You can’t do it

Nobody should tell anybody they cannot pursue their dreams or that their dreams are a bad idea. How many dreams have those nay-sayers killed that way? A perfect excuse for not changing anything in anybody’s life is being “realistic”.

“Those that say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it”

Chinese Proverb

Withhold judgement

Whenever somebody shares a certain level of ambition or goal with you, do not criticise them for it. Being realistic is not the best start to achieving original outcomes, so why would you?

Why wouldn’t you be more of a cheerleader and a supporter? To start with, they thought it was important to share it with you. And being a cheerleader doesn’t cost you anything.

Of course, you can add some criticism and ask some questions. However, judging and telling anybody to stop following their dreams is not up to you; it is not your dream.

Be the cheerleader

Always support people with ambition, you might be the only one supporting them, and you might be the person they need to get them where they want to be. And if even if they do not make 100%, they had a great ride and achieved progress. That is something they learn from and use in the future.

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The Goldilocks level of email attention

Everybody has a different way of handling email. There are the inbox-zero people who strive for an empty inbox every day. There is also the opposite of the spectrum, individuals with hundreds or thousands of unread emails.

Independent on which end of the spectrum you are, you are very likely not to be effective with the time you spend on your email. You spend either too much time or not enough time handling emails.

The Goldilocks principle is named by analogy to the children’s story “The Three Bears”, in which a young girl named Goldilocks tastes three different bowls of porridge and finds she prefers porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold, but has just the right temperature. The concept of “just the right amount” is easily understood and applied to a wide range of disciplines […]

Wikipedia

What is the Goldilocks level of email attention?

If you did not commit to a deadline to respond to your emails, then take some time. There is no reason to hurry since if it were urgent, the sender would have used a more urgent channel (such as the phone, for example). Email is asynchronous. Therefore people should not expect an instant response, nor should you create that expectation.

A lot of problems solve themselves

“Napoleon directed Bourrienne (his secretary) to leave all letters unopened for three weeks, and then observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself and no longer required an answer.”

I would not recommend leaving your email unopened for three weeks. But we have all seen it happen during a more extended break: urgent emails arrive in your inbox while you are out of the office, and once you are back, you see in a follow-up message that all is fine. Reason more to let email rest for a while. Before you know it, you are doing other people’s work.

The proper response time to your email should not be too fast or too slow. The faster you respond to emails, the more you will receive. The slower you are, the less likely anybody will rely on you getting back to them right away.

Do not worry if you take 24 or 48 hours to reply to emails (or take more time if that fits your style). What is most important is to be reliable and to be consistent.

And, of course, you can still respond sometimes within five seconds, but you don’t have to.

Vacations are not for recharging

“What are you going to do on holiday?”

“Well, the first few days, I will use it to recharge my battery.”

or this one:

“You earned a vacation.”

Unfortunately, these types of conversations are standard. Maybe because they happen in an office environment and we try to be polite. Or, worse, we think that holidays are for recharging and that we must work hard to deserve it.

Holidays are there to have fun, relax, do the things you want to do more of, and go places you cannot do every day. Holidays are there for you to enjoy yourself.

Stress + Rest = Growth

If you only spend time recharging, you are not resting. You are recovering. And if you are not resting, you will not progress. Whether this is about sports or work, rest is crucial to making progress.

Balance your efforts. You can excel at work, health, friends and family. However, you can pick only three at a time. Your holiday break is not your backup plan to compensate for fitness, friends or family. Your holiday is an opportunity to spend time on health, friends, and family without compromising your work efforts.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets … it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

Cal Newport

Be kind to yourself. You need your idleness, your downtime, not because you earned it, but because you need it. The only way to grow is to include rest and take your rest. Not doing work and not having to recover from work is the best way to become better at work and stay healthy.

You don’t have to be 100% sure

“Are you sure?” you have received this question, and you have asked this question numerous times. There is only a yes or no answer, and either you agree or disagree with the answer. There is little space for discussion.

How sure are you?

Instead of asking if somebody is sure, ask them how confident they are.

We would be better served as communicators and decision-makers if we thought less about whether we are confident in our beliefs and more about how confident we are. Instead of thinking of confidence as all-or-nothing (“I’m confident” or “I’m not confident”), our expression of our confidence would then capture all the shades of grey in between.

Annie Duke

From a black and white answer, the answer changes into a range: I am 60 to 80% sure. And with that, you can have a meaningful discussion on why the level of confidence is on that level and, more importantly, how you can move further up in confidence level.

Improve your decisions

A good decision combines how incomplete your information is and luck. When you make confidence into a range, you give uncertainty an explicit position in your decision making. It will allow you to measure it and work towards complete information.

Furthermore, instead of two competing views (0% sure or 100%), there is now a view on which you can collaborate to close the gap.

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Ulysses pacts instead of discipline

“I will just watch one more video / Instagram story/tweet and get back to work”. And after you said it and look at your clock again, it is 1 hour later, and your work is still there.

“disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control.

James Clear

We have all been there or are still there. Do not torture yourself by thinking you have the most extraordinary willpower in the world and enormous self-control. And even if you have, wouldn’t it be great if you could use it for something different than keeping yourself in check with your phone?

What is a Ulysses pact?

The term refers to the pact that Ulysses (Greek name Ὀδυσσεύς, Odysseus) made with his men as they approached the Sirens. Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens’ song although he knew that doing so would render him incapable of rational thought. He put wax in his men’s ears so that they could not hear and had them tie him to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea. He ordered them not to change course under any circumstances and to keep their swords upon him and to attack him if he should break free of his bonds.

Upon hearing the Sirens’ song, Ulysses was driven temporarily insane and struggled with all of his might to break free so that he might join the Sirens, which would have meant his death. However, his men kept their promise, and refused to release him.

Wikipedia

You are not better than Ulysses

Tieing yourself up to increase productivity might be somewhat counterproductive. However, you can tie up your distractors. Some examples:

  • Put your phone out of sight (in your bag, in a drawer). Or you can buy one of those boxes with a timelock if it has to be like this.
  • Consider limiting screentime for specific apps. You can still extend your time in the app, depending on the settings, but every time it will make you think if you need to spend more time.
  • Disable notifications. Yes, you will still get the email, also without notifications. If you are so anxious, you can also temporarily disable your notifications.
  • Adopt the Pomodoro technique in which you decide to focus for 25 minutes to work on a single task. Since you committed to the job for 25 minutes doing anything else might make you feel guilty enough not to do it.

You do not have to be better than Ulysses

Be kind and not overly strict with yourself. There is no need for you to expect you will be that superhuman who is super productive from day one. You try this. Monitor your progress, take notes, learn what works for you and improve over time.

The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.

Gary Keller

Even though you are a strong person, don’t rely on willpower and self-control alone. Make it easy for yourself and figure out what your Ulysses pact is that makes productivity easy and enjoyable for you.

Morning rituals

You do not have to get up at 0300 and run a marathon in the morning to be successful. There are many other ways to get started with your days (or do it later in the day, whatever is best for you).

Consider these four elements when crafting your day:

Set your day with intention

Our intention creates our reality

Wayne Dyer

Decide for you what this day will be about. Will you finish a big piece of work, or will you attend meetings the whole day? Be intentional about what you will do and accept that you are not always in control of how your day will go.

It is not about achieving your intention. It is about working towards it.

Focus on you

Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Spend enough time with the most crucial person in your life: you. Do not touch your phone. For example, walk (or run that marathon) for a reasonable amount of time.

Be alone with only your thoughts.

Practice mindfulness

A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open

Frank Zappa

Observe where you are, what you are doing and what is going on around you. Mindfulness is not an exercise to see if you are in the right place and if the right things are going. It is observing without judgement. Some people like to write this down in a journal. For some others, just the thinking is enough.

Practice gratitude

Feel compliments as deeply as you feel insults.

James Clear

It is easy to focus on what you need to do and what could be better. Though press pause and look around. What are the things you can be grateful for? Take your time for it and enjoy it. Also, is there anything you are thankful for that you can share with others?

Keep in mind: how you start your day and when you start your day is up to you. Pick something that works for you and that you enjoy. Remember that it is consistency that drives your progress.

You have to find your own rainbow to follow. There is no gold at the end of somebody else’s rainbow.

Bill Grundfest

Play according to the rules

Whatever you do and wherever you are, you need to know the rules. Not just the rules others set for you, but also the rules you set for others.

If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes and the quitting time

Chinese Proverb

Use the rules to your advantage

One of the best usages of rules to somebody’s advantage was one of the first project managers I was reporting to. Whenever there was a request to add or change something in the project, he always had the same answer:

Of course, we can do this. Though tell me, are we getting more money?
[….]
Or are you okay that we will delay the project by a couple of days?
[…]
Though, of course, we can also not do some other things?
[…]
Just let me know what you want to do.

The sheer enjoyment on his face was radiant, and to be honest, it was spreading to everybody in this project. Sometimes a little bit less for the person who requested the change.

What he did so brilliantly was using the rules that everybody agreed upon before to his advantage to ensure the project was in a stable state. Because everybody decided upon the rules, there might have been a bit of friction, but still, everybody knows that this is what they signed up for.

Be clear on the rules

Rules only exist in-game (and at work) when the players agree on them. If there is no agreement, there are no rules, and when there are no rules, do you want to participate? Make the implicit explicit and define the rules together, and share this with all participants for agreement. The rules are there to protect them and protect the overall game’s (or work’s) integrity and, of course, protect you.

Furthermore, have you noticed that it is a lot easier to push back when you can say: Sorry, there is a rule for that. Instead of: No, I cannot do this.

Rules can make decisions easier, do not shy away from them. Make the implicit explicit to make your life easier.

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Champion ideas

The hardest part of creativity and coming up with ideas is the next step: finding a way to bring ideas to life. Whenever you got a big idea, they feel unlikely, risky and counterintuitive. Somebody needs to be the one carrying the torch.

If you have an idea that you genuinely think is good, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it. Now that doesn’t mean that every wild notion you come up with is gonna be genius. But if there is something that you feel is good, something you want to do, something that means something to you, try to do it. 

Stan Lee

What to do when championing ideas

First of all, the goal of bringing an idea to life is all about learning. As soon as success is your most significant driver, your risk appetite will disappear and learning drops to zero. Whenever you focus on learning or simply the joy of doing it, championing becomes easier

Also, avoid groups. Don’t avoid groups to collaborate, though avoid groups when validating your ideas. A few studies show that groups tend to agree with the majority opinion, even when wrong. If your idea feels unlikely, don’t spend your energy on the people that need convincing. Invest it into those who are already interested.

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes

Try out the cornerstones of your ideas. The more you experiment, the less you become constrained by old ideas. The less you have constraints. The wider the imagination becomes, the more likely it will become to bring your ‘unlikely’ idea to life.

It is leadership

Ideas cannot win on their own. They need a voice. They need a hearing. Above all, they must be backed by people willing to live by them.

Bari Weiss

Championing ideas is leadership. You do not have to be a “leader” in a matrix organisation to do it, but you need to be a leader for your idea. Your actions will create a ripple effect around you and might inspire others to bring great ideas forward.

Leadership drives excellent ideas forward and opens the door for innovation. Groupthink and consensus are the anti-conception for ideas and innovation.

What to read to make better decisions

If you want to get better at making decisions, it is essential to pay attention to your decision-making process and what external and internal factors influence it. To help you become a better decision-maker, I recommend five books to read. As you can see in the visual below, these books all nicely connect and provide you with a vast spectrum for decision-making.

How the five books overlap and complete each other

1. How to Decide by Annie Duke

If you want to be a better decision-maker, this book takes you through proper exercises and approaches. It will give you insights into your current pitfalls and tangible strategies to improve. The predecessor of this book, Thinking in Bets is also very much worthy of your time.

There are two ways uncertainty intervenes in the decision process: imperfect information and luck. Imperfect information intervenes before the decision. Luck intervenes after the decision but before the outcome.

Annie Duke – How to decide

2. Think Again by Adam Grant

Of course, you are always right, but what if that is not the case. Learn the critical art of rethinking, question your opinions and open other people’s mind. Get to know what you do not know. The book Give and Take by Adam Grant might open you up to a whole different view on what kind of decision you take (hint: being a giver is beneficial in the longer run)

“The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.”

Adam Grant – Think Again

3. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

What should you do in a hostage situation? Hopefully, you are never in one, but negotiation is a daily activity. This book takes you through the practice and the science of negotiation. It should get you closer to the desired decisions made by the people on the other side of the table.

Good negotiators, going in, know they have to be ready for possible surprises; great negotiators aim to use their skills to reveal the surprises they are certain exist.

Chris Voss – Never split the difference

4. Catalyst by Jonah Berger

This book is a nice mix between scientific background and practical applications. Catalysts remove roadblocks and reduce barriers to change. This is an excellent read if you are working in a changing environment (100% chance you are ;)).

When it comes to trying to create change, people rarely think about removing roadblocks. When asked how to change someone’s mind, 99 percent of the answers focus on some version of pushing. 

Jonah Berger – Catalyst

5. Noise by Daniel Kahneman

this book connects them all. Why do different people make different decisions in identical situations? Why are we making bad judgements, and how to improve on this. Of course, Thinking Fast and Slow is a classic also to pick up, but it is a heavy book. Noise is more accessible and touches upon many similar topics.

Intelligence is only part of the story, however. How people think is also important. Perhaps we should pick the most thoughtful, open-minded person, rather than the smartest one.

Daniel Kahneman – Noise
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When are decisions easy?

Please do not spend too much time overthinking easy decisions, even though they might appear tricky. A good decision is not about having a great result. Results are often out of your control. It is about having a good process:

Determining whether a decision is good or bad means examining the quality of the beliefs informing the decision, the available options, and how the future might turn out given any choice you make.

Annie Duke – How to decide

Cost of changing your mind

Some decisions are free, which means if you now choose A and A is not the thing that works for you. You can still select B for zero additional costs. Now it doesn’t matter if you choose A or B. If there are no costs (money, time etc.) for selecting another option, later on, pick the one you think is right now since you can always switch.

Outcomes do not matter

When it doesn’t matter where you go, why spend additional time thinking of where you should go. If all outcomes are useful and prioritisation does not improve any of them. Pick one, run with it and evaluate if anything has changed for your subsequent decisions.

Deciding what to do automatically is also a decision about what not to do. This implies that when you evaluate afterwards, you should look at what has changed because of your action and what has been impacted by your inaction in other areas.

Difficult choices between options

Often when a decision between two or more options is hard, then the decision is probably easy. The reason the decision is hard is often that the options are close. If the difference between the two options is slight, does it matter what you choose? (of course, it partially depends on the costs of changing your mind).

Decisions aren’t always easy

Wouldn’t it be nice when decision making would always be so easy? A good process will make your life easier:

What makes a decision great is not that it has a great outcome. A great decision is the result of a good process, and that process must include an attempt to accurately represent our own state of knowledge. That state of knowledge, in turn, is some variation of “I’m not sure.”

Annie Duke – Thinking in bets

If you want to improve your decision process, I recommend reading both Thinking in Bets and How to decide by Annie Duke. Both books provide you with many insights into your decision process and how you can improve.

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