If you find that your decision-making is sometimes short-sighted, here are some ways to improve your long view as well as helping you to get more done and achieve your goals.
1: We're smart today, not so smart tomorrow
Researchers at the Harvard Business School did a study of research on short-sighted decision making. Their findings were not that surprising, namely that we're very good at planning to do the right things later ( e.g., eating healthy foods, exercising, taking charge of our finances) but when we make a decision in the moment, we make less ideal choices (we'll go for the cheeseburger rather than the salad, watch TV rather than go to the gym, and put off thinking about taxes for as long as possible).
So what's the answer? The authors suggest that commitment schemes like long-term gym memberships are helpful. But we all know people who have bought a year's membership and then still don't go, so I think it needs to be broken down into smaller chunks of commitment - like finding a gym buddy and making appointments to work out, or promising to pay your child a certain amount anytime you opt for the cheeseburger, or linking a reward to completing part of your tax record-keeping.
ACTION: Are there any unwise choices you make over and over? If so, what kind of commitment can you come up with that will influence you to make better choices?
2: How the 80/20 principle can help you get more done
I've written before about the 80-20 rule (Pareto's Principle), which says that usually 80% of your results or gains come from only 20% of your efforts. If you can figure out what that 20% is, and do more of it, and cut out some of the low-producing 80%, you will be more successful.
Applying this idea is harder than it sounds, but I had one realization about it recently that might be useful to you, too. This example is about fitness but you'll see how it can apply to anything.
One of my goals is to go to the gym to do some cardio exercise three days a week. Deciding what time of day to go is a pretty small part of the process, but I realized that whenever I defer the exercise until the afternoon there is a much greater chance that I will skip it. By later in the day more things have come up that I have to deal with and it gets harder to motivate myself to leave the desk. By changing that 20% or less - the decision about when to go - I am successful at going at least 80% of the time.
ACTION: If there is something you want to do more of, what 20% could you change? Could you change the time? The location? The person/people around you? What do say to yourself or what do you imagine the times you actually do it? The clues are in the process, you just have to find them.
3: What would be on your checklist?
In the Independent newspaper (UK) there was an article recently saying that a simple checklist is to be implemented in all British hospitals to reduce the risk of surgery. The items include which limb or organ is to be operated on, counting the number of swabs left after the operation (to make sure none were left inside the patient), etc.
Sounds obvious, yet the article says it "has been described as the biggest innovation in medicine since the stethoscope and research has shown checklists dramatically improve patient care - at virtually no cost."
That got me wondering whether we could all benefit from using a checklist or two. This would be for tasks too routine to put on our 'to-do' list yet that we sometimes forget, or for things that we need to do only once in a while and find that we've forgotten how to do them. For the latter, I've made some checklists for tasks involving computers and other equipment and software we don't use all the time.
ACTION: Where and how could checklists help you? The next time you do something that you may need to do again in the future, document it with a checklist.
4: Your secret power: the WHY behind your WHAT
What's your dream? To write a novel or screenplay? To start your own business? To make a difference to the future of the planet? No matter how modest or grand, your dream will carry a price in terms of effort, will power, and determination, and there may be times you feel like giving up. At that point, your secret power is the Why behind your What.
Why do you want to achieve this dream? On a card, write down your reasons, expressed as passionately as possible, and carry it with you. Nobody else need ever see this, but when you falter or when it would be easier to give in, look at the card. The "why" has the power to rekindle your determination.
ACTION: Make a "why" card for your wallet or purse. Let it re-energize you whenever you feel discouraged.
5: A quick networking tip
Regular readers of this column will know that networking isn't one of my favorite things, but recently I ran across a simple tip from Anand Dhillon that helps: "Promote your purpose more than your self…Put the majority of your focus on the mission and purpose of your business." (Again, it's a matter of 'why' as much as 'what').
The mission that is behind a lot of what I do is helping people to (re)discover their own creativity and express it. When I mention that, soon we are talking about how people lose touch with their creativity, how they can regain it, what creativity really means - a conversation rather than a pitch!
ACTION: If networking doesn't come easily to you, next time decide ahead of time to focus on talking about your mission and notice the difference.
6: And a quote to consider
"The enjoyment of an idle life doesn't cost any money… It must come from an inner richness of the soul in a ma n who loves the simple way of life and who is somewhat impatient with the business of making money." - Lin Yutang, "The Importance of Living."