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Why doing nothing may sometimes be the best action of all

Why doing nothing may sometimes be the best action of all

Fresh research suggests our bias for action is emotional, not rational.

    An article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times “Business Day” section on March 1st, reporting on a study made by economist Ofer H. Azar at Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel, adds another dimension to the topic of the last article I wrote for Lifehack.org.

    In what I wrote then, I wondered whether our culture’s emphasis on getting things done — preferring action over time for thought or waiting to allow events to unfold further — was anything more than fashion. Now, it seems, there’s evidence that this tendency to want to do something is neither as practical, nor as rational, as you may think.

    How people make high-stakes decisions

    Mr. Azar is interested in a topic much in vogue with contemporary economists: how investors make high-stakes decisions. In classical economics, people are assumed to make rational, independent choices based on self-interest. It’s an assumption that makes for neatness, but it appears to be wide of the mark.

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    Rather than construct some artificial experiment, Azar decided to study professional soccer goalkeepers and how they deal with the toughest, highest-stakes decision they are forced to make on a regular basis: how to act to stop a penalty kick at goal.

    Faced with a player sending the ball towards them at 80 m.p.h. or more, the goalkeeper has only a fraction of a second to decide how to block the shot. It’s a fearful challenge: 4 out of 5 penalty kicks score a goal.

    By analyzing data on more than 300 kicks, the researchers calculated the action most likely to prevent a goal being scored. Surprisingly, it is standing in the center of the goal and doing nothing until the trajectory of the ball can be seen. This resulted in a 1 in 3 success rate — far higher than the average.

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    Yet goalkeepers almost never act in this way. They typically try to guess the ball’s direction before the player’s foot has actually made contact with it, diving left or right to try to be in the right spot when the ball arrives. Neither is a good option. Diving left resulted in success 14% of the time; diving right only 12.6%.

    Why then is it so common to act in a way that is even less successful than the average?

    Fearing censure more than failure

    The researchers suggest that the answer lies in the goalkeepers’ emotions and the response they meet from others after failing. By taking action — even if it’s neither rational nor likely to be successful — they can at least be seen to have done something.

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    If they stand and wait until the ball is kicked and then fail to stop it, they feel worse because of their inaction; and others are far more likely to criticize them for not appearing even to try. It’s better to try a poor action than try a better — but seemingly passive — response if both fail; even though the “inactive” response is more rational and based on a better likelihood of success.

    Others value action, even when it’s wrong

    In today’s business world, action is preferred over the alternatives and is more likely to result in forgiveness when a mistake is made. You can always say that you tried. The person who does nothing is doubly damned: once for the mistake and again for not “doing something.”

    This urge to action — to get things done — is more emotional than rational. “Wait and see” risks your credibility and reputation, even where it can be shown to be the optimal course.

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    “Wait and see” may serve you better than anything you can do right away

    Few, if any, business or career decisions must be made as instantly as a goalkeeper reacting to a penalty kick; all are more complex and dependent on the way external events turn out. Yet managers still face this constant urge to act, even when waiting to see what else may happen can be shown to improve the chances of success.

    It’s interesting that Warren Buffett, probably the world’s most famous and most successful investor, is famous for his inaction. He has even been known to apologize to shareholders in his company, telling them that profits would have been higher if he had spent his time in total idleness, instead of acting to invest their money. Looking to the long term, he ignores short-term ups and downs and simply waits to see what will happen.

    If you think about it, doing nothing is often the right thing to do. Jumping into any action before all the facts are in, or failing to allow events to unfold before fixing on a way to interpret them, is both foolish and irrational. That’s why slowing down can be so powerful in helping you to reach success; you’re less likely to make avoidable errors.

    Organizational and career implications

    Given our strong cultural bias towards action — almost any action — it’s not surprising organizations are filled with people who would far rather do anything than wait on events — even though this would increase the chances that whatever action they choose in the end — even if it remains to do nothing — will be a success. Few decisions in the world of work are made rationally or objectively, especially when emotions from triumph and elation to shame and humiliation are tied up in the outcome.

    Still, the next time you feel that you really ought to get something done, it might be sensible to wonder what is urging you forward. Is it really the rational need to produce an outcome, based on a clear grasp of what is needed; or is it that nagging voice that tells you waiting any longer will leave you open to the charge that you didn’t even try?

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

    15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

    You may think that you don’t have time for office organization, but if you really knew how much time that disorganization cost you, you’d reconsider.

    Rearranging and moving piles occasionally doesn’t count. Neither does clearing off your desk, if you swipe the mess into a bin, or a desk drawer.

    A relatively neat and orderly office space clears the way for higher productivity and less wasted time.

    Organizing your office doesn’t have to take days, it can be done a little at a time. In fact, maintaining an organized office is much more effective if you treat it like an on-going project, instead of a massive assault.

    So, if you’re ready to get started, the following organizing tips will help you transform your office into an efficient workspace.

    1. Purge Your Office

    De-clutter, empty, shred, get rid of everything that you don’t need or want. Look around. What haven’t you used in a while?

    Take one area at a time. If it doesn’t work, send it out for repair or toss it. If you haven’t used it in months and can’t think of when you’ll actually need it, out it goes. This goes for furniture, equipment, supplies, etc.

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    Don’t forget about knick-knacks, plants (real or artificial), and decorations – if they’re covered with dust and make your office look shabby, they’re fair game.

    2. Gather and Redistribute

    Gather up every item that isn’t where it belongs and put it where it does.

    3. Establish Work “Zones”

    Decide what type of activity happens in each area of your office. You’ll probably have a main workspace (most likely your desk,) a reference area (filing cabinet, shelves, binders,) and a supply area (closet, shelves or drawers.)

    Place the appropriate equipment and supplies are located in the proper area as much as possible.

    4. Close Proximity

    Position the equipment and supplies that you use most within reach. Things that you rarely use can be stored or put away.

    5. Get a Good Labeler

    Choose a label maker that’s simple to use. Take the time to label shelves, bins, baskets drawers. Not only will it remind you where things go, but it will also help others who may have a need to find, use, or put away anything in your workspace.

    6. Revise Your Filing System

    As we move fully into the digital age, the need to store paper files has decreased.

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    What can your store digitally? Are you duplicating files? You may be able to eliminate some of the files and folders you’ve used in the past. If you’re storing files on your computer, make sure you are doing regular back-ups.

    Here’re some storage ideas for creating a smooth filing system:

    • Create a meeting folder – Put all “items to be discussed” in there along with items that need to be handed off, reports that need to be given, etc. It’ll help you be prepared for meetings and save you stress in the even that a meeting is moved up.
    • Create a WOR folder – So much of our messy papers are things that are on hold until someone else responds or acts. Corral them in a WOR (Waiting on Response) folder. Check it every few days for outstanding actions you may need to follow-up on.
    • Storage boxes – Use inexpensive storage boxes to keep archived files and get them out of your current file space.
    • Magazine boxes – Use magazine boxes or binders to store magazines and catalogs you really want to store. Please make sure you really need them for reference or research, otherwise recycle them, or give away.
    • Reading folder – Designate a file for print articles and documents you want to read that aren’t urgent.
    • Archive files – When a project is complete, put all of the materials together and file them away. Keep your “working folders” for projects in progress.
    • File weekly – Don’t let your filing pile up. Put your papers in a “To File” folder and file everything once a week.

    Learn more tips on organizing your files here: How to Organize Your Files for Better Productivity

    7. Clear off Your Desk

    Remove everything, clean it thoroughly and put back only those items that are essential for daily use.

    If you have difficulty declutter stuff, this Declutter Formula will help you throw away stuff without regretting later.

    8. Organize your Desktop

    Now that you’ve streamlined your desktop, it’s a good idea to organize it.

    Use desktop organizers or containers to organize the items on your desk. Use trays for papers, containers for smaller items.

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    Don’t forget your computer desktop! Make sure the files or images are all in organized folders. I’d recommend you clear your computer desktop everyday before you leave work.

    9. Organize Your Drawers

    Put items used together in the same drawer space, stamps with envelopes, sticky pads with notepads, etc.

    Use drawer organizers for little items – paper clips, tacks, etc. Use a separate drawer for personal items.

    10. Separate Inboxes

    If you work regularly with other people, create a folder, tray, or inbox for each.

    11. Clear Your Piles

    Hopefully with your new organized office, you won’t create piles of paper anymore, but you still have to sort through the old ones.

    Go through the pile (a little at a time if necessary) and put it in the appropriate place or dump it.

    12. Sort Mails

    Don’t just stick mail in a pile to be sorted or rifle through and take out the pieces you need right now. Sort it as soon as you get it – To act, To read, To file, To delegate or hand off. .

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    13. Assign Discard Dates

    You don’t need to keep every piece of paper indefinitely. Mark on files or documents when they can be tossed or shredded.

    Some legal or financial documents must be kept for specified length of time. Make sure you know what those requirements are.

    14. Filter Your Emails

    Some emails are important to read, others are just not that important.

    When you use the filter system to label different types of emails, you know their priority and which to reply first.

    Take a look at these tips to achieve inbox zero: The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero

    15. Straighten Your Desk

    At the end of the day, do a quick straighten, so you have a clean start the next day.

    Bottom Line

    Use one tip or try them all. The amount of effort you put into creating and maintaining an efficient work area will pay off in a big way.

    Instead of spending time looking for things and shuffling piles, you’ll be able to spend your time…well…working and you’ll enjoy being clutter free!

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    Featured photo credit: Alesia Kazantceva via unsplash.com

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