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Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences

    Consider this: In three weeks time, you have a big presentation to a long-hoped-for new client. Three weeks is plenty of time, though, so each day you sit down at your computer and, instead of working on your presentation, play game after game of Desktop Tower Defense. Three weeks and a day later, you’re clearing out your desk after being let go for failing to get that big wished-for client.

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    Or this: It’s the night before the Big Exam. For weeks you’ve been skipping class or, when you did show up, wiling away your classroom hours by texting back-and-forth with your friends. Now, with imminent failure facing you, you decide to go blow off steam with your friends. Hung-over and unprepared, of course you fail the Big Exam. Which means you fail the class and, since your GPA has slipped to an unacceptable level, you lose your athletic scholarship. You won’t be back in the Fall.

    Or this: The Coach purse in the display window looks so pretty, so alluring, that you just have to have it. It will pull you up a little short on this month’s budget, but you’ve been good lately, right? Surely you can tighten your belt a little in exchange for treating yourself to something nice? Three weeks later, the transmission craps out on your car. With no money in the bank, you’re forced to use public transportation for the first time in your life. Not knowing the schedule very well, you’re late to work every day for a week; on payday, the boss tells you that they won’t be needing your services any more.

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    This is not a post about making bad choices, though you’d be forgiven if that’s the lesson you’ve drawn from it so far. No, it’s not so much about making poor choices as it is about making a certain kind of choice, a choice made in the moment, for the moment, with little or no thought to consequences.

    This kind of choice doesn’t always result in the kind of dire circumstances I’ve described above. Sometimes, everything works out fine. Occasionally, last-minute strokes of luck even pull our bacon out of the fire.

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    That’s not the point. The point is this: You can choose your actions, or you can choose your consequences, but you can’t choose both.

    All the stories above are stories of people choosing their actions. Once you choose your action, the consequences follow from that choice with a will of their own. Choose drinking over studying? The consequence is liable to be failure. Choose hanging with your friends over seeing your child’s Spring recital? The consequence is liable to be the loss of your child’s trust, and possibly the lost respect of your spouse and other family. Choose to drive too fast to show off? There’s a good chance your action will lead to accident, injury, even death for you or someone else.

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    Or you can choose your consequences. If the outcome you want is success in your job, you probably have a pretty good idea of the actions you need to take to get it. Certainly prioritizing work over goofing off is part of it! If academic success is the consequence you’d like to enjoy, your plan of action is also pretty clear cut: a certain amount of study and organization is demanded. Maybe you’d like to build a loving, positive relationship with your children? You’re going to have to make a certain amount of time for that, even at the expense of other things you might like to be able to do.

    You only get to pick one or the other, though. You can’t choose to drink and party and have the consequence be automatic success. You can’t choose to slack off at work and have the consequence be promotion. You don’t get to choose to spend your money frivolously and as a consequence have plenty in reserve when emergency strikes.

    Now, we can’t always act according to clear-cut consequences, and certainly it’s worthwhile to live in the moment now and again. Which brings me to the last and most important part of all this: whatever you do, own your choice. If you choose dumbly, take full responsibility for the consequences of that choice. If you choose to act towards a desired outcome rather than deviate from that path, own that too – don’t kick yourself, or let others kick you, for your commitment.

    It’s not so bad that people act in the moment and make poor choices; what makes it ugly is when they’re shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that they didn’t achieve the outcome they’d desired. Don’t be that person: if you can’t accept the consequences of your actions, don’t do them! No matter what you do, remember: the choice is yours.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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