Avoid ‘Action Bias’ By Pausing And Planning Before You Start Working

Avoid ‘Action Bias’ By Pausing And Planning Before You Start Working

Most of us feel like we’re getting more done when we’re doing something, even if that action is counterproductive. This is called “action bias”. To get past it, take a moment to pause and consider your strategy before getting started.

Picture: woodleywonderworks

As business blog HBR points out, as a general rule, people prefer action. Planning is a waste of time if you already “pretty much” know what to do. And yet, jumping into action and screwing up can cost you more in time and effort than you would have wasted in the first place. In some cases, it may cause you to fail entirely. As anyone who’s ever had a boss fix something that isn’t broken could tell you, sometimes doing nothing is the best course of action. HBR uses the example of a soccer goalie:

Consider the case of professional soccer goalies who need to defend against penalty kicks. What is the most effective strategy for stopping the ball? Most of us think that if we were in their shoes, we would be better off jumping to the right or to the left. As it turns out, staying in the center is best. Research has found that goalkeepers who dive to the right stop the ball 12.6% of the time and those who dive to the left do only a little better: They stop the ball 14.2% of the time. But goalies who don’t move do the best of all: They have a 33.3% chance of stopping the ball.

Nonetheless, goalies stay in the center only 6.3% of the time. Why? Because it looks and feels better to have missed the ball by diving (an action) in the wrong direction than to have the ignominy of watching the ball go sailing by and never to have moved. The action bias is usually an emotional reaction to the sense that you should do something, even if you don’t know what to do. By contrast, hanging back, observing, and exploring a situation is often the better choice.

Just because an action can be taken immediately, doesn’t mean it’s the best one. Likewise, being inactive or taking time to look before you leap doesn’t equate to productivity. Your instinctual need to go-go-go can make you feel like you’re getting something done just because you’re doing something, but if all you’re doing is barreling ahead towards failure faster, you may as well have stayed in bed.

The Remedy for Unproductive Busyness [HBR]

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