Reducing a $12 decision to 30 seconds

Apologies in advance that it will take you more than 30 seconds to read this blog post, but hopefully there’s something interesting in here.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a new credit card for one of our employees at the office. They had barely used their card in the last year, and I knew that we were paying $12 per year for it. Here was my train of thought, more or less:

I should probably cancel their card. We had ordered them for our team so that when we went to conferences, they could pay for food and drinks and things on the company card and then hand me the receipts instead of having to manage it on their own cards, do currency conversions, and then have the company reimburse them. But will this employee be going to GDC (the Game Developer’s Conference) in San Francisco in the spring this year? Is anyone on the team going, considering the COVID situation? Well, maybe not this year but for the next year, would this employee be going? If I cancel it now, but they go in the following year, it’ll be a pain to have to get a new card for them. But if they do go, does it make more sense with our new accounting software to just let them pay for things with their own card? Who should actually be going to GDC? I guess I need to make that decision sooner rather than later, otherwise what the heck do I do with this card…?

I started writing that employee a message, asking them if they thought it would be likely that they might go to events in the next year, given that they just moved and have a young child at home, and given how their role was changing and how the company structure was changing—

And then I stopped. I’m a little ashamed to say that it took me that long to realize how much time and energy I was wasting on what truly amounts to a rounding error in our finances, and that I was about to bring an employee into the conversation to have them waste their time on this silly, less than unimportant question. At least there’s something that can be learned from this experience though, right? You’re probably wondering the same thing about this blog post as you’ve gotten this far and still haven’t learned anything.

I decided that a $12 decision shouldn’t take me more than 30 seconds. These numbers are kind of arbitrary, but it felt right so I went with it.

Grabbed this still from this link, and just found it to be the most hilarious “30 second timer” image I could Google.

So I opened a 30 second timer—ignore for a moment the fact that it took me 5 seconds to open the browser, type in “30 second timer”, and press start—and I decided that I would have a decision made and documented before the timer ended. My time (and anyone else’s time, for that matter) is way too valuable to be worrying about a $12 per year decision for my company. After about fifteen seconds, I had decided that it makes sense to keep the card active in case we have events in the future, and in another five seconds I confirmed with myself that it would take so much longer than 30 seconds to actually deal with the cancellation of the card, and even longer than that to reactivate it, and even to communicate this to our employee would have taken me at least a minute. With 8 seconds left, I closed the timer, put the new card in the pile of stuff to give that employee when I see them next, and got on with my day.

Maybe most people don’t have a brain as caught up in details and future-planning as I do, but if you’re like me, then you might benefit from trying this exercise for unimportant decisions in your work and in your life. How big is the decision really, and are you giving it the amount of time it deserves? Or are you spending six minutes out of your hour-long lunch with a friend deciding what you want to eat, and forfeiting conversation with someone you haven’t caught up with in a while?

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