Ironically when I was hastily hired, as an outsider, to lead a team at a company, my titular boss had placed bets with his colleagues about how long I’d last. Little did he know of the unexpected bond that naturally formed in the first meeting with my team. You see, they were all ex-military officers and I’d been a journalist. We’d lived by deadlines. A pejorative term both professions sometimes used, in frustration, when discussing individuals who did not keep deadlines was “civilians.”
Feeling overwhelmed by choices makes us slower to choose and less satisfied when we do, discovered The Paradox of Choice author, Barry Schwartz. Indecisiveness can be corrosive for us and for others in all parts of our lives. It robs of us of our time, dilutes relationships and stifles an organization’s capacity to solve a problem or to seize an opportunity.
Sure some leaders make faulty snap judgments. The key to making smarter decisions sooner is to prioritize, then to actually stop pursuing many of the projects and ideas that don’t serve the top priority. Dropping projects is actually one of the hardest things for us to do for many reasons, including behavior trip-ups such as Sunk Cost, Confirmation Bias and Shiny Object Syndrome.
Here are four quick takeaways from Tasler’s book that may entice you to read it:
“Decisiveness is the single most important success factor for people in today’s information-saturated environment…exponentially true for leaders who must navigate a team in that environment,” discovered Tasler.
2. Quit Some Things Sooner
“At the heart of strategic thinking is the ability to focus on one strategy while consciously quitting the pursuit of others.” This isn’t just about stopping multi-tasking in real time, but, over time, to focus on a core strategy and to then force yourself and those you lead to let go of anything that does not add value to that strategy. Tasler cites Steve Jobs as an extreme example, referencing Walter Issacson’s book about Jobs where, in a 90-minute meeting soon after returning to lead Apple, Jobs quickly cut many products, with the focused goal to “make four great products.”
This rapid pruning is always easier when a clear, concrete top goal is in place first – another opportunity to be decisive in choosing what it will not include. As a journalist, one way I discovered who had a clear strategy was how quickly, succinctly and clearly they could describe it. It was top-of-mind for them. Those who were adept at that characterization also tended to be more decisive and confident, and better able to listen and respond directly to questions. They had cleared away much of the underbrush in their brain. Learn two tested methods, in Tasler’s book, for facilitating that pruning by imagining alternative futures: Foresight Bias and Gary Klein’s Premortem Analysis.
3. Create a Non-Action Plan
A major fallacy in our reasoning, according to Tasler, is that, “if we just get really clear about what we want, then all the other stuff will naturally evaporate from our consciousness.” Yet guess which reminder was most effective in helping those in a psychologist, Peter Gollwitzer-led study fend off distractions:
“Whenever the distraction arises, I will increase my efforts at hand!”
“Whenever the distraction arises I will ignore it!”
The second sentence works much better because choosing to ignore something takes less mental effort than choosing to focus. Writes Tasler, “Even overachievers have a finite amount of mental capacity.” That’s why Tasler advises us to become more productive by devoting our prime thinking time to our prime priorities….