decisions decisions

We make decisions every day – almost every moment of the day and sometimes we do it without thinking, whilst at other times it involves a lot of consideration and often a large dose of courage. Whether making decisions about life, work or something as simple as walking or taking the bus – our lives are full of options and our world is full of choices. If you are living in a first world country then you are fortunate enough to be in an environment in which almost everything is possible and you can do what you want. You decide. You choose.

Somehow, however, that doesn’t always make it easy and it’s not strange to wish some options were taken away from us. For what it’s worth – here are my top 4 tips to help you feel a little more confident about making decisions.

What’s the worst that can happen?

When making a big decision, I always think about the worst-case scenario. ‘If I do this, what’s the worst that can happen?’. By doing this I am forced to spend some time thinking about the consequences, working out the fall out, considering the value and benefits. This question helps me to not only holistically think about what the risk is for me and what I am really afraid of but also if there is anything that can be done to nullify it. This year, I had to make a decision about moving country with my partner and the worst thing that could happen for me there was that I wouldn’t get a job, my career would dive-bomb and I would be financially dependent. When I thought it through, I realised that I would just have to set myself up as an independent and virtual consultant as a back up plan in case there were no jobs. In this case, my worst case scenario and back up plan, turned out to result in a dream job. Knowing what the worst case is can be a big strength and get you thinking about workarounds before its even become necessary.

Get someone else to do it!

With some decisions that are not critical or do not have severe consequences, although they can still be important to you, it can be useful to get someone else to make the decision for you. Most of us have a network of friends, family or acquaintances of whom we value their opinion and we often ask them for it in casual ways on a regular basis. This group of people are an invaluable place to turn if you ever need to make a decision in which neither way is wrong but both offer opportunities that seem equally attractive to you. Where you would choose the same colour, holiday or book, a friend will ask you to try something else, comment on how they have always thought a different decision might be better for you or reveal a decision-habit you were unaware of but constantly make. I’m sure its happened that you’ve proudly made a decision you think is pushing the boat out and someone says ‘You always choose that’ as they wonder passed you. Use the people around you to make decisions for you that can help expose those blind spots and decision-habits.

 

Do nothing!

A wise man and one of my all time favourite people gave me this advice once when I was faced with a dilemma. Do absolutely nothing! Just wait and see!’ This strategy for decision-making is best used when you are not sure what to do about a decision that is mostly about another person. Obtaining and understanding the facts is a natural first step in making any decisions but this is tricky if it involves trying to decipher the motivation, feelings, thoughts, emotions and strategy of another person. We end up second-guessing what the other person may want or prefer and playing a very complicated game of decision-chess in our mind. This winds us up in a lot of complicated thoughts that move us away from what we are ultimately seeking – clarity. If you do absolutely nothing, one of two things will happen. Either the other person will eventually make a move, say something, email, text or make their own decision, or, no one will do or say anything, time will pass, the decision to be made will disappear and life will just continue. The result of either of these outcomes will result in a decision-made.Use life’s natural patience, silence and pace to help you make decisions in a ‘natural’ way.

Get out that spreadsheet and decision-matrix tree!!

When all else fails, there are a large number of decision-making tools out there. From apps, to diagrams to models to meditation – there is no shortage of web pages and resources sites to help you carefully detail out the components of your dilemma and mathematically calculate the right next move down to a decimal point. I like Mind Toolsand highly recommend their summary guide of all the different decision-making tools available. A very simple approach that an old flatmate and I used to decide where we wanted to live together has fared me well in many other circumstances since then. List all your criteria together for the decision you have to make, rank these in order of importance, score your decision-options against these criteria and see what comes up highest. Importantly at this stage, if one of you doesn’t like the outcome then maybe you are not agreed on what is important, if you bothdon’t like the outcome then you need to re-think your criteria. Make use of a simple decision-making tool and give yourself the space to think it through properly and trust in the outcome.

Don’t ever make a permanent decision based on your temporary emotions.

 

Feel free to share your decision-making tips

Don’t forget to look up!

A number of years ago when planning and preparing for a three week trek of the Annapurna circuit in Nepal – clothing, equipment, devices and water sanitation tablets stacked in heaps on my bed – someone gave me a great piece of advice. Lindsay told me that when the going got tough in her recent trip to base-camp Everest and she had paused mid step, frozen fingers, sweaty-faced and puffing like a woman twice her age, she happened to look up and what was left of her breath was swept away. The beautiful view, stunning terrain and dramatic scenery of Everest reminded her of why she was there and of how far she had come. “When you get out there, don’t forget to look up!” She warned me.

Just a couple of years shy of a decade after that amazing trip, I find myself recently thinking the same thing. Sailing with some friends in Antigua with less than 3 years combined experience between us all, it struck me as we screamed and yelled at each other during a particularly clumsy anchor off Carlisle Bay, that perhaps we weren’t looking up enough. We were doing an awesome job and didn’t even notice it.

Whether you are goal oriented or an ‘enjoy the journey’ person, it is healthy, rewarding and zen to pause and just take stock of how far you have come. Here are 4 ways you can do that in your daily work life.

Bad day? – Self-pat your back

When you have a particularly bad day or have messed up somewhere in the middle of a piece of work, stop, write down all the things you have achieved so far and tell yourself well done. We are so good at being self-critical and we easily forget all the obstacles we have overcome to get where we are. Making yourself feel bad when you have messed up or don’t think you are performing as well, is not going to put you in a good frame of mind to put your best foot forward and more importantly, it negates all the good work you have done to get to this point. I keep these lists and build on them whenever I feel down about where I’ve not go to and I have also found they make a great memory jogger for when I have to do my mid-year self assessment for performance reviews.

Share the love 

Make it a point to say something kind, positive and encouraging to a work colleague or your team member once a day. There is something very healing about focusing on someone else and appreciating their work. Not only does it make them feel special and encouraged but it also forces you to recognise other people’s efforts and put it all into a wider perspective of collective work that is less about you and more about a wider impact. Quick ways in which I do this is to comment on an email article a colleague may have sent, give immediate positive feedback when a colleague gives me something I need to review, saying ‘nice tie’ or ‘great shoes’ when I walk passed someone in the hallway or saying ‘that was helpful, thanks’ when a person hosts a meeting or conference call.

Have a treat in your pocket 

At any one time, you should have a special project or activity – work-related – that you thoroughly enjoy doing and find a small part of your day to work on it or give a whole afternoon for it as a sort of ‘reward’. The great thing about these kind of activities is that you are still working but the joy of doing it is more apparent, instant or aligned with your sense of interest than some of your other tasks. Blending these types of activities into your day can be refreshing, a reprieve and some regularly will enable you to keep a broader perspective even when those tough projects land on your plate or your weekends disappear behind number crunching or proposal-writing – unless that’s your treat! Some examples of my treats are tidying up PowerPoint presentations so they look as slick as an apple advert, or conveying them into a prezi to look super snazzy, re-organising my outlook calendar and applying coloured categories to different types of meetings, researching great icebreakers or team activities to use for the next meeting I have to host, picking out a few topical Ted videos to send out to a colleague or two, selecting, re-sizing and shaping images for the next learning mailer that has to go out. Anyway – you get my drift.

Step away from the vehicle

Sometimes nothing else will do but to pick up your coffee mug or skip on your coat and get away from your desk, laptop or phone. Decide you are going to talk to someone for 20 or 30 mins about nothing to do with your work. It is important to just step away and switch off and nothing does that more effectively than putting a physical distance between you and your work. Genuinely focusing on someone or something else will get your mind off things and again, give you some much needed perspective on life generally. I work from home and often have no one else to talk with when I need or want a break so I do things like, watch a 30 minute episode of Friends, Skype my sister if I can see she is online, read a news article or prance around to 3 or 4 Beyoncé songs. I’ve also tried a few times to do a 30 minute workout but that can be a bit tired and tedious and requires massive willpower for me! Whatever works for you just step away from your desk.

Feel free to share some of your methods for remembering to stop and look up.

worklifeworklifeworklifeworklife – balance?

This is a topic that affects most of us these days regardless of what job we have – business owner, mother, mentor, waiter, web developer, builder. Technology today means that information is instantly available and that includes information about each other. We are so accessible to everyone in the world through ridiculously fast and immediate communication that there is no hiding – and when I say hiding, I don’t mean just from other people needing a piece of us – I mean from ourselves as well.

How can we create space for ourselves and set up boundaries?

In my virtual role at YPO, I’m based in Europe and I work across 7 different global regions. My days can start early to catch Australia or Singapore and can also end late if I have meetings with my colleagues in the U.S. I clear my mailbox in the evening before I log off and I wake up to 30 urgent messages the next day. I’ve worked in global roles before but the special blend of 6 direct reports, a massive global project that has just errupted, a highly customer-focused culture and the curse of the totally comprehensive communication systems we are constantly connected to, means it’s taken 3 months for me to say (in a very quiet voice) ‘Here are my 6 tips for balancing work and life’.

Unless you work for yourself, are in the early stages of a start up or work in a job that is your passion – get some perspective and get a life!!

1. Work a set number of hours in a day

If you are working over multiple time-zones and geographical regions, make a decision about how many hours you are going to work in a day – however they are organised – work those hours and then switch off. I work 9 hours a day and if it starts with a 7am meeting, by 4.30pm I have logged off.

2. Book meetings with yourself for at least 30% of your week

Our days can get booked up with meetings and phone calls that are scheduled by others or for others, to such an extent, that we get to the end of it and wonder what time we have to actually do any work or even think. At the end of my week I book meetings/time with myself to get work done for the following week. Even if I have to shift these self-meetings to accomodate an important event or call, I always place it somewhere in my calendar for later in the week.

3. Take back those weekends

Fortunately in my team in YPO, if we work or travel over a weekend, we are encouraged to take some, if not all of that time, back as ‘days in lieu’. Even if you don’t have that official arrangement, it is worth flagging to your team or bosswhen you work weekends and asking for the day or half day back. It can be difficult to bring this up but let me ask you this – was it difficilt for your employer/client to ask you to work over your weekend?

4. Don’t send mixed messages abour your availability

If you are off work and on holiday or unavailable then don’t confuse people by responding to some messages, weighing in suddenly on an email chain, popping on to a conference call or telling people you are available ‘if you really need me’. It is confusing and people will sttuggle to understand your boundary around availability if you don’t know it yourself. I recently allowed myself to get sucked into working for 50% of what was supposed to be a 2-day ‘days in lieu’ for a weekend I had worked through the week before. A conundrum!!

5. Do not access work emails when you are ‘offline’

This is a tough one – particlarly if you have work emails delivered on your mobile device alongside your personal ones. You have to decide how you seperate the two but a huge impact on ensuring you have true work-life balance is NOT accessing any work emails unless you consider yourself to be in ‘working hours’. Some of the team I work in are based in countries in which the weekend is a Friday and Saturday. I’ve had to learn to ignore that Sunday flurry of work activity in my mail box and stick to my working week – not theirs and mine.

6. Declare the impact on your life

It is so important to ensure you provide full disclosure when work has or will encroach into your personal time. If a deliverable involves working a weekend, working late or de-prioritising something else – say it! People you work with or for should be informed of any impact to your work life balance as it will help them to be more mindful of it and not take it for granted. I used to think every time I said the words “Oh work is so crazy. I had to work all weekend!” that I demonstrated dedication, passion, integrity and loyalty. Now I understand that the most important thing to be mindful of is – for whom, for what and to what purpose am I doing this and is that okay?

Ultimately it is our responsibility to decide what proportion of work-time vs personal time we want our life-calendar to look like.

 

Are you curious?

In my recent blog on Lifelong Learning I mentioned curiosity and the important role it plays in helping us to keep learning throughout our lives. I decided to do some research into all things curious and here are my top ten resources.

  1. What is curiosity?  – 1minute 40 second animated video on what is curiosity

  2. 755 quotes on curiosity – Albert Einstein famously said: ““I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

  3. Why is curiosity important and how can you achieve it? – a great little blog with simple things you can do to be more curious

  4. 8 habits of curious people – We are born curious, but when answers are valued more than questions, we forget how to ask. Here’s how to relearn an old habit.

  5. Vsauce – the ultimate curiosity channel

  6. How Curious are you? – only use if you are willing to briefly join this dating site to get the results of your assessment.

  7. CQ – Curiosity Quotient – curiosity is as important as intelligence

  8. Why curious people are destined for the C-Suite – When asked recently to name the one attribute CEOs will need most to succeed in the turbulent times ahead, Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc., replied, “I would place my bet on curiosity.”

  9. How to be a lifelong learner – “The other day, I was in the grocery store. I overheard a cart-bound little kid asking his mom question after question. “Mom, why do they put so many apples out at once?” he asked as they browsed the produce section. “Mom, what’s Ocean Spray?” he speculated from one aisle over.”

  10. Images are great at sparking curiosity – here is mine – what’s yours?

    An image that sparks my curiosity
    The bridge between Denmark and Sweden dips into a tunnel.

Learning for Life – do you know how to do it?

I’m creating some training for a company that are putting together a graduate programme. One of the objectives of my session, is to help learners understand how important it is to develop skills in learning. We take it for granted that people know how to learn but some of us are used to being guided in some shape or form through learning. Without the structure of  school classes, university lectures, classroom training or an e-learning module do we always know how to learn and how to do this in the most effective way? And what is the most effective way anyway?

The topic of Lifelong Learning is not that new but it is a term that I have increasingly heard thrown about recently. It is something I have been giving more thought to myself. I recently transitioned from a structured work environment into self-employment and consulting and I have felt the need and pressure to understand more about a whole range of topics that were not so  high on my agenda before. It has forced me to have to think much more seriously about my approach to picking up new skills, what I need to learn, when I should do it, how much effort I should put in, the best way to develop that skill or understand that topic and importantly – how much time will it all take!

I’ve started that journey and have pulled together a list of tips that have helped me to get better at learning. Please share yours too.

  • Creating a learning list – When you think of something you need to learn more about whilst doing something else – jot it down immediately and come back to look at it later.
  • Dumping your thoughts – I’ve found free online tools such as Trello, Coggle and Drop Task so helpful as a space to dump thoughts first and then go back to put more structure to what I want to do.
  • Making time to learn – Dedicating time to just learn is critical. I have put time in my diary to learn a specific skill and I have also put time in my diary to look at my ‘skills I need to learn’ list and pick something out for an hour.
  • Creating a learning habit – I’m a digital junky so I did look for an app to help me me to cultivate a habit of learning and to remind me of my commitments. I really like Habit List. It is simple and that’s all I want.
  • Not de-railing yourself – When you are researching something, reading, learning online and you can come across an embedded link like the ones I’ve slipped in above, click on what you think will be relevant and if it takes you to a page that is relevant but not for right now, then see my first point above. Don’t get derailed.
  • Love paper – Despite keeping my sexy time for digital tools, I have a love affair with paper. Good old-fashioned scribbles and notes with a pen and paper can make it easy for you to list things that come into your head that you need to learn or understand more of.
  • Curiouser and curiouser – If I don’t know about something I make it my business to find out – or at least add it to my list of learning topics for that ‘free style learning’ hour in my diary. This is a habit I have tried to cultivate over the last two weeks so that I remain curious and it works. Now I am like an annoying child with my ‘but why’s.
  • Go to the movies – I love videos and sometimes when I am searching for information on something or need a ‘how to’, I purposefully type ‘video’ in my search engine. I find I pick up a lot of information and knowledge that way and it informs my decision on what to study next. The related videos that show up on the side in Youtube can also be helpful

and finally…

  • Freestyle it  – One of my old boyfriends was a terrible dancer and just not very cool when he moved to music. He jerked and didn’t flow, an arm or leg would flick out or around sporadically for no apparent reason and in total non-sympathy to the music. After three occasions of me moaning, he told me rather irritably ‘I’ll dance how I want to. I’m free-styling!’ Don’t feel you have to follow a structured and rigid learning path or finish every piece of learning resource you come across especially if for you, it is not useful or interesting.I find it difficult sometimes to read a whole blog or article (well done if you have got this far), watch a video without dragging the fast forward bar along or to stop myself from browsing off topic onto something else by clicking on an embedded link. I’ve occasionally just given myself over to free-styling through learning resources and that has worked really well.

This is for all the people out there that should dance how they want to!!