Just-In-Time Thinking

The Japanese perfected just-in-time inventory, with a great many savings and benefits. Right when you need a product, you produce it. No need to worry about the cost of holding that inventory and sitting pretty on potentially 5,000 extra units of stuff that might not sell.

Similarly, while I was stressing out over my class schedule last summer, I realized the sheer pointlessness of brooding over decisions that I can’t possibly make without further, next-to-the-last-minute information. I’m not going to be able to decide between two core classes unless I shop both of them…two or three months down the road. There’s no point in spending hours two or three months ahead of time trying to decide between the two.

Just-In-Time thinking is a way of managing decision-making, so that you think through what you need to think through WHEN you need to think through it.

1) Prepare what you need to prepare

It’s stupid to go into a grocery store without a shopping list. Similarly, it’s stupid to not read up on everything you can get your hands on when before you’re visiting two colleges you’re deciding between.

Before events happen, you need to do your homework. If you’re preparing for a house search, you’re going to need to know which neighborhoods are good, whether you want private well water, how much the taxes are going to be BEFORE you start bugging your real estate agent.

Know the facts, understand the situation — but you should all be pretty good at this already.

2) Recognize when you need to wait

You’ll probably get to a point when you’ll know all the facts and details, but your list of pros and cons are starting to look pretty balanced. You’ll mull over different possibilities, options, considerations, but you just can’t make a decision.

This is when you should recognize — this mental wheel spinning — that you just don’t have a certain something or other to make a decision.

So, you have two options:

  • Flip a coin. If you’re disappointed with what the coin tells you, you know what to decide.
  • Decide just-in-time. This means, deciding your order right when the waiter asks you, or postponing that decision until you have that last bit of information.

3) Game Time decisions

You can plan to your heart’s content, but you can never quite fully decide on a job until you’ve interviewed with a company, choose between a cat or a dog until you’ve gone to the shelter, or figure out whether a red or black prom dress will look better on you until you’re in the fitting room.

For these types of decisions, recognize that they require that last bit of information that won’t come until the very last minute. And the trick to managing this is to NOT worry until that very last minute. Recognize that you’re a smart cookie, and that your decision making skills will be intact when you do need to make the decision.

And until then, stop thinking about it. The more you do think, the more you’re in fact, fraying your decision making faculties. Ironic, non?

4) Recognize when to decide things

This piece of advice falls under the larger one of recognizing when to make decisions. You may need to decide who should do which power point slides, but you may not need to decide today who will say what. In fact, it may be easier and more efficient to decide that the next day when all of the power point slides are done.

To figure out when to make decisions consider:

  • How much time it would take for you to make a well-informed decision now
  • How much time it would take to make a decision after X event or Y piece of news
  • Amount of planning required necessary to make the later decision quick as possible

If points 2 and 3 are less than point 1, then you should do that planning/prepwork now, and wait until later to decide. If point 1 is less than the time it takes for 2 and 3, then you should make that decision now.

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