Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Nuts and Corners

One of the things that drives me nuts in the workplace is false deadlines. When someone gives you something to do and you bust a gut meeting the deadline... then it just sits. You know the Reaper putting the dead in the line is busy and hasn't got to moving things on. They aren't intentionally doing it to grate you. Many people just work better in a corner. So they hand out corners. And are likely in corners themselves.

A more extended version of this is 'delayed thinking'. You have a meeting and an issue is discussed with no conclusion being reached, then everyone goes away 'to think about it'. Another meeting is set up in a week's time. The truth is almost no one thinks about it until they are once again in the corner. A better approach may be to allot however much thinking time is required, go for a walk and then meet up again. Perhaps then it is only a couple of hours later. You don't lose the momentum like when things just sit.

It is nice to think what we do is what we want to do. I certainly struggle to balance inertia and what I would like 'in theory' to do. Having some sort of structure ends up adding corners which become habits. When I was working full time, I had an odd rule that I wanted to write at least one blog post a month. Often that blog post would be on the last day of the month. A friend teased me about this so I broke the rule. Once broken, I broke it again the next month, and the next, and so it was about 4 months between posts. Sometimes silly rules just provide some structure and keep things moving.

The same friend teased me about my approach to studying at university. He would ask if I wanted to watch a movie. I would give him a time I could watch it. If for whatever reason the TV room was unavailable for a bit and we were late in being able to get the right slot, I would often drop out. And head back to study. In my defence, I was only this nuts during exam time. I wasn't normally this OCD. I used to break study sessions up by time and allocate it to the various subjects based on their importance. I figured if I put the hours in, what would be would be in terms of the results. I wouldn't not make it for lack of effort. Nuts. But hopefully worth it.

Random rules sometimes help. Take saving for example. People seem to adjust their lifestyles to fit their salaries in the same way people adjust their time spent on a task to the time allocated. One way Richard Thaler, author of Nudge, suggests is very effective is to 'Save Later'. Commit to investing in a automatic debit order half of any salary increases you get. Because it is half of the increase, you aren't sucking anything up. Life still gets better, but you get some of the magic compound interest Lister was talking about.

Warren Buffett talks of multiplying the price of things by ten. So if you have to pay £30 for a £3 coffee, would you rather have a glass of water? This helps avoid conspicuous consumption because it helps you think of the future value of what you are spending now. We get annoyed when things are way too expensive and the mental trick helps add a bit of frugality.

Peter Singer, in the context of charity and giving, makes the good point that it helps no one to be a hero. Giving everything you earn to charity and living in poverty isn't sustainable. You are likely to give it up at some point and people are unlikely to emulate you as they will write your actions off as mighty impressive, but not imitable. Better than huge changes are small, sustainable tweaks.

We are weird. Sometimes we need to acknowledge that and set ourselves up for success in advance. Add some corners, but don't drive yourself or others nuts. 
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