Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Anticipating the Alarm

Every morning at the exact same time, my alarm starts honking violently at me, telling me to wake up. Some days, it's a battle, with my old friend the snooze button granting me an extra seven minutes of less-than-satisfactory sleep. But every now and then, I catch it early. See, my alarm makes a very slight, almost imperceptible click before it starts to fire. The sound is just like when you first turn on a speaker or guitar amp, but no sound is coming out yet. Just a click.

Every now and then, I am awake a few minutes (sometimes more) before the alarm goes off, and I can prepare. I put my hand on the clock ready to shut it off at a moment's notice, and I wait. If I can successfully catch the clock right as it clicks, I can prevent it from ever going off and disturbing anyone else. The reaction time has to be quick. Any delay and I will receive at least a partial blast of sound before shutting it off.

At work, we rarely have to deal with split-second reaction times, but quick decisions do come up. The unexpected choice of project A versus project B. The staffing decision (hiring or firing) that gets dropped on you. Deciding between two risk mitigation strategies that both have limited success prospects. The secret is the same as my alarm clock: get up early.

I don't mean actually wake up early (though there are probably benefits of that). What I mean is that for every quick decision, you have months or years of data that feed into that decision. Leverage it. Prepare. The only way to be ready for the quick decision is to anticipate it, plan for it appropriately, and wait until it comes. Helps you avoid the alarm. What future alarms can you anticipate today?