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My Bad Decision (And 3 Lessons I Learned From It)

Last Tuesday I made a bad decision.

It wasn’t my first, and certainly won’t be my last. As decisions go, it wasn’t all that bad. But I did relearn 3 lessons.

It started that morning.

Every morning I create a to-do list. I decide what I need to do that day, when I plan to do each task and how long it will take.

On Tuesday I needed to buy groceries and exchange a modem-router at the Charter office for a faster model, as we recently upgraded to 30 Mbps service.  The Charter office was near a grocery store, so I scheduled the two trips together from 12 – 2pm.

The day got away from me and I didn’t leave until 3:45pm.

I made it to Charter by 4pm, ran in and exchanged the old modem router for a small brown box labeled Cisco. I hurried to the grocery store, but took longer than I planned because I didn’t make a grocery list beforehand. I made it home just after 5pm.

I had to leave for a class by 6:15pm, giving me just over an hour to unpack groceries, cook, eat dinner, get ready for class and install the modem.

I had pinto beans soaking to cook in my new pressure cooker. Without thinking, I decided to cook the beans, forgetting that while pressure cookers cook fast, they take time to pressurize and to depressurize.

I got the food started, unpacked the groceries, then opened the Cisco box.

The box contained a cable modem…just a cable modem. Not a WiFi modem router combo like I had just exchanged. I could connect only one computer to it—and counting phones, iPads, printers and laptops, we have 8 devices.

I had a WiFi router in my storage unit, but I now had food on the stove and a class in 45 minutes. My girlfriend would be home shortly thereafter and needed Internet access to work.

I was in a bind, all because of the decisions I made.

The story has a happy ending. Before I tell it though, let me talk about the lessons I learned.

Lesson 1: Don’t Plan for Perfect Execution

I should have expected problems. I’ve been working with technology for over 30 years and upgrades almost never go smoothly.

Yet I assumed all I needed to do was exchange the old modem, plug in the new one, configure a few settings and I’d be ready to go. I estimated that once I got home it should only take me 10 minutes to get everything back up and running.

Go ahead, laugh. I recognize how naive this was. But how often do we plan for perfect execution when we make a decision?

The lesson: always leave a buffer and plan for problems, especially with decisions that have inherent risk in them.

Lesson 2: Re-evaluate When Conditions Change

I decided that morning I was going to exchange the modem and go shopping. But I didn’t have to do it that Tuesday. I could have rescheduled either for later in the week.

I went through with my decision because I had already made the decision and didn’t recognize that the conditions for that decision had changed.

Before leaving, I should have re-evaluated my time and rescheduled it. Or, once I picked up the modem, I should have skipped the shopping trip to give myself more time to account for problems.

The lesson: when making a decision to be implemented in the future, check in before starting to implement it to see if the conditions for success still apply.

Lesson 3: Avoid Compounding Risks

I had two unpredictable tasks: installing the new modem and grocery shopping without a list.

Installing the cable modem had a high variability in the time it might take, anywhere from 10 minutes to all night. Grocery shopping wasn’t as unpredictable, but without a grocery list, it still had variability in the time it might take.

By doing both, I compounded the variability and increased the chance of taking more time than I had estimated. At the same time, because my schedule was pushed back, I had less buffer to handle any overflow.

The lesson: minimize the number of simultaneous risky decisions.

The Ending

After realizing I needed to get my WiFi router from my storage unit before it closed, I rearranged my remaining tasks so I could leave 15 minutes earlier. I got the router from the storage unit and wound up setting it up after class. In the meantime, my girlfriend configured the modem for just her computer so she could work.

The final lesson: the imagined negative consequences from a decision are usually far worse than the reality.

What bad decisions have you made?

Credits: The photo used in this article was taken by Nicola Jones.

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