This is something I picked up when I was working at a tech startup called Flare. When I joined, we raised $21m and we were in a pivotal stage; there were a lot of moving parts and we had to keep everything as streamlined as possible. With teams working on so many different areas, we needed accountability; so every Wednesday, we would get the senior folks together for decisions of the week.
We’d go around in a circle and share any decision that had to be made that we were struggling to tick off — whether to commit to a hire, whether to commit to a tech change — and debate and argue the point until we’d made a choice. It was your job to bring the decision you needed, bring the data and the evidence for the group to talk it through, and pitch your best option if you had one.
And we wouldn’t leave the room until the decisions for the week had been made, and we’d confirmed the decisions for the week before had been executed.
It was a forced march to a decision point on everything. Because bottlenecks weren’t sustainable as we geared up to scale, and we needed folks to hold each and every one of us to each and every call and commit to a direction.
It’s something I’ve carried through ever since.
If you have one day to make your decisions, the pressure is off.
I don’t spend my week worrying about the choices I need to make; I simply gather data, gather evidence, and put myself in the best position to make a call. If I become aware of a major decision that needs to be made — applying for an apartment, accepting a new client or asking someone on a date (I am not even kidding) that decision will wait until Wednesday. If it can’t wait a few days for me to settle into it and think it through and weigh it up, it’s the wrong path for me, because I don’t run my life by split second decisions.
When Wednesday rolls around, I make a cup of tea, I sit down somewhere quiet and I work through the list in one session. I don’t stop until I’ve reached a choice and worked out the immediate actions to take from that point, for each decision on the list. By the time it’s done, there is an immediate sense of peace and relief.
I use Trello to keep track of each decision. I put the decision down as a card when it becomes apparent that it needs to be made, and I use that card to keep track of additional information, notes, ideas or data that can help me to make that decision and consider the consequences of it. For ex., a decision about moving house might include budgetary decisions, notes on the new neighbourhood, Uber costs to and from Sydney city etc. It all has weight, and I’d rather save and saviour that weight than worry about it each day.
Living with anxiety, this kind of structure helps.
I have an anxious mind. I can get incredibly caught up in my thoughts and ideas and become overwhelmed with worry and over-analysis. It can freeze me out and prevent me from following the road I need to follow, and doing the work that I need to do. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years, and it’s something that — for me — relates to PTSD and depression.
By having a structure around my decision making, I’ve found that I can lessen my executive dysfunction and keep my anxiety controlled through decision sprints. That’s a load of pressure off my mind, and it does make a difference.
I don’t think it’s a silver bullet — I don’t believe in silver bullets — but it’s a mechanism that I can apply on a regular basis, with reliable results for the way that I process and execute my life.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.