2010 BP oil spill. Within hours of the spill the Incident Commander of the Coast Guard (the person in charge) received 400 pages of e-mails, texts, reports, and other messages. “I might have acted faster if there was less input,” he commented.
Endless information can also cause some people to freeze altogether when it comes to decisions. We choose the default 401k plan at work or automatically renew our health insurance policy without considering alternatives because “there is just too much information.”
Endless information can bring decision-making to its knees. To avoid this:
- Pick a time in the information-gathering process to step back, to see the novel connections, detect hidden patterns that emerge and apply judgment about what missing information still needs to be sought.
- Add a time frame to your decisions. A decision has no power if it is made too late.
- Since information is endless but time is not, add a limit to how much time you will devote to finding information.
- Consider team-based decision-making. Divide up the information gathering process between several people, each person share’s the information, and then as a group based on the information, a consensual decision is made
Remember, in the era of endless, there can be no end to the quantity of information we find to solve a problem, address a need or make a decision. Trade in quanity for quality.