June 29, 2012

FIGHT THE TYRANNY OF TIME:

Waiting game : Watching the world's best tennis players at Wimbledon over the next fortnight can help us make better decisions (Frank Partnoy, 6/24/12, Financial Times)

Watch Novak Djokovic. His advantage over the other professionals at Wimbledon won't be his agility or stamina or even his sense of humour. Instead, as scientists who study superfast athletes have found, the key to Djokovic's success will be his ability to wait just a few milliseconds longer than his opponents before hitting the ball. That tiny delay is why most players won't have a chance against him. Djokovic wins because he can procrastinate - at the speed of light.

During superfast reactions, the best-performing experts in sport, and in life, instinctively know when to pause, if only for a split-second. The same is true over longer periods: some of us are better at understanding when to take a few extra seconds to deliver the punchline of a joke, or when we should wait a full hour before making a judgment about another person. Part of this skill is gut instinct, and part of it is analytical. We get some of it from trial and error or by watching experts, but we also can learn from observing toddlers and even animals. There is both an art and a science to managing delay.

In 2008, when the financial crisis hit, I wanted to get to the heart of why our leading bankers, regulators and others were so short-sighted and wreaked such havoc on our economy: why were their decisions so wrong, their expectations of the future so catastrophically off the mark? I also wanted to figure out, for selfish reasons, whether my own tendency to procrastinate (the only light fixture in my bedroom closet has been broken for five years) was really such a bad thing.

Here is what I learnt from interviewing more than 100 experts in different fields and working through several hundred recent studies and experiments: given the fast pace of modern life, most of us tend to react too quickly. We don't, or can't, take enough time to think about the increasingly complex timing challenges we face. Technology surrounds us, speeding us up. We overreact to its crush every day, both at work and at home.

Yet good time managers are comfortable pausing for as long as necessary before they act, even in the face of the most pressing decisions. Some seem to slow down time. For the best decision-makers, as for the best tennis players, time is more flexible than a metronome or atomic clock.

The belief that we need to decide things quickly is largely a function of overestimating our own importance. 


Posted by at June 29, 2012 5:45 AM
  

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