How did you make your last decision? Was it done with focus, clarity, and comfort that you had enough of the right information? Or, did that decision have company? Were you distracted with the email that you got from your partner about the pending investment decisions? Messages with conflicting data for the report that’s due by end of day? Texts from your 10th grader with a few words about obscure after school plans? If you’re like most of us, you carry around more than you need to respond to incoming requests at lightning speed. How much of this data is helpful? How much is unnecessary cognitive weight that dilutes your thinking and slows your responses? In an effort to get more done, you get less. In an effort to go faster, poor decisions make you go slower. The paradox of our time warped present is that we truly must go slow to go fast; to drop the weight of the unnecessary to gain focus on the critical.
Maybe you object. What choice do you have? The flood of data and speed of communication is overwhelming. Daniel Forrester, in his book: Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking offers startling insight into the speed of information development. According to Forrester (2011), there is enough data created every 15 minutes to fill a new Library of Congress. The speed of information and a natural bias toward action are a dangerous combination. Our brains don’t process as fast as the data coming in; connections are missed, context is lost. We feel rewarded for the speed of our decisions, even when it means they are poor ones made when we are tired, distracted and ill informed.
Forrester (2011) uses an interesting example of the benefits of staying present and clear headed. He cites results of soccer goalies defending against penalty kicks. Goalies who move to the right to anticipate the ball stop the kick 12.6% of the time. Goalies who move to the left to anticipate the kick stop the ball 14.2% of the time. But goalies that stay present and waited for the ball to actually be kicked before reacting had a 33.3% success rate. Even with this available success pattern, how many times do goalies stay in the center and wait for the ball before reacting? A little over 6% of the time. As Forrester points out, the pull of fast overcomes the probability of wrong.
What about us? How many balls did we miss because we jumped to respond before we knew the direction of the kick? And, what do we do about it? Fortunately, some of the most successful people in history, including our present, show us the way. They reflect. They pull back. They ponder. They wonder. Forrester offers great inspiration if you, like me, often find yourself caught up in the excess weight of too much incoming data to step back. He cites Thad Allen, the Admiral called in to clean up chaos in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Oil spill, who rides his bike to work for 45 minutes of quiet thinking time. General David Patraeus, in the midst of commanding two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, cleared his calendar for an hour a day to consider what he knew today hat he didn’t know yesterday. Or, how one of the great innovators of our time, the man in many ways responsible for the speed up of our world in the first place, Bill Gates, takes weeks to go “off the grid” to read, write and reflect.
Moments of greatness are possible when we, too, put down the excess mental weight and clear our heads to make better decisions.
- Keep the first 30 minutes of your morning and the last 30 minutes of your day clear of meetings, emails, and conversations. In the morning, write down the things you want to learn during the day. At the end of the day, reflect on what you did learn.
- Do one thing right the first time. Multitasking allows you get two things done simultaneously. Increasing amounts of research shows it probably means you didn’t do either well or efficiently.
- You still need recess. Find 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to clear your mind. Read something not related to your immediate task. Listen to music. If you sit most of the day, stretch or take a walk.
You may be surprised at how much cognitive weight you can drop in an hour by clearing the clutter. Be inspired by leaders like Admiral Allen, General Patraeus and Bill Gates who reframe mental cleansing time as productive time because it provides the space for better decisions. Drop the clutter, then feel how much lighter you’ve made the burden of your day.
Source: Forrester, D.P. (2011) Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.