Fredkin’s paradox (& 4 proven ways to avoid majoring in minor things)

Majoring in minor decisions

I can remember when I was at University agonising over which modules to study, even though the end result would’ve almost certainly been the same for my degree.

Looking back, zeroing in such details missed some potentially far more important questions about making the best use of my time at Uni (or even whether I should’ve gone on to higher education at all, potentially!).

We’ve probably all worked in roles at one time or another where an inordinate amount of time seems to be spent discussing what colour office stationary should be purchased, or the right font to be used on business cards.

On the one hand, these are decisions that need to be taken, but they aren’t the big decisions that are going to really make a difference!

In the investment world, I see people majoring in minor decisions all the time, as seems to be human nature.

In stock markets people will spend days, weeks, and sometimes year trying to fine-tune their strategy to eke out a slightly better return, when in reality how much money they can save and invest would likely have a far greater impact on their end result.

It’s not uncommon for property investors to focus in on the tiniest of details when choosing the ‘right’ property, when most research shows that the location and block of land in question will overwhelmingly account for the long-term results from a capital growth perspective.

Fredkin’s paradox

If you think about it, the more similar two choices appear to be, the less the decision should actually matter, logically speaking.

Yet in reality, it often becomes harder and harder to choose between two decisions which are closer together.

The risk here (sometimes known as Fredkin’s paradox) is that we spent the most amount of time on the decisions which matter least, instead of focusing on the big decisions which really move the needle or make a difference…resulting in the famous viral diagram below:

4 proven ways to focus on what matters

To get around the risk of majoring in minor decisions, there is a range of decision-making heuristics which you can deploy, including choosing the path of least regret, reversing the problem you face to look at it from a different perspective, or setting a deadline for making a decision, for example.

Here are 4 proven ways to help you avoid majoring in minor decisions:

(i) Manage distractions – how often have you found yourself being busy rather than being productive? I’m as guilty of this as anyone, often preferring to focus on the things I like doing more than the things that really need doing;

(ii) Take time away from the computer – there can be so many distractions when you’re online, and I don’t believe I’ve ever had one of my breakthrough ideas or creative thoughts while sitting at my laptop. Get outside or away from the desk for a while!; and

(iii) Spend less time with negative or draining people – I used to question it when I read this sort of thing, but if you’re serious about wasting less of your time on trivial issues…trust me, this one does work!; and

(iv) Review and reject – it can pay to review regularly how and where you’re spending your time, and how much is spent on the important and unimportant issues you face. By doing so you can decide to reject or outsource the tasks that aren’t fundamentally important or key to your goals.

Now, I’ve already spent an hour on social media today, so I’m going to take my own medicine, take a deep breath, and finish this blog post so I can go and work on an action plan to hit my monthly goals!