Discover more from The Mmm...Letter
In The Nick of Time
How Last-Second Decisions Eat Your Brain
We make 9 out of 10 decisions just in time. And just in time decisions are those we make ‘as the need arises.’
In this post, I explore the most common type of decision, the forms it takes, and what it costs you.
And you’ll see how these decisions evaporate productivity.
JIT Stands for Just in Time.
Software developers and manufacturers know this term. To them, it means they will lack a complete list of requirements from the client.
The product, the software, whatever it is they must build, they produce just in time for the customer’s order.
The complimentary term is ahead-of-time, or a priori. Meaning, the client sets the requirements in advance and enables us to make estimates.
We’re not going to make some car, we’re going to make that car…
JIT sounds like a poor way to run a business, but it can reduce overhead and limit raw material stockpiles. Globalization and high-tech inventory tracking enable JIT production across industries.
And the world tested JIT’s limits during the pandemic. Stockpiles of PPE didn’t exist and demand overtook supply in many sectors. There’s an analogy to this in our personal and business decision-making.
Whether you produce JIT products for customers, I guarantee you make JIT decisions.
A JIT decision is a choice you failed to make ahead of time.
For example, a high-value prospect asks you to customize your solution. You’re not sure you can, but you don’t want to lose this account.
A remodel in your office reveals a foundational problem. You need a large investment to correct the damage, and the contractor needs you to decide on-site.
You sit down to stream an acclaimed documentary, but your thumb hovers over Catwalk, a reality show about six felines strutting their fluff in New York’s Fashion Week.
Bonus: they’re super mean.
As trivial as these decisions may seem, they add up to an expensive use of brain space.
Unless you are royalty or Jeff Bezos, you find yourself in the following situation.
It’s 7 AM, 12 PM, 6 PM, or any given time of day during the pandemic, and you’re staring into an open refrigerator.
Up to five times daily, you peek your head into a cold box and pry sustenance from its shelves.
But what to pluck from your forage chest is only the first of a sequence of food-based JIT decisions.
If none of the available items suit you, you decide whether to compromise or to order out. Ordering out sparks a new sequence of JIT decision-making.
Which restaurant? Dine-in or take-out? Delivery? Dessert?
If you choose to cook, you must involve your kitchen. Or worse, the grocery store…
And every moment you meal about comes with an opportunity cost, a chance to do something more meaningful.
Between timing, choosing, preparing, and shopping, a single unplanned meal requires a dozen JIT decisions. Multiply that by three times a day and you’re looking at 36 decisions that often spiral into more.
Repeat this seven days a week, 365 days a year, and food is the biggest slice of your decision-making pie. Mmm, pie.
Your Mind is a Reservoir.
Each choice it makes, no matter how small, depletes that reservoir — leaving less room for more meaningful thoughts.
The choices required to feed yourself and your family seem small. But when itemized, take up significant mental power.
I’ve solved this problem, and you’ll see how in a moment. But first let’s look at how JIT decision-making impacts your business
Customer service is the greatest source of JITs faced by small-businesses.
Customers come up with questions you couldn’t imagine, and demands you couldn’t fathom. It’s as if they take secret pleasure in ringing you out for compromises.
They’ve asked me for discounts, re-dos, delays. A menagerie of requests. Every time these requests crop up, I have to make a JIT decision. The client deserves an expedient answer, after all.
Do I offer a refund in this case? Do I take the unscheduled call from the client’s subordinate? Do I re-do this work or fight for the original?
Many of us rely on our gut for the right answer. And these moments affect us the same way our personal JIT decisions do: they burn valuable brain fuel and chip away at spare time.
As leaders, we may think we’re the only ones suffering as a result, but so are our subordinates.
When we train employees, we mitigate the number of JIT decisions they must make on the job. If we fail to train, or fail to foresee the decisions employees will face, we stand to lose. Big time.
On average, employees don’t rock the boat (that’s what entrepreneurs are for). When faced with a JIT decision, such as whether to offer a discount outside the return window, for which our customer service team has no rubric, what do they do? They defer.
They ask a peer or a manager. When they reach out, a JIT decision begins to impact several people. And the result is a cascade of lost productivity.
Absent those human resources, the decision will go down the path of least resistance (no boat rocking!).
The lack of communication combined with conservative JIT decisions leaves you with a problem.
People make poor choices, those choices consume mental and physical resources, and you won’t hear a peep about it until the complaints roll in. So what do we do?
How I Stopped Mealing About and Started Eating
I did not do this alone. My fiancée was to begin a fitness program that dictated her meals.
If she did it without me, she’d grow jealous of my ‘normal food’ as we grew to live separate food lives. I wouldn’t tolerate that, and neither would she. We decided the meal plan would guide us both.
One-year-on, we see the inside of a grocery store once every two weeks. We print our daily meal plan and pop it onto the fridge, and we stockpile food in a freezer large enough to hide a body.
We buy in bulk so our cost of food shrank. We eat well, and we’ve all but eliminated the 60+ daily food-related JIT decisions we used to make.
It’s a win, win, win… win. Here’s another win we can learn from.
The Tim Ferriss Approach
Tim Ferriss recounts the story of his first business. It grew so successful it buried him in minutiae.
He worked over 80-hours per week keeping his fitness supplement business afloat. And his number one time-sink? Customer service.
His agents responded to customer requests and complaints. But they deferred many of their decisions to Tim. Tim had to stop, switch contexts, and deal with a highly-specific JIT decision several times a day.
To these decisions he lost sleep, his girlfriend, and the hope of living a normal life. But one day, he solved it.
Along with a simple decision-making rubric, he granted his customer service agents the freedom to handle any problem for under $100.
The thousands of JIT decisions he took on had formed a cage. And in that one maneuver, he unlocked the door.
Study the daily, weekly, and monthly JIT decisions you face at home and on the job. These decisions take time and thought away from what matters to you.
Decide ahead of time through policy and practice and free yourself to do the meaningful work only you can do.