How much time do you spend thinking about the future? How far out are you thinking? An interesting study on mental time travel1, discovered that, on average, people spend 14% of their day thinking about the future - and most of that time is spent making plans. The same study discovered that  80% of future thoughts relate to the same or next day. 14% are focused a year or more out, and only 6% of future thoughts are ten or more years into the future.

We can mentally time travel to the future, but we take pretty short trips.

In 80/20 Sales and Marketing, Perry Marshall (2013) proposes a time management framework for salespeople and entrepreneurs. He suggests business owners spend too little time on trivial $10 per-hour tasks like running errands and basic administration and not enough time on $1,000 or $10,000 per-hour tasks like building client relationships or public speaking.

Not all of you will be self-employed, and it is not always useful to conceive of our time as having a dollar value. In Local Legends, my new book about strategic leadership in local government, I use this model to introduce the idea of decision payoff periods.

Pushing out decision horizons

Think of a Council as making decisions with varying payoff periods, ranging from 10 minutes to 10 decades. For example, resolving a service request might result in a 10-minute payoff when the community member who complained is satisfied. Supporting local businesses through tight financial times like a recession might have a 10-month payoff. New community facilities might have a 10-year payoff while investing in urban shade might have a 10-decade payoff.

Our community representatives add real public value at the 10-decade end of the spectrum. When local government leaders waste time on inconsequential issues, it can have exponential future impacts. When limited time, attention, and conversation are wasted on minor issues, you forgo space for more important concerns. These choices compound over time, yet the time it takes to make those decisions may vary little. It can take just as long to make a 10-minute decision as a 10-year decision.

How long is your game?

Whether you work in local government or not, the idea of a decision payoff period is still useful. Strategists play a longer game than the average bear. We aren't necessarily planning years or decades into the future (because plans are generally as good as the paper they're written on) but projecting the payoff of our decisions further than our instincts.

  • Making today's decisions on 10-month rather than 10-minute desires might mean putting down the wine and chips or having an early night in favour of your longer-term fitness goals.
  • Making decisions based on your 10-year desires might mean attending that networking group, spending evenings studying, or working on your marriage. 
  • Making decisions based on your 10-decade desires could mean making more sustainable and less speculative investment choices with your children and grandchildren front of mind.

The further you push out the consequences, the bigger the payoff you potentially deliver. See if you can catch yourself today and be one of the 6%.

Til next time

AM

 

 

1 Baumeister RF, Hofmann W, Summerville A, Reiss PT, Vohs KD. Everyday Thoughts in Time: Experience Sampling Studies of Mental Time Travel. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2020 Dec;46(12):1631-1648. doi: 10.1177/0146167220908411. Epub 2020 Mar 25. PMID: 32208914.

 

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