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Not Liking Uncertainty
IndecisionAt any given moment, I have some number of options, things I could do, and some number of them are urgent, things I should do soon. In theory, perhaps, the exact number that are urgent shouldn't matter, but in practice, to me, it does … that's just a simple fact about how my mind works. Let's look at the different cases.
If exactly one is urgent, it's pretty clear what I should do. If I do it, that's good; if I don't, that's procrastination. Now, I've never had much trouble with procrastination, so I can't speak from experience, but from what I've heard, it really is all about having a single clear task and then going and doing anything else … so much so, in fact, that one can work around it by taking on a new and even more urgent task and then procrastinating by working on the previous task.
No, what I have trouble with is all the other cases. If more than one task is urgent, it's easy for me to start feeling overwhelmed with things to do, and when that happens I usually end up doing something completely unrelated, like playing Minesweeper for hours at a time. Similarly, if no tasks are urgent, I start feeling “underwhelmed”, which is a different feeling that produces the same result.
Just as an example, I often get underwhelmed when I return to writing essays after having been away for a while. I have ideas and notes for lots of essays, so I have lots of options; and none of them are especially urgent. So, it's always hard to pick one and get started.
Although, as I said, being underwhelmed feels different than being overwhelmed, they both are instances of the same general principle, which is that it's hard for me to decide what to do when faced with a large number of equal-priority tasks. So, for most purposes, I'll lump the two together and call them “indecision”.
I assume that indecision, like procrastination, affects some people more than others, and some not at all. In fact, I think the continuum of indecision is the same as another continuum I've heard of, one of those “two kinds of people” things. I usually think of it in terms of shopping for an item of some kind. On the one hand, there are people who buy the first item that's acceptable; on the other, there are people who check all the items and buy the best. The latter, I think, are the ones who are prone to indecision.
Just for the record, I've heard the two kinds of people be called satisficers and maximizers. I'm not going to call them that, because I hated the former name at first sight, and still do. It's completely irrational.
Actually, instead of saying that there are two kinds of people, we might do better to say that there are two strategies for shopping, or, more generally, for choosing among options … then we'll be able to entertain the idea that people are capable of adopting different strategies at different times. (That doesn't mean there aren't two kinds of people, it just means the strategies are preferred rather than built in.)
Which strategy is better depends on the situation. (It almost has to be that way … if one strategy were better in all situations, the other would likely have died out long ago due to its genetic/memetic inferiority.) When, for example, there are just a few options, the strategy of checking all of them is good, because it sometimes produces extra value with little extra effort. When there are a lot of options, however, it's poor; the poorness manifests itself as slowness and/or indecision.
Methods of Choosing
Restaurant Effect, The
Urgent vs. Important
@ September (2004)