There comes a time in life, when you look ahead and ask yourself: What do I want to do?
That there are several possibilities in front of you.
And each possibility has its pros and cons.
This is exactly when you will feel consumed by the question: “Is this the best option or is there a better one?”
It is this very question that will transport you to a mental landscape, where it feels like you are thinking. And thinking hard.
This landscape is a map. A map that lays out all the potential paths in front of you.
And you may swim around in this landscape for quite a while. This is where you believe you are making progress. Because, it feels like this thinking, is bringing you closer to the achieving the goal in mind. The underlying belief is that, after enough contemplation you will be able to decide, on the perfect path. One, that will give you the right results, in the most comfortable, certain and time bound way.
There must be a balance between thinking and doing. Only then will we get the expected outcomes. This is defined by the equation given below:
For example, lets say you have to buy a laptop. You could go about it by taking either path:
Path 1: You spend one month researching, noting down the pros and cons, reading reviews and taking a trial. You compare the specifications of 10 options and then buy one. You get the delivery within a week. After 5 weeks, there is a high probability of that you achieved your expected outcome. However, A few hours of every day across 4 weeks of your are life gone. Also, the same need, could have been met much sooner and you could have spent the same time, doing other things.
Path 2: You spend a few hours to ask 2-3 people for their recommendations and you buy 1 laptop. Hence, the probability of meeting your expected outcome will be low even since you did not spend any time in writing down your requirements.
Both these paths are extreme. They result in poor outcomes and hence we have no choice but to wrestle with the tradeoff between thinking and doing.
The Big Tradeoff – Thinking vs Doing
The benefit of thinking more is that the more you think, the higher the probability of being right. The downside of thinking more is that the more you think, the less time you have to actually get your work done:
Please Note: There are diminishing returns to both doing and thinking (hence the shape of the curves): the 1st hour of thinking increases the probability of being right more than the 12th hour of thinking. The same is true for doing.
The expected outcome is just the amount of work that gets done multiplied by the probability of being right.
Optimal expected outcomes occur near the middle point where thinking and doing are balanced. This is illustrated as given below:
(*Here wrong denotes unproductive tasks that do not help us achieve the expected outcomes and right denotes productive tasks that help us to achieve the outcomes)
Every person within a given period of time, will fall into one of the these three areas:
- Thinking Too Little: When you think too little you will have enough time to get a lot of stuff done, but they will be lots of the unproductive tasks that lead to delay or loss.
- Thinking Too Much: When you think too much you will end up not having enough time to actually get your goals accomplished.
- Thinking Just Right: When you think just the right amount, you will end up only having enough time to do a few things since you spend a good chunk of time thinking, but the few things you do execute on will be highly effective.
So how does one actually achieve the balance between thinking and doing? The right balance will be different by role and situation; there is no universal ratio of thinking vs doing. However, there are a certain indications that may clarify whether or not you are balancing the two:
You maybe thinking too much if:
- You are only idea – focused: Your outcome has reached as far as your research based ideas or elaborate plans. So far, no measurable action has been taken on the execution of your idea.
- You have neither succeeded nor failed: You have neither had any meaningful successes nor failures. You are giving excuses, or blaming external circumstances as to why you are unable to take action, but you are not jumping into the ring yourself and making your idea a success.
- You keep changing your decision: You are constantly choosing different paths to achieve your outcome and then retracting your steps due to various external factors. This means, you are not willing to take any risk.
You maybe thinking too little if:
- You are too focused on ‘finishing off’ tasks: You keep doing tasks without planning. You are working hard but nothing concrete happens. This implies you’re simply doing things without a clear plan of how to achieve your outcomes.
- You keep facing unexpected setbacks: You are constantly solving problems that you did not anticipate. This implies that more time could have been spent in planning your work and its consequences.
- You keep failing for similar reasons: This implies you are doing the wrong things and not thinking through how to adjust from failure.
You maybe balancing thinking and doing if:
- You are outcome focused: You take deliberate action on your plans and achieve your outcomes. You also change your plans based on what you learn from your failures.
- You say ‘no’ if needed: You are able to analyse how to balance the urgent and the important. This means, you say “no” to tasks that are not necessary. You focus on doing a few of the right things instead of letting yourself get stretched too thin and being unproductive.
- You find both success and failure: There is some certainty and some uncertainty in the work you do. You are able to take risks and learn some things along the way.
Balancing “thinking” and “doing” is no easy task, but simply knowing that balance is what we should strive for allows us to avoid the trap of glorifying “thinking” or “doing” on their own.
It is through this balance, that we drive productive outcomes based on our goals.
How did I come across this theory, you might ask?
Well, I have been considering re-entering the education space since a while. I have gone from ideation, to limited action, right back to thinking too much.
So, I thought to myself: What is the balance between thinking and doing. So, I read some articles and penned down my thoughts.
Enjoy the irony of that.
GO! DO! I am!
or Think more, before you act!