Thinking hard so I don’t have to

It’s halfway through summer. With all the long days, summer feels like it is lazy. I am not so good at lazy and I woke up this morning ready to start making plans.

Whenever I make a plan, the goal is to set up a system so that I don’t’ have to think about it. Thinking is strong medicine; it’s best to keep it in reserve.

I recently read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He names two systems for thinking, one fast and one slow. The slow one is the one I am talking about keeping in reserve.

The fast one is the one I want to use all the time. It’s a kind of thinking that’s barely thinking–practically a reflex. Some of the basics are things like “Am I thirsty?”

These are things that a baby knows.

For more complicated kind of thinking, I have to set up a structure to make it easy. And that takes work.

A good example is learning the multiplication tables. Seven times nine requires a lot of thought, until I make a point (as a school child) of memorizing the multiplication tables. Once I took the time and effort to put all that information in my easily retrievable memory, it was easy.

The memorization was hard, but after that it was easy.

I have found that many things work that way. If I put in the time and practice for stuff I do–or stuff I PLAN to do–repeatedly, it will save effort.

In the past few years, I have started several new jobs. Since these jobs rely on me to use my brain, for every single new job I have had to learn a set of documents, files processes and systems that are necessary to do the work.

And then there are the parts of the job for which there are no processes or systems. Those parts I have to make up as I go along. Those are the ones that require gathering the information, determining what’s relevant, making a decision and taking an action.

When I am new in a job, I have to think about every decision and action I take. There are a very few things I am sure of–username and password are often the first.

Then I have to go through and figure out the systems and processes for each thing. It takes several months before I’m sure of which ones have a system and which ones are in the make-it-up bucket.

Every workplace has gaps. If those gaps are actions that need to be repeated, then I make up my own system, my own folder and files. Once I have made that decision, then I don’t have to think about it anymore. I just process it and leave my mind free for the situations I don’t have an answer for.

My job is a game I play, a game in which someone else creates the rules. I have to play by the rules or I don’t play anymore. And the rules do change.

I am also allowed to make up my own game. And that is what I do when I come up with a personal project.

If I am serious about making my plans a reality, I have to create a system and a process–a schedule if possible–to let that plan be easy. If I have to think too hard, I will very likely never do it.

That kind of thinking takes effort. It’s hard, and ponderous, and it is way more accurate. That’s the slow thinking Kahneman talks about in the book.

That’s why I like to find a patch of free time, to think about what I want to do, figure out the outcome and the steps it will take to do it. Take it slow, think it through and set it up so that I don’t have to do it again. At least, not for a while.