Category Archives: Deciding: Why is it so hard?

Deciding when the options are few

I had a comment from Taylor Davidson about waiting to make decisions. (Thanks for the nudge, Taylor) and it got me thinking about when fewer choices can actually be a nudge to creativity.

Years ago some friends and I put together a big art show in honor of the return of Haley’s Comet. We were lucky to get space in the Maryland Science Center in the entrance room to the planetarium.

In order to have some kind of unity in the show we decided that all the submissions would be framed in the same 15×15 contrast gray Nielson frame.  And the mat colors could be black, gray or navy blue (as I remember).  If an artist wanted to produce a piece bigger than 15×15 they could do it but only in the standard sizes.  I did a piece that was made up of four blocks in a line.  Someone else did one in a four square.

We hung the show in a sort of checker board fashion but with some blanks spaces in the over all final display.  Sorry to say, I don’t have any pictures of the final show.

Some people complained that they couldn’t possibly work in that specific size, but others rose to the challenge.  In particular Mary Klotz tried out an experimental triaxial weaving technique. Not only did she sell the piece, but she went on to be a well respected expert on the process and sold several large scale pieces made in with that technique.  It led, in turn, to her construction of labyrinths and even corn mazes!

Not bad for a test case in a small square.

Just goes to show, sometimes fewer choices can be a very good thing.

If my brain is working really hard, can I be expected also to make the best decisions?

Cake or fruit?
That is the question.

Willpower and cognitive processing draw from the same pool of resources.

I should be making the handouts for my talk on SEO at the upcoming ACO conference. But it’s complicated:  the writing, the editing, the figuring out what is enough and what is probably too much.

I think I need a snack. Mmmmmmm … Sugared nuts my sister-in-law made for Christmas.  Probably not the best choice at 9 AM.  But that’s what my brain said I wanted.

Why did I not choose an apple, or an orange or one of those pretty-close-to-too-ripe bananas? And what does this have to do with people who live and work with ADHD?  As it turns out, a lot.

Kathy Sierra wrote in her blog, Serious Pony:

…165 grad students were asked half to memorize a seven-digit number and the other half to memorize a two-digit number.

After completing the memorization task, participants were told the experiment was over, and then offered a snack choice of either chocolate cake or a fruit bowl.

chocolate cake
Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Fruit bowl
Image by Jacques David from Pixabay

The participants who memorized the seven-digit number were nearly 50% more likely than the other group to choose cake over fruit.

Researchers were astonished by a pile of experiments that led to one bizarre conclusion:

Willpower and cognitive processing draw from the same pool of resources.

Kerch McConlogue

Kerch McConlogue, CPCC, used to be a coach and somehow can’t stop thinking about deciding and how coaches and coaching works for people with ADHD.  Now she helps coaches and other businesses people decide about their websites  at

The Art of Saying “No”

no-entryI read a great piece by Whitney Hess over at A List Apart (a great site, as they say, “For people who make websites” and I say, for people in business in general!).  From her article: No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas.  Part of her article was take-aways from the book The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes
by William Ury.  I particularly like this one:

The shorter it is, the stronger it is. Pascal famously said, “I wrote you a long letter because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” The longer the argument, the sloppier and less well-thought out it appears.

My son had a science teacher in high school who once told me, “Tommy conveys more information in fewer words than any other student I’ve had.”  That’s a great life skill. (Perhaps not so useful when the assignment is for 5 pages and the topic’s been covered—fully—in 2… nevertheless…)

When a person is talking, and trying to say “no,” they are often looking at the other person’s body language and interpreting it, judging it. So they use more words to soften the perceived blow of the “no.”

But maybe the receiver of the “no” is just thinking, “Whew, I didn’t want that anyway.”  or “Thanks for seeing that what I said I wanted isn’t what I really wanted.”   When you judge the reply before you get it, you may cut off the outcome you actually want.

And the argument gets muddy and frustrating for both parties.

You don’t have to answer every request as it’s made. Even in direct conversation you can say, “Wait a minute, I’m thinking about that.”

The request could be totally bats. But if it’s made by your boss or a client or a prospective client,  consider the tone of your reply.  There is a fine line between blunt, and maybe rude, and wishy-washy mamby-pamby whatever-you-want-dear kind of reply.

So here’s the advice:

1.  Decide what you want at the end of the conversation. Do you:

  • want the job, but you don’t want to be micromanaged?
  • just plain don’t want to work with that person?  or
  • The job really is too bats to be considered.

If you want the job but not on those conditions, keep the former in the front of your mind. Don’t worry about details that don’t effect that result.

Say the job is “Fly off this roof to the ground.” Don’t just say, “That won’t work.” Even when you know it won’t.

How about, “That won’t work because people have no wings. “  Or skip the that-won’t-work part and go directly the thing that WILL work. “I’ll meet you out front.”  Then take the stairs.

2.  Plan a way for the other person to save face. Give them some way out of the end of the converstation. Pass back a request for clarification or a negotiation over the project. “What do you want to get out of my flying off the roof?”

3.  No matter what, be polite.  You don’t know when you might need that person again. AND you don’t know who that person knows!

4.  Keep your eye on the prize, so to speak. Decide what you want to be the outcome. Then steer the conversation that way.  It’s not manipulative in a bad way. If the other person really doesn’t agree with you, they’ll let you  know.

And maybe, if you can’t get the negotiation to the result you want, you’re better off not working with that person anyway.

Delay is preferable to error

curiosityIan King posted on his FaceBook page this morning this quote by Thomas Jefferson:

Delay is preferable to error.

Ian says it’s like being able to “press the ‘pause button.'” And that makes for a much “different life.”

His friend, Nancy Robinson, worried, in her comment to Ian, that delay might let her forget entirely.

But see, I read the quote differently. I thought it said “Delay is preferable to terror.”

That’s a whole different kettle of fish! Seemed a bit out of character for ole TJ. But hey, he lived in harrowing times.

So when I put these thoughts together, well, my mind goes a couple of ways.

If it’s terror

Sometimes the decisions I think I must make immediately really only seem that way because of some worry or anxiety I’ve got over the outcome.

A choice to delay an action removes, for me, a measure of anxiety and gives me space to consider options and possible out comes.

If it’s error

A choice to delay allows a situation to unfold a bit more and that may present different opportunities.

Now, sometimes, that delay could eliminate certain choices. But sometimes, too, fewer choices makes the decision easier.

How do I make the choice to delay?

I like to pay attention, as best I can, to the Morita notion “to do what must be done now.”

I can handle now.

  • Is the error inevitable?
  • Is it necessary to make the terrible decision now?
  • Will babies die if I do or don’t do this thing? (That would sure put a different kind of pressure on the terror.)

Must the decision be made NOW?
If not now, then the decision to delay is exactly the right one to make.

Read more about Shoma Morita here

Making a plan and sticking to it

Once upon a time, long long ago, my husband and I had a party.

Actually, we’ve had pretty many since then. But I digress.

At the time of that particular party, we were in the middle of doing planning  a lot of projects around the house. We had the list of all those projects posted on the wall in the kitchen.

Here’s a party hint.

todoimageSome stuff you can’t clean up before people come over. But if you post a larger than life list, it WILL give people something to talk about. And they’ll focus on your list instead of the half painted walls.

At another party, when the hallway needed paint, I went to the wall paper store and got a bunch of samples. I taped them all over the hall way and asked people to vote on the one they liked best.  Another great conversation starter!

(The Christmas tree went away and the dining room got painted.)
I sure wish I had a picture of that original list. But I tell you what, everyone who came to the party remembers that list and that the lynch pin task was fix the gutters!

Personally, I never understood why the gutters needed to be replaced before a bedroom was painted, but some how, in the mind of some-other-adult-with-whom-I-live, there was no point in doing anything until that task was completed.

The point is this: sometimes you need more than just a list.

Sometimes you have to figure out which parts of the project come first and then what happens next.

I love a good list. But stuff can get missed if it’s just linear. Or, as in my case, in a notebook on many pages.

Gantter: Cloud-based project schedulingHowever, I just read or at about this cool new online project manager called You don’t have to sign in, or make an account.

The MakeUseOf guys say it’s a  lot like MS Project.  But it’s freakin’ free!  You work on the plan, you save it to your own machine, you upload it when you want to come back to it. You can print it out as a pdf and carry it around with you. OR blow it up really big, post it on the wall in your kitchen and have a party!

It’s surely over kill for figuring out a normal weekly schedule.  But if it’s a complicated week, or a project with many steps, I think it will really rock.