LuckyCharmThe World Cup ended today and it is a quite happy day for me. Not because it’s over, but because of how it ended.
While watching the finale, I observed myself not wanting to leave my lucky chair, not even for a second. The reason was not that I really thought it would matter, well maybe I did. you never know. The last time I left my lucky chair, my favorite team lost.

Superstition is the belief in supernatural causality—that one event leads to the cause of another without any
natural process linking the two events—such as astrology, religion, omens, witchcraft, prophecies, etc., that contradicts natural science.

Stuart A. Vyse in Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

Or shorter: A superstitious person links two absolutely unrelated events together. There is of course no proof that superstition works. Under normal circumstances – that excludes watching sport events – I’d say I am not a superstitious person. What about you?

After thinking about the question for a while and watching myself going about my daily affairs, I realized how I am trying to make sense of events and situations by treating them as if they were related.

Someone steals my parking spot, I spill my coffee and get stuck in traffic on the way home. And suddenly I declare “It’s not my day.” Even better if it is a Monday. Why do I even wonder? Whatever unfortunate happens next is proof that I am right. This day is lost. But all I did was creating a link where there was none. And now, I don’t expect to do anything right. Failure expected.

We do this a lot. “I am just not good at [I am sure you can insert something]“. “He just doesn’t like me.“, “This is just not my year.” (more…)

Be Aware of the Stockpile Effect

WoodpileThis week’s post is about a problem, you could call stockpiling effect. This effect is when you create a big stock of some consumable based on previous consumption, like a year’s supply of pens or printer paper just to notice that this new stock won’t last a year even closely.

Employees taking home supplies is one big issue for companies, but this is not the only reason why creating a big stock of a consumable item can turn out to be more costly than buying it when you need it regardless of the discounts of bulk purchasing.

When you have only 5% of your printer cartridge left you likely think twice before you print out this incredible Tiramisu recipe and likely rather jot down the ingredients plus 4 easy steps on a piece of paper or your planner. The more we have of something the less we value it independently of its actually worth. Have you ever had a day when you could work 6 to 8 hours on one thing just to realize you didn’t even get close to what you wanted to achieve. (more…)

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The Odds Are in Your Favor

oddsToday something happened that made me quite happy and it has nothing to do with hunger, but a lot with games. Both my favorite teams, USA and Germany, made it through the group stage of the World Cup in Brazil. If every game was a toss of a coin, the odds of one team being among the 16 of 32 teams to advance past the group stage is 50%, the odds that two specific teams make is therefore 25% (0.5 x 0.5 = 0.25). Sounds pretty slim, doesn’t it? But if those two are in the same group (17%) and this group is even called “the Group of Death” then what happened today is quite remarkable or in other words unlikely.

We as a society celebrate the extraordinary. We are delighted by stories of rare luck and love stories about unlikely heroes. It seems we are equipped with a built-in probability calculator that accesses every situation in milliseconds just to tell us whether something is likely or unlikely to happen. I assume this calculator was necessary for our caveman ancestors to be able to make quick life-or-death decisions and it surely helps us in similar situations today.

Even in less serious moments, it feels great to succeed in something that we considered impossible if it’s just something small like hitting a hoop while throwing blindly over one shoulder. In general, however, we miss a lot of those happy moments, because our probability calculator is really weak when we have time to think longer than split seconds. We don’t even try because we think the chances are too slim to succeed.

Here’s an example: What do you think the chances are that among 23 people two celebrate their birthday on the same day? Would you say high or low? 365 days, 30 people? (more…)

Dealing with Bottlenecks

bottlenecksIf you ever attempted to pour water quickly out of a narrow-necked bottle then you can easily see why companies with flat hierarchies (picture a bucket) are quicker in moving projects forward than those with a strict chain of command structure.

Of course, the more money or risk is involved in a process, the better it is to pass through some final approval step before moving to the next phase. However, this way it easily happens that suddenly every single action ends up on one person’s desk for approval. This person, often a project manager or group leader becomes the bottleneck of the process. Even with the best intentions and a flawless work ethic every person has their threshold when due to the pure number or because of problems a backlog of approvals builds up. And now everyone is slowed down.

Such a situation can even be created in groups when one team member does not deliver for whatever reasons. Let’s just say all this person had to do was to take the final report and get it printed, but for some reason that doesn’t happen. Without the final report in hand the client does not release the funds for the next phase and so everyone is bogged down.

The most effective way to avoid getting stuck in either of those two cases is to

  1. define deadlines in combination with
  2. suggesting an alternative course of action

An email to your busy supervision could contain a phrase like this (more…)

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Recurring Tasks and Achievement

GearsTime seemingly progresses in different rates. Five minutes should be five minutes, but when you are watching your favorite show that’s broken up by commercials one might wonder why they didn’t call it the commercial hour. But well, that’s another issue. Ten minutes at the dentist are for sure much longer than ten minutes at your favorite Italian Restaurant.

It also seems that as we get older weeks, months and even years change the rate in which they are passing.
“That wasn’t last month? That was last year? Oh #@&*”. One convincing theory I once heard was that for children almost every experience they make is new for them and so their brains have to process a lot of new information, but as we get older our brains have to deal with less and less new. As the stretches of days get longer that are bookmarked by new events we feel that time is going by faster and faster. How can we change that?

You can force yourself to watch a chess tournament on ESPN or whack yourself with a hammer on your thumb to stretch time for a short instant or you can try to make sure you do a lot of new stuff all the time.

When we look at the things we do everyday we likely notice that there is a lot of the same. Most jobs require us to do the same tasks over and over again and when we get home it doesn’t get any better. Laundry on Tuesdays, groceries on Fridays, soccer training Mondays and Thursdays, fixing dinner, answering mail, etc.
We do the same day by day, week by week. Years with a vacation spent in Jamaica, become Do-you-know-that-was-the-year-we-went-to-Jamaica-years, because there was not much else during such years that was different. (more…)

Little by Little

StaircaseThis week’s Quick Tip is a method that helps me when I find myself unable to start an unloved task. There are those tasks that are just dreadful to think about, like filing the mail, doing your taxes, or cleaning out the garage.

Because you know you’ll have to spend hours and hours to get them completed, you cannot bring yourself to even start. But because you know you have to do them you have this big lump in your stomach. Procrastination symptoms!

The good news is that if you plan ahead and give yourself a big enough buffer, then you don’t have to spent too much time on these tasks. Per day that is. (more…)

Funky Noises

Wrecked-210This week I blatantly ignored one important lesson I had learned years ago: “When your car is making funky noises, you’d better take care of it. It ain’t get better.”

Following this rule would have saved me some headaches back then. Driving old cars has taught me that when you think something is wrong you’d better check. But it’s also a rule that applies to pretty much everything in life. It doesn’t mean to obsess over everything, but things rarely run smooth forever. Acting on a first hunch may be the best chance to avoid worse.

Think about your health, computers, finances, cars, buildings, relationships, businesses, etc.

If you have the feeling you are spending too much then it might just be true. Regular checks and alarms are great to avoid the build up of a big surprise. Programs like Mint, CreditKarma, or Quizzle help you by monitoring your spending and sending you alarms when something occurs beyond the ordinary. These also help you to see where you could save money (Whaaat? I spend how much on gas?!).

We should bring our cars to regular check-ups. But isn’t it curious that we often care more about our cars than ourselves? When did you have your last checkup?

Anyway, this week none of these came to punish my ignorance. A couple of days ago I completed some theme and plugin updates on this site. I wasn’t so sure about the theme update to begin with. But do you know when you practically know you shouldn’t be doing something and end up doing it anyway?

Does this ham smell funny? It even got this slimy layer… (more…)

Capture Your Ideas

bulb_ftWhen we need solutions we have to come up with ideas. Those are precious, because they are needed right there and then. But don’t we all have the most incredible ideas when we don’t need them? Usually they even come in moments when it is hard to process them, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable for us.

This is why we should try to capture them as fresh as possible. I use the Drafts app or Evernote to quickly jot down everything I deem valuable. Have you ever spent hours pondering about what this brilliant insight was you had the other day? If I am sure you’ll value any method that makes sure you capture your ideas. Of course your method should also ensure you are able find this ideas when you need them.

You should also make sure to review and consider actually acting on your ideas from time to time, because a good idea without action is wasted. I do this once a week in Asana where I have a project set up with all of my ideas. The great thing about Asana is that you can easily rank your tasks, i.e. ideas in this case. But of course you can use anything similar, even a shoe box with notes would suffice. (more…)

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How To Get Your Facts Right, Fast

Get-your-facts-right“Don’t read, watch or listen to any news if you want to get things done. News just distract you by making you worried about stuff that most likely doesn’t affect you anyway.”
This one productivity tip is floating around in the interwebs for a while now. I don’t agree. I think it is important to stay informed about what is going on around us.

Whether these news worry us, however, is a choice we make. When we want to succeed in life we’ll sooner or later have to make decisions. We’ll also have to learn to live with inconvenient and unfortunate events and news in our own lives and have to decide how to handle them and how to react to them. Building an opinion on various topics that are in the news is therefore an excellent exercise in decision making.

For that we have to consider pros and cons until we reach a decision about how we think about a topic. We should approach important decision in our lives at least with the same caution. So no harm in practicing how to get a round view of a topic, right? (more…)

Nothing Against Zombies and Squirrels, But

I have nothing against zombies and squirrels -apart from the not getting bitten part- but I really don’t want to behave like either one of them. You’ll see what I mean if you read on.

Let me start my suggestion of the week with a confession. I talk really fast and I have trouble sitting still. When I am forced to sit on a chair, like now when I want to get work done on the computer, then it’s always been very hard for me to focus.

Since a lot of my work involves the computer I have learned to slowly reach “the zone”, my focus mode. I can stay in focus mode for a couple of hours, but I would also easily get catapulted out of it by a phone call, a knock on the door, me running out of coffee or other banalities. For a very long time my answer to this problem was simply to lock myself up in the basement, in a library, or work through the night. And prepare about a half gallon coffee of course.

As you can imagine, this behavior is not very social. The more I had to write the more I had to disappear, without cellphone access or other means to reach me. Well, or I would be pretty unresponsive even when present due to zombie-like tiredness. Since it wasn’t sustainable anymore to be unresponsive for half of the day, something had to change. (more…)