Useful brain hacks for every day scenarios

I’m incredibly fortunate to have a chairman on our board who brings huge clarity of thought to the business.

He’s unemotional yet thoughtful. If he doesn’t have an immediate answer for something, he instinctively understands how to search for the answer. He has a natural sense of the real priority of work and for what level of discussion to have.

So I asked him for some of his favourite brain hacks…simple tricks he uses when he has a mental challenge to overcome. A couple of his insights were very useful, so I thought I’d share them here. Do share your own brain hacks in the comments.

Artificial deadlines

He has a clever technique for bringing tough choices to a conclusion and avoiding procrastination. This is especially useful for life changing decisions such as moving country or taking that new job.

To put an end to the decision making process he sets a deadline for the decision to be made. Say 6pm on Monday. At five minutes to 6 he usually doesn’t know the answer but in those 5 minutes something clicks, and by 6pm the answer is always there.

I suspect just having to pick an answer even if sub consciously you know the deadline is made up tricks the brain in to forcing the best option forward, even if none of the options are great.

 

This will all be over by then

If there’s an important meeting with stakeholders, a scary appointment with the doctor or a tough chat with an employee – he simply keeps in mind the fact that by “X time”, the thing will have passed and won’t matter anymore.

If it doesn’t matter after X time, chances are it probably doesn’t matter now.

The 10/10/10 rule

This is one of my brain hacks.  The 10/10/10 is the framing of the outcome of a decision across three timeframes. This is

How will I feel about the outcome 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now?

The answers to these questions provide a different perspective and usually help to find the correct answer without being misguided by perhaps overwhelming circumstances at the time of making the decision.

To summarise

It seems that the super smart people who do well in life don’t just think, they think about thinking.

Whilst they might not always be able to overcome their cognitive limitations or biases all the time, they do their best to remain mindful of them and not always allow the bias to drive the thought process.

I’ll end with one of my favourite philosophies, it’s called Hanlon’s Razor, and it goes like this:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I repeat this phrase to myself at least once per month. Whether for somebody driving erratically on the M25, or a friend or  family member acting in a manner I cannot comprehend. It pays to remember that they’re probably just being malicious, like me they’re subject to the randomness of thought patterns and most people possibly don’t think about thinking perhaps as much as they could.

Humans are complex and weird creatures, we do weird and dumb stuff, and it’s not always malicious. It just is. And if everybody cut each other just a bit more slack at times when they’re uncertain of another person’s true intentions, we would probably all rub along just that bit better.

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Taking a month away from my business

Last year I had a child, a boy to be precise. His name is Eli and he has changed my life.  “No shit”, was the response of most people I told this fact to. Well quite, but what was really interesting, is that he actually changed my entire outlook on running my businesses in a way that I hadn’t managed in the seven years prior to his arrival.

This particular insight came about as a result of being forced to take time off from work. Not the kind of time off where you still check your e-mails at least one a day when your partner isn’t looking. This was actual proper time off, and I was terrified. The problem was that I had been managing the business up until this point the hard way…I was attempting to micro-manage at a large scale. I was involved in pretty much every client project our software house was undertaking, I was product manager for both of our products Fundipedia and Staff Squared and that’s before I got to the work involved in managing and developing staff and driving the company forward. The arrangement was unsustainable, but old habits die hard and Satan himself would be handing out ice cream in hell before I released my deathly grip on the business.

So back to the time off…

Here in the UK when your kiddy is born it is customary (and a legal right, no less) that Dad gets Paternity leave. This is two weeks to allow a poor unsuspecting souls to reacclimatise to their new lives. For me, it was the first time I genuinely felt like I could ask my team to cover my back, and run the business as they saw fit.  I would be un-contactable, and so they were to make decisions as they saw fit and that was the end of it. So the boy was born, and I was off, properly off.  I played out my fatherly duties over those two weeks, and fully expected to return to an actual war zone. But no, I came back and the business was running almost better than I had left it. My managers felt empowered, and had taken the business by horns and ran it beautifully. Our clients were happy, and there had been no major disasters in my absence. If I’m completely honest, I was disappointed – the realisation that your business is all grown up and can handle itself is just as difficult as letting go in the first place.

Since my return to work being armed with the knowledge that I’m not actually required on a day to day basis to keep my company afloat I’ve done what any normal person would do and decided to go away again, but this time for a month and I’ll be residing in another country altogether.  I’m spending all of March in Barcelona, and the bonus is that not only does this force my team to get on with it, there are a number of additional positive side effects:

  • Physical distance from my business gives me the space I need to focus on our products which are my priority
  • I suffer from incredibly bad hayfever to the point where it’s debilitating. I’m hoping a month out of the UK when pollen is starting to rear its ugly head again will help keep the worst of the symptoms at bay
  • I get to spend a month of quality time with my kiddy when he’s starting to get really interesting (he’ll be 8 months old by then). I’ll be speaking to him mainly in Spanish (thanks DuoLingo!) the entire time we’re out there, I’ve no idea if he’ll hold on to any of the words I use but my aim is to raise him to be bilingual so this is a good place to start
  • My ultimate aim is to leave the UK and live out the rest of my life with my family abroad, so this is a test in a controlled environment to give this a try

I’ll be keeping a log of how I get on using this blog, plotting the highs and lows and any problems I encounter trying to manage a software house from afar. I’ll probably tweet more often too, so feel free to follow me if you’re interested in this little experiment.

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