Skip to main content
power points

If you sometimes spend too much time on decisions, Shane Parrish has a system that can help you be more effective.

The Ottawa-based blogger says “the decisions we spend the most time on are rarely the most important ones. Not all decisions need the same process. Sometimes, trying to impose the same process on all decisions leads to difficulty identifying which ones are most important, bogging us down and stressing us out.”

The Eisenhower Matrix helps organize to-do lists, categorizing items by importance and urgency, nudging you to spend time on the most important rather than the most urgent tasks. He adapted that to decision-making, based on how consequential and how reversible a decision is. That led to four possibilities:

  • Irreversible and inconsequential
  • Irreversible and consequential
  • Reversible and inconsequential
  • Reversible and consequential

“This matrix became a powerful ally to help me manage time and make sure I wasn’t bogged down in decisions where I wasn’t the best person to decide,” he writes.

First, he tried to delegate all inconsequential decisions, since those are the perfect training ground to develop judgment. If you have subordinates, they will often come to you with decisions they are capable of making. The problem, Mr. Parish argues, isn’t so much the time it takes to make the decision but the time spent briefing you on it.

He spent some of the time he saved helping his subordinates improve their decision-making in general. He delved into what types of decisions they made, how they thought about them, and how the results were going. They tracked old decisions as well, so they could see whether their judgment improved.

That left the consequential decisions. Reversible ones are tricky. They demand time because they are consequential. But he says you have to stop thinking of them as one big decision but rather as a series of decisions, given the reversible feature. That makes them perfect for running experiments to gather more information. Decide with colleagues which experiments to run, which results indicate you are on the right path, and who should be responsible for execution and presenting findings.

That leaves consequential and irreversible decisions, which are the ones that you really need to focus on. And if you use this system you’ll have more time for them because you are spending less time on the other three categories.

The actual results will depend on your position in the hierarchy. When he applied the system, he found that while the total volume of decisions his team made didn’t change, the way they were allocated within the team changed:I estimate that I was personally making 75 per cent fewer decisions. But the real kicker was that the quality of all the decisions we made improved dramatically. People started feeling connected to their work again, productivity improved, and sick days (a proxy for how engaged people were) dropped.”

Climbing the corporate ladder: Slow may beat fast

We assume the best way to get ahead at work is to quickly and steadily climb the corporate ladder in the department or function in which we work. But leadership professor David Burkus, of Oral Roberts University, says research shows that people who spin their wheels early in their career before finding traction have more successful careers over the long term.

Those people were called “organizational misfits” by Dartmouth University’s Adam Kleinbaum, who studied a 30,000-person organization and found that unexpected path to the top. They bounced around from department to department but in doing so built a more diverse social network that allowed them to be able to see the bigger picture later in their career. “As a result, their careers moved further faster. They were more likely to get promoted. They were more likely to get raises,” Mr. Burkus notes.

If you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels and not getting traction, it may not be a disaster. “Maybe it’s okay. Instead of worrying about climbing up the ladder of your silo, focus on building a diverse social network as you find that thing that you want to climb up in,” he writes on his blog.

And if you are rising up the hierarchy, maybe you should ponder whether you need to learn from the misfits, building a broader social network. Ask peers in other departments for coffee. Drop in on meetings in other departments to see if you can learn something new or meet somebody new.

“The organizational misfits become the organizational leaders. So we all need to be a little more misfit,” Mr. Burkus concludes.

Are you using LinkedIn to spam?

Every day, sales consultant Anthony Iannarino opens LinkedIn to find messages waiting from people wanting to connect. Immediately after he agrees, they paste some sales pitch into the acceptance message and hit send.

“The messages are all the same, even when sent from different people, in different companies, selling different products and services. They begin by expressing their gratitude for the connection. Then they offer to help me with my business, it being rare that they know what my business is,” he notes.

He calls it “connect and pitch” – and it doesn’t work. They aren’t engaging him in a meaningful way nor offering anything of value. Social media shouldn’t be used for selling, and when it is with this LinkedIn ploy, salespeople more generally are debased, he feels. The more people use the platform poorly, the less valuable it becomes.

Quick hits

  • When you have a meeting to discuss a problem, try spending the first 55 minutes asking questions without allowing any answers. Then in the last five minutes come up with solutions, consultant Amy Radin suggests in The Change Maker’s Playbook.
  • Commit to spending an hour each evening on your personal development. Over time, the benefits will build exponentially for your career, says freelance writer Craig Todd. There will still be plenty of time for relaxation and entertainment, but it will put you on the fast track to success.
  • The five Cs of communication are to be clear, be concise, provide a compelling request, be curious and be compassionate, says leadership coach Cheryl Keates.
  • If you have a bad boss, it’s unlikely he or she wants to receive feedback on their deficiencies. Instead, leadership consultant Mary Abbajay advises making specific requests to get what you need, presenting them when your boss is in a calm, upbeat mood.
  • Negotiators with a tough communication style achieved better economic outcomes than negotiators with a warm style in experiments in a laboratory and in the field, recent research found.

We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.