I have a list of software projects as long as my arm, game ideas I want to build, and books I want to write. How do I decide which one to do and how do I stick to it?
I find myself creating lists of ideas because I want to find ways to add value. All of the ideas are worth working on, but I feel overwhelmed when thinking about which one comes first.
So I’ve found myself digging into the dark art of decision making and why I suck at it. The moment I make a decision, I talk myself out of it and think of all of the ways it won’t work. However, let’s start with the first problem… I have too much choice.
The subject of choice is one that has been tackled by a few different people. Alvin Toffler wrote a book in the 70’s called Future Shock in which he discussed the effects of accelerating technological change. Whilst the focus of his writing was more to do with consumer choice, it can apply to decision making in general. He explains that technology would lead us to a place where diverse and customisable products would be as cheap to manufacture as standardised ones. Leading customers to an overwhelming number of choices. Too many choices. Instead of liberating customers it would leave them trapped in indecision, what Alvin coins “overchoice”.
We only have the ability to walk a single path at a time, but our minds are capable of exploring multiple different paths and playing out the consequences. While I’m working on one idea, my mind can happily sabotage me by presenting the worst case scenario and dangling another idea in front of me like a carrot. A combination of FOMO and self-doubt that ultimately leads to the untimely death of an otherwise healthy idea.
This FOMO is better known as opportunity cost. In the book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Swartz proposes that abundance of choice causes suffering and maximizers, those seeking to make choices to maximize outcomes, suffer the most. A maximizer might compare their options to find the best one. However, a satisficer will simply choose an option that meets their standards of “good enough”, rather than comparing their options. But, what is “good enough” for me?
All the while, the clock is ticking and the indecision means that the list of ideas is just getting longer. Is the opportunity cost of deliberating a decision worse than just picking a random option at this point?
I needed answers. That’s when I realised that my original goal of “adding value” was the thing that wasn’t good enough.
It turned out that “adding value” was a vague and wooly concept to me. When I broke it down it covered a lot of different goals. One of the goals stood out to me; being involved in a community of people that want to share knowledge and understanding.
Armed with this new goal, I then took stock of projects I’d already started to see if community already existed. I found this blog that I’d neglected for a few years and it seemed people were still visiting. There was my community and it sparked my inspiration to get back to writing.
We make decisions all the time without really thinking about it. This decision felt good because I had clarity of purpose and didn’t feel like I was forcing it. A natural progression of what I’d already been doing.
So going back to my list of ideas… They’ve been set aside for now while I focus on my blog. My take away is this: if a decision feels hard, I need to dig deeper to find my true goals.
See you soon!