Decisions, Part 6

If you missed the earlier posts in Dave’s series on decision making, check out part onepart twopart threepart four and part five.

- Naomi

Today we wrap up our series on decision making with one of the most important factors you can look at when you’re trying to figure out what projects to focus on now – and which to leave on the back burner for the time being.

As with most things, the most important factor is usually the one most easily dismissed in practice.

“What, get exercise, get sleep and eat well to help with my stress? No, give me some pills, or a $1,000 stress management seminar! Aren’t there 10 books I can read about it, too?”

Let’s move on from that example. Didn’t mean to give my own internal monologue there.

Let’s talk about your gut.

You can call it a hunch, intuition, a good/bad feeling, whatever you want, but your body knows when there are reasons to believe when something is right or not right. We call this a “gut feeling”, and it literally is a gut feeling.

Your brain, aware of whether something is a good idea or a bad one, will generate biochemical responses to get your attention. In the most vulnerable part of your body, your underbelly.

Think back to the times you wished you had trusted your gut, when you KNEW that you should have made one choice over another, and it came back to bite you in the end. Your gut isn’t right 100% of the time (and we’ll talk about that in a moment), but it happens often enough that it’s worth taking seriously.

When clients come to us with a dilemma, and we walk them through what might be the best choice for their situation, 9 times out of 10 they say “Yeah, I kind of knew that was the better choice. I just had to hear it from someone else.”

Your gut is smarter than you think.

But let’s talk about what happens when it’s not.

There’s a difference between risky and wrong.

One of the reasons we don’t make decisions easily is because we’re afraid. We’re afraid that X might be a wrong choice compared to Y. We’re afraid of being disappointed, or we’re afraid the thing we try won’t work, or we’re afraid that it will be too hard for us.

These are all valid feelings. And they live in your head, not your gut. If your gut tells you that you should quit law already and become a stand-up comedian like you dreamed of as a kid, that’s a war of head versus gut.

Your head is invested in the safe path, and the status quo. Your gut is invested in doing what’s right for you.

So your head gets caught up in the fear. What if this thing happens? What if that other thing doesn’t work? What if I regret my choice? And all of that fear creates biochemical reactions of its own. Fight or flight. Panic attacks. Constant self-doubt.

And so sometimes you think your gut is telling you something, but it’s really the rest of your body.

If you’re worried about quitting law, where does the tension present? Probably your shoulders and neck. Your chest probably tightens up. Your head probably feels tight and tense, too. That’s fear.

And you might have some valid fears going on there. There may be a lot of risk involved, a lot of things you’re uncomfortable with. But they’re worth exploring on their own, preferably with someone you can trust.

Because if you explore that fear, you can make the distinction between what’s worth worrying about and what’s not. You can make a conscious call on what you’ll do next.

When it comes to making decisions, doing something risky for you is different than doing something WRONG for you.

What to do when the feeling hits

If you’re experiencing risk (body tension), then you should probably write down what it is that’s making you tense.

That’s usually the bottleneck – we leave it in this swirling morass of feeling and mental sentence fragments, and we don’t do the thing that will give us control over that feeling.

If you’re experiencing aversion (that gut feel), then you should probably put into words why you’re feeling that way.

That’s generally easy, and usually has something to do with your values and morals and standards. Something to do about what’s right for you as a person, and what you believe in.

You’re usually not worried about risk and consequence there.

You’re almost DEFINITELY not worried about what other people think or how it would “make you look”.

But you have to be careful not to confuse the two. It’s easy to do.

So, to wrap it up – when you are trying to choose between decisions and different projects, and you’re either experiencing stress or serious second-guessing, consider your gut.

It’s right more than you think.

Thanks for sticking with me through the series.

(Shoot an email to the ninjas or click one of those sharing buttons if you want to see more like this on the blog. I never know if all you want is Naomi’s posts. I’m insecure like that.)

All my best,

About the author: Dave Navarro joined IttyBiz in 2011, and is in charge of doing the stuff nobody else knows how to do. Learn more about him here.

Decisions, Part 5

If you missed the earlier posts in Dave’s series on decision making, check out part onepart twopart three and part four.

- Naomi

Welcome to part five in the “how do I decide what to do when everything seems equally important” series.

In the earlier posts in this series, we talked about comparing your options by looking at relative impact, probabilities and bottlenecks, and today we’re going to tackle “personal cost”, or what pursuing that project will end up requiring of you.

Let’s dive in.

Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. And vice versa.

Let’s take it out of business for a while and get personal. Let’s say you want to get in shape this year, and some of the things you know you need to do are lose weight, start eating better, quit smoking and get more sleep.

(That should be enough to make most people stop reading and go hide. Stay with me.)

Those are all good and valid and healthy goals for those who need them. And all of them have their own equation of “simple/complex” versus “easy/difficult.”

And because of that, trying to combine multiple projects at once can cause your stress to go up and your willpower to be depleted.

For a lot of people, quitting smoking AND losing weight at the same time is just too much to handle. Too much willpower all at once.

For other people, getting more sleep and eating better is just too much at once. Too many changes in routine and too many decisions leads to decision fatigue.

This is why so many people crash and burn when they try to pack in too many projects at once that require far higher amounts of decision making, willpower, or change of routine than is reasonable for where they are and who they are.

This is because there’s only so much brain to go around.

Take any typical person driving to work, and have them listen to an audiobook on the way. Chances are, everything will go just fine. They’re taking the same route to work, and driving is kind of on autopilot.

Now, have them try and find a street address in an unfamiliar neighborhood. They’re going to have to pause the audiobook. Now they need to concentrate.

Replace audiobook with conversation, and the same thing happens. You’re driving along the highway chatting with someone just fine, and when you realize you’re getting close to that exit you’re taking for the first time, you have to stop and focus. You have to figure out something new.

This is how normal brains function.

When it comes to setting goals and packing projects in, however, it’s common to forget this.

Look at how your projects might interfere with each other, and you can save yourself some heartache down the road.

If you’re putting together your plan for what you’re going to be focusing on over the next quarter, or your next six months, or your next year, you’re likely to have a few things on your plate that you haven’t done before.

Maybe it’s learning how to use a new social media platform. Or revamping your website with a conscious focus on conversion. Or managing the details of a complete and total rebrand. Those require learning curves and doing something new.

There will also be things you have done before that you’re just ramping up. Maybe you’re going to blog more. Or finish a book in progress. Or get back to sending emails to your list. Those require doing more of what you’re already familiar with.

The first batch have a higher personal cost, both mentally and emotionally.

The second batch likely doesn’t. (Though they can have some emotional costs, if you’re ramping up things that you have a lot of internal drama around.)

It’s helpful to think of it like a budget, like you might consider a willpower budget in the quitting smoking example earlier.

It’s a very good idea to look at the projects you’re pursuing at the same time to see if they’re likely to “break the bank”, as it were.

You want to be careful to strike a balance between stuff that’s taxing and stuff that’s not.

I can’t tell you what goals and projects you should be pursuing or focusing on – that’s your call. But I can tell you that you do yourself a service by looking at what pursuing that project will cost you.

Everything costs something. It’s just a good idea to spread out the costs. Combining a project that will be easy to make traction on with one that demands a little more of you can help you get farther over the long run.

That’s no fun, though. It’s human nature to resist that and say “No, but these three things are really important and I want to be working on them at the same time!”

If those three things are taxing in the same way, and they’re making demands on the same parts of your brain or your emotions, it may not matter how much you want it. It may simply not work.

There are ways to make it work, though. If you’re creative, there are ways to make taxing things not so taxing. And that’s the helpful part of assessing why they might be taxing in the first place. You can come up with solutions when you have that data.

So, just think about it. Maybe you can do a bunch of hard things at once. Or maybe you should spread them out and balance them with easier projects.

What matters is where you’ll be six months from now, not six weeks from now. When you look at a longer time horizon, it’s easier to decide what to do now, and what to do later. Life is long, even though it doesn’t feel that way a lot of the time.

Consider your choices. You’ll sleep easier after you do.

Now, go read the last post in this series.

All my best,

About the author: Dave Navarro joined IttyBiz in 2011, and is in charge of doing the stuff nobody else knows how to do. Learn more about him here.

Decisions, Part 4

If you missed the earlier posts in Dave’s series on decision making, check out part onepart two and part three.

- Naomi

Welcome to part four in the “how do I decide what to do when everything seems equally important” series.

Now we’ve covered a few factors that make decision making easier – assessing impact and probability – and today we’re going to be talking about bottlenecks.

Specifically, we’re going to look at the various projects you could be focusing on and asking if you should put your effort into bottlenecks versus improvements, or, fixing something that’s broken versus tweaking something that’s working.

(For the purposes of this article, we can throw “starting something new that you’re not already doing” into the improvement category as well.)

Ready?  Let’s jump in.

Sometimes one project seems sexier than it should because another project is unappealing.

Have you ever noticed how you can suddenly desire to do something you don’t like because you’re faced with a task you don’t like even more?

Like if you hate doing the dishes, but there’s this big pile of mail on your counter that you know you’re supposed to go through. You see the bills, and suddenly dishes seem like the most appealing thing in the world, even though you actually hate it. But in that moment, you hate the pile of bills even more.

That’s how humans work. That’s also why people get into relationships they don’t like because they don’t like being alone even more. It’s human nature, but it’s not exactly the best life plan.

It’s not the best plan for your business, either.

One of the things we notice in clients a lot (and by “clients”, we mean “clients and ourselves”) is that there is a project they’re avoiding that will actually give them better results than the one they’re focusing on now.

Here’s what a business bottleneck tends to look like.

Common example: Someone wants to get more SEO traffic to their website (improvement) so they will sell more of their product. However, their website is kind of hard to navigate and it’s not easy to stumble across the products they’re selling (bottleneck).

Fixing the website feels draining. Chasing a new project like SEO feels energizing. But if they’re already getting decent traffic, they’ll probably see a lot more visits to their sales pages if they fix their website navigation, add some product banners and put some links inside their existing content.

Now, in this case, the bottleneck is glaring – the website is already a liability. But it’s not often that obvious. Sometimes the proverbial website is okay, just not great. But in this case, the bottleneck would probably be the better choice.

But this could easily go the other way. If the website is okay but could stand some work, should it still be fixed? Maybe. If you have lots of new traffic coming, we’d probably lean towards yes.

But if you look at your stats and notice that 80% of your traffic is repeat visitors – who have probably seen your sales pages already – then maybe getting some fresh, new visitors would actually give you the greater gain. It all depends on the situation.

The trick to decision making is taking a good, hard look at the “it depends” factor.

How to use this question when making your decisions

When we look at decisions, we often look at a number of potential improvements or new initiatives. Should I start using Facebook? Should I start taking SEO seriously? Should I start making new products? These are all good questions, and deserve a liberal dose of the impact question we talked about the other day.

But when you look at decisions that are all improvement-based, you’ll do well to look at the flip side and ask yourself if there’s a bottleneck you could be fixing to support the same goal you’re after, whether you’re looking for more sales, more traffic, or more anything.

The same goes for bottlenecks. You may think you need to fix a bottleneck but discover, upon reflection, that there’s an improvement that you can make that will give you far better results. (Just assess the probability first.)

We have lots of things we feel like we WANT to do, and lots of things that we feel like we SHOULD do but don’t want to.

Often the smartest decision to make is the one you’re avoiding the most.

So take that into consideration.

Now, go read part 5 in this series.

See you next post.

All my best,

About the author: Dave Navarro joined IttyBiz in 2011, and is in charge of doing the stuff nobody else knows how to do. Learn more about him here.