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Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Filtering by Tag: Decision Making

Two Simple Secrets to Getting More Out of Your Time

Tremaine du Preez

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

~ Annie Dillard, The Writer's Life 

In my coaching practice I have an unusually high number of clients right now who feel unfulfilled, time-constrained and doing what's expected of them rather than what they want to do with their life. The year is not panning out the way they thought it would way back in January. Personal projects are lagging, dragging or even sidelined. And the reason I hear most often is that they simply don't have time for personal pursuits. They thought they would, but they really don't.

So I tell them this story

Some time ago my family decided to give up watching TV. We were so committed to this that we handed back our set top box - gulp. This was as hard to do as it sounds, especially over school holidays. Why would any family deny man's evolutionary right to waste away in front of scheduled programming? The short answer is that we were tired of never finishing our personal projects. "I just don't have time" had become our mantra.

So we took the plunge and channelled our evening down time into personal pursuits. I wrote a middle grade children's book (that I'm immensely proud of) in nothing more than 1/2 hour slots 3 nights a week over 3 months. Was I exhausted and wanting to chill in front of the tube, or Facebook, with a shiraz after hours? Yes, initially, but when I saw my story coming together and the real progress I was able to make - writing time with a glass of red became my after dinner treat that I wouldn't trade for anything.

What's your thing? Not everybody is a writer. A client of mine has been trying to get his personal travel blog out of his head and onto the web for three years. Three years! Is he super busy with a 100 000 air miles a year job? Does he have 6 kids? No - 1 child, normal working hours and an inability to say no to the many requests that come his way.

1. Good decision making is the first key to good time management 

Do you really need to be reminded that every hour you invest in something that doesn't fulfil you is an hour less invested in your dreams?

I challenge you to find a successful person who makes bad decisions about how they invest their time. Making hard decisions about how you spend your time is the ultimate investment in yourself. Would you hand over all of your monthly earnings to anyone that asks for cash? I'm guessing you wound't. Like me, you'd probably make sure that your financial commitments are honoured before handouts and charity became a possibility.

Our time is our greatest asset yet we often take less care with how we spend it than we do our cash.

There are lots of useful time managements tools, plans and strategies, I teach many of them. But good time management is not much more complicated than a successful diet.

You can't expect to maintain a healthy weight if you don't eat healthily. Healthy eating isn't about taking time to count calories, designing complicated quinoa dishes or spending Saturday mornings at health food stores. A healthy diet is about making good choices in the moment when you are faced with a take out menu, or during the weekly grocery shop.

We all have 24 units of time, everyday, but we make different decisions about how to spend it. Choosing to spend 1/2 hour on Facebook at night or on the novel that's well outside of your comfort zone but burning you up from the inside, is a decision that only you can make.

2. Weed out and scale back on quick-win projects

I'm guilty of pursuing those quick jobs that I can easily tick off my list. At least then I can look back at my day and say, "I got so much done - all the admin, all the chores, dry cleaning, emails, expenses. Boy I'm busy." These are quick win projects that fill our time and fulfil our need to be productive. Could you rather leave the washing on a Wednesday and take that language class that's been on your bucket list since before bucket lists were a thing?

After all, how you spend your day is your decision. Your days become your years and those years can't ever be relived.

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Tremaine du Preez is a behavioural economist, Huffington Post Blogger and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in London. Her book Think Smart, Work Smarter - a practical guide to making better decisions at work is available from AmazonHer next book Raising Thinkers will be out soon.

The 7 Habits of Good Decision Makers

Tremaine du Preez

If you are a professional of any kind from a banker to an HR executive, a COO or a dentist – you are continuously weighing up options and deciding on the best trade, payoff, treatment or even the best thing to say in a presentation or to a customer. You are a professional decision maker and I’m betting that your success depends largely on the quality of your decisions – both large and small. A good quality decision isn’t always the one with the best outcome. What’s far more important than hitting the bull’s eye every time is to foster a good decision process that ultimately results in incrementally better decisions and hence gains from those decisions over time. So what are the consistent habits or behaviours of professionals who make more good than bad decisions?

Decision Science

1. Be very clear on what is fact, judgement and opinion 

At a dinner party this week, a friend and well respected fund manager said quite boldly that everyone is selling China. Everybody? Selling? If everybody is selling than who is buying it? Stock markets only function effectively because of an asymmetry of beliefs – where someone wants to get rid of a position and someone wants to own that same position – so they trade. His statement could not possibly have been a fact or a judgement based on fact but an opinion formed around a trend or what this person had observed in his own limited sphere. It’s fine to believe in our own opinion (self deception is one of the oldest survival techniques and a fascinating topic of decision science) but let’s be very careful when making important decision using opinion as our raw data and not the facts that those opinions interpret. 

2. Understand the quality of your information

The internet is now our main font of knowledge; easy, convenient and omnipotent. Google is the McDonalds of information – serving up super-sized helpings of data that have been processed and flavoured by those that have gathered and interpreted this information. You choose the quality of the information that you consume in much the same way that you decide between McDonalds or Subway for lunch on a Tuesday. If you base your thinking, and hence decisions, on quick to access and widely available information (accepted without verification of its underlying data), then your decisions will disappoint on average. Quality information takes time and effort to gather just like a healthy, well balanced meal - there is no quick way around it. Test conclusions, verify interpretations and go to the source of data whenever you can. Actually, go to the data source always. You’ll be glad you did. 

3. Distrust how information is packaged and presented  

It was Socrates who first proposed that all information occurs within points of view and frames of reference and that all reasoning proceeds from some goal or objective. The poor man was executed for his outrageous thinking. Today this reasoning separates good decision makers from the rest. Without fail, every piece of information that is presented to you is done so through someone else’s frames and hence has been structured in a way that furthers their own cause. Always ask yourself what motivation the journalist, stock broker, surgeon, CEO or any other has when transmitting information. If you have sourced data yourself then beware, that data is filtered through your own mental frames as well.

4. Develop a habit of deciding how to decide first

Do you know what a metadecision is? No?  It is the simple act of deciding how you will decide before you jump in and make a decision. It begins by checking that you are, in fact, solving the right problem then asks you to decide how you will solve the problem with what tools, data and resources. It sounds like a mini project plan because it is. The metadecision forms the very first step in a good decision process because it anticipates challenges, ensures that you are using the best possible tools, ensures that your team members are all on the same page and actually speeds up the decision process. Einstein is said to have said that;  If I had only had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding the solution. Even if it wasn’t the great man himself who said this, every great decision maker knows this. 

5. Control for the impact of emotions on your thinking 

Did you know that the hormones that make you feel sad also promote thinking and the hormones that make you feel so happy you could sing increase your appetite for risk in much the same way that red hot anger does. Emotions result from a cocktail of various hormones generated in response to information we receive (and interpret) through our own 5 senses. We can’t stop or remove the effect of emotions on our thinking but we can identify them and ensure that, when making important decisions, we control for the effects of our mental state – whether that be tiredness, frustration, disappointment, confidence after a successful deal or irritation at our boss. Everyone of these impact how we process and frame information. 

6. Tell convincing stories to understand risk

All decisions involve risk – the bigger the decision the larger the risk but also the reward for getting it right. Risk assessment and management tools are only as useful as the skills of those who program and use them. Housing bubbles from ill thought out economic policy, stock market crashes, bank runs and corporate failures are part and parcel of our complex and risky political, financial and business environment. The risks that cause these things are usually the ones that no-one paid attention to or could have foreseen when making the decision or setting policy. Whilst it’s very hard to know what you don’t know the ability to imagine alternative futures is becoming more important around the board room table. In trying to understand the risks to your project allow team members to create narratives of future scenarios from the most likely to the most implausible. To be communicated as stories with characters of fact or fiction. History has shown us that the most unlikely scenarios at the beginning are the ones that do the most damage at the end. 

7. Judge decisions by their process not their outcome 

This is the fundamental premise of decision science - that good decisions are never random inspirations hastened by a moment of genius or lucidity - a process is used (consciously or subconsciously) by anyone who makes consistently good decisions because no-one is consistently lucky. 

Do you have a decision making process that allows you to reflect on and refine your approach to problem solving? I won’t dictate a decision process as it’s as personal as your belief system but sound processes usually make space for 

- A metadecision

- An understanding of how information is framed

- Checking for motives, mental mistakes and biases in all stakeholders

- Counteracting the effect of strong emotions

- Thorough scenario analysis

Good decision making is a science of skill and knowledge the more you practice it, the luckier you’ll become.  

About the author: Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her latest book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your Child for the Journey of a Lifetime will be out soon.