Cut your Losses and Do Something Different?…the Sunk Cost Bias

Leadership demands our time, energy, and often our financial resources. Hopefully the projects and people we invest ourselves in are worthwhile and fulfilling. Often we invest so much of ‘us’ into a project that we can’t imagine not finishing the project. When we’ve already invested considerable time and energy into something, stopping it may seem foolish. Unfortunately, we seldom ask ourselves if we really should continue investing in a project. A subtle mental trap comes into play called the sunk cost bias. Sunk cost bias simply means that because you’ve invested so much emotionally into a project, you feel that by quitting you’d waste what you’ve already invested and be a failure, even though you actually should cut your losses and re-direct your efforts. Consider these 5 signs that the sunk cost bias might be driving some of your leadership decisions.

  1. You have a nagging sense that you probably need to go another direction. Perhaps you’ve gotten new information or the landscape has changed and you have begun to doubt if you should continue in the current direction. And, you can’t seem to shake those doubts.
  2. You want things to change in your ministry or church, but you keep doing the same things over and over again, expecting to get different results. Einstein defined this as insanity.
  3. You know you should stop the project but fear having to explain yourself to others.
  4. You’ve poured so much into this project that that your emotional attachment has made you lose sight of your greater goals and vision.
  5. The project drains your energy rather than boosting it.

If any of these 5 signs are true of you, the sunk cost bias may be distorting your judgment. Consider taking these steps to evaluate whether or not you should cut your losses on some project and go a different direction.

  1. Talk to someone about your struggle who will maintain their objectivity and be honest with you.
  2. Play out the scenario if you did stop. What benefits would you gain? What new costs would you incur? What more productive project could you then invest your time and energy into?
  3. Were you to stop, who would you need to explain your decision to? How would you explain your decision? Might they actually respect you for making such a decision?
  4. Re-visit your values. Does the project align with your personal and ministry values and God’s call on your life?

How have you seen the sunk cost bias play out in your life or other people’s lives?

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What Ben Franklin Teaches us about Productivity

A few years ago I earned an executive masters in the neuroscience of leadership and one of my primary profs was a super smart (and really nice) Ph.D., Josh Davis who wrote the book Two Awesome Hours. You can learn more about his book here. If you want to up your productivity game, this is the book to read. Josh is my guest writer today and you’ll enjoy his story below about Ben Franklin’s productivity.

There’s probably no one more famous for his industriousness than Benjamin Franklin. People the world over agree he was a model of effectiveness and productivity. He was frustratingly capable. His list of accomplishments is absurd: author, inventor, scientist, printer, philosopher, politician, postmaster, diplomat, and more. How can any human being do this much in a lifetime? A quick look at his rise as a printer and publisher—his primary profession—sheds some light on the way he worked and, in the process, reveals a lot about what we are doing right and what we are not.

By 1724, at the age of eighteen, Ben Franklin had already apprenticed in a printing house in Boston, worked independently in a printing house in Philadelphia, and published a handful of widely read articles. That year he left for England, where he would learn the printing trade from the best, such as Samuel Palmer, a well-established printer. Not bad for a poor kid with sixteen siblings.

While working at Palmer’s, Franklin quickly annoyed and impressed those around him with his work ethic and cleverness. His coworkers drank beer from morning to night; he drank water so he could have the physical stamina to outperform them and save a little money. You might say it was easier to have a competitive advantage in those days, but Franklin gets credit for seeing the opportunity, taking the risk, and following through. Ultimately, he was promoted and he moved to an even better firm.

When he returned to Philadelphia a couple of years later, he was willing to do what it took to establish himself. After working for another printer for a few years, he took on debt to set up his own business. With a print shop at his disposal, and in need of cash, he identified another opportunity: publishing his own material. There was only one newspaper in town, which Franklin considered “a paltry thing, wretchedly manag’d, no way entertaining.” He knew he was the only printer in the area who also had the ability to write well, so he tried his hand at publishing newspapers and eventually Poor Richard’s Almanack. Almanacs have space to fill, apart from their noteworthy dates. Franklin filled the empty spaces with his (now famous) proverbs, making his almanac more entertaining and much easier to sell. Poor Richard’s Almanack was a hit.

In order to secure the success of his printing business, he also took on the position of clerk of the General Assembly, which allowed him to meet plenty of people who had a say in where government printing (things like ballots and money) was done, and he eventually landed the job of postmaster in Philadelphia, which helped him circulate his newspaper. These positions offered small pay and meant extra work, but they also allowed his printing business to take off, helping him become a man of some status in town.

Benjamin Franklin was and still remains a beautiful example of productivity and achievement. Work hard, take on more and more, and success will follow. Today, everyone thinks they have to be like Franklin to achieve some success. They have to do more than what seems possible. But the truth is, not even Franklin was like Franklin. As it turns out, beyond taking care of his finances, he was anything but focused on work.

We seldom talk about this other Franklin, hardly the live-for-your-job icon we sometimes think of. But I didn’t have to look hard to find out more about him: it’s in his autobiography. He loved to think and create. He spent huge amounts of time on hobbies and with friends when he could have been working at his moneymaking career as a printer. In fact, the very interests that took him away from his primary profession led to so many of the wonderful things he’s known for, like inventing the Franklin stove and the lightning rod.

To understand the secret to his success, I believe it’s crucial to look at how he spent his downtime and just how much of it he had.

One of his main hobbies as a young man was hanging out every Friday with a group of guys who were seriously into books and talking about ideas. The group would agree on a topic to discuss at the next meeting, and each would read what he could on the subject so he could come back prepared to argue. Books, however, were hard to come by in Philadelphia back then; many needed to be ordered from England. Franklin’s group realized it would be nice to keep all their books in one place so they could check one another’s references easily—a concept that led eventually to the great and historic public library now called the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Franklin did not found the library when he was around age twenty-five to make money for his printing business, nor was it part of a government position he held. He simply put time into founding this library because he enjoyed talking about ideas, especially ideas that would lead to improving himself and the world around him. He loved literature and art. He even wrote some music for his wife. And, famously, he was an incurable flirt, spending a great deal of time wrapped in that pursuit after his wife’s death. He was also the original American self-help junkie. He tried vegetarianism briefly because he’d read about it in a book—and loved all the money he saved. Plus, he poured tons of time and energy into developing a plan to practice his now famous thirteen virtues. Of those thirteen virtues, one jumps out as seemingly relevant for anyone trying to pack in as much work in a day as possible: the virtue of Order (i.e., being organized). Franklin claimed he never really got good at that one, writing in his autobiography, “In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it.”

He earned a reputation for enjoying the many pleasures of life—from learning to socializing to flirting to creating. It seems dazzling that he could do so much work professionally and still enjoy so much hobby, leisure, and social time. So how did he do it?

Every day he created the mental and biological conditions for peak effectiveness, and in those periods of effectiveness, he accomplished extraordinary things. He did not cram tasks related to his printing business into every available hour. In fact, in a plan he drew up for how to spend his days he included time for a two-hour break for lunch and other things, time in the evening for “music or diversion, or conversation,” and a full night’s sleep. It was probably because he made time for pleasure, learning, creativity, entertainment, physical health, family, and social connection that he was so successful in his moneymaking work, rather than in spite of it.

Devoting all of his time to his printing business rather than his other interests would have been the most efficient use of his time. But imagine how little we would know of him had he done so, had he never reserved the mental space and energy for his many inventions, for his philanthropy, and perhaps even for his printing empire.

Which Benjamin Franklin do you want to be: the one who carved out time for his hobbies and social pastimes, jumping from interest to interest? Or the one who outperformed his competitors to become a productive, well-regarded, and wealthy businessman? These days, it seems there isn’t enough time for both, so we must choose to either enjoy life or succeed. The good news is that this is a false choice. We feel pressured to choose when we mistakenly assume that productivity depends on finding enough hours in the day.

Permission granted from Dr. Josh Davis to use this excerpt. Learn more about his book here.

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Burnout: How to Dig Out

From time to time every leader and pastor and person faces burnout. The well runs dry. He or she becomes weary in well doing. He runs out of gas. She simply has nothing left to give. When we totter on the precipice of burnout, what can we do? As I’ve faced those times during my ministry, I’ve learned a few ways that have helped me dig out.

  1. Recognize the symptoms
    • Everybody’s burnout looks a bit different. Sometimes burnout comes from doing too much outwardly with over busy schedules. Sometimes burnout comes from an inner world in turmoil: worry, incessant anxiety, and fear. I suggest starting with self understanding. What does your burnout look like? Which of these factors might indicate you are burning out?
      • The joy you once had seems to have disappeared. You seldom have fun anymore.
      • You consistently sleep poorly.
      • You feel non-localized, free floating anger in your heart.
      • You catastrophize in your thinking, assuming the worse in people and life.
      • You easily snap, lose your cool with friends, families, or people in the church.
  2. Rest
    • After you recognize the symptoms, I’ve found that rest really helps. Whether it means taking time off, taking more breaks during your work day, getting more sleep, or trimming your schedule, the body and soul needs rest. Neuroscientists have coined a term for excessive wear and tear on our body due to prolonged stress and burnout, allostatic load. When we don’t give our body and brains time to rejuvenate, we prolong our burnout and its negative effects.
  3. Re-visit
    • Third, revisit your core values and mission. I encourage every leader to develop his or her own mission statement, their mission God has called them to achieve with His power. Most weeks when I do my strategic planning, I revisit my mission statement and personal values. If you’d like to see mine, you can click here. In this post I talk about the importance of developing your own personal values.
  4. Re-orient
    • The final step is to re-orient your time and effort to best live out your personal mission, without burning out. I suggest taking a half day alone to reset your goals and adjust how you use your time. Here’s a post on how to plan a retreat.

If you’ve faced burnout, what has helped you?

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5 Mistakes Pastors Make when Planning Staff Retreats

Dave Berry, one of the funniest guys on the planet once wrote, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.” I’m not sure if he’s 100% right, but he’s close. Meetings, and extended ones like retreats, often don’t achieve their intended purpose. Why? Because we make significant mistakes when we plan them. Consider these five mistakes and potential corrective measures.

Here are some dumb mistakes I’ve made when planning and holding retreats.

  1. Packing too much into a retreat (which have ranged from 1-3 days). I once handed out about 20 different documents for review and study.
  2. Talking too much. At times I’ve talked/taught so much that I left little time for thorough interaction.
  3. Going too long. As the adage goes, “The brain will absorb only what the rear can endure.”
  4. Not including R&R.
  5. Including other leaders too late into the planning process. In one church I asked our elders to join us after we had completed our planning. They ended up not being on the same page and the pastors felt like our retreat was a waste of time.

As I’ve grown in my retreat leading and planning, these factors have contributed to better success.

  1. Narrow your discussion to a fewer number of topics.
  2. Create a “talk about later” list of subjects that surface during the retreat.
  3. Hold your retreat off-site rather than at the office.
  4. Begin and end at a reasonable hour. Don’t wear people out.
  5. Do something fun like watch a movie together.
  6. Listen more that you talk. Remember the acronym, WAIT, which means Why Am I Talking?
What tips can you share that have helped make your retreats effective?
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4 Simple Decisions that Can Boost Personal Productivity

Our church is growing and as we grow, our staff faces greater demands on their time. So, we must work smarter. Since I’m trying to build a learning culture here at West Park Church, I asked myself, “How can I help our staff work smarter?” I’ve adapted and used the Getting Things Done process for years, but sometimes it seems cumbersome. Recently, however, I discovered insights from a Microsoft employee who wrote the book, Getting Results the Agile Way. (I highly recommend it) It’s a simple process that helps improve personal productivity. I’ve summarized below the 4 simple decisions he suggests that can help boost our productivity. I’m beginning to apply them and they really work.

THE FOUR DECISIONS

  1. Monday vision: every Monday look at your week and determine the top three things you hope to accomplish. Write them down.
  2. Daily Outcomes: every day determine the top three things you want to accomplish. Write them down.
  3. Rule of Three: as you might have guessed it, practice the rule of three. That is, keep your high priority daily and weekly task/project lists to three items.
  4. Friday Reflection: on Friday look at what you accomplished, what you learned, and what you hope to do differently the following week.

This seems so simple that it seems simplistic. But, that’s it’s beauty.

Less is often more. Simple is often better.

 In his book he expands upon these principles, and many more.

Here’s how we’ve tried to incorporate this insight.

  • Some time back for several weeks each week we read 2-3 chapters of the book.
  • When we met in our weekly staff meeting we discussed our learnings.
  • I created four posters reflecting the four key insights above and as a reminder I taped them to our conference room wall where we met.

This author is quite unselfish. He offers a 30-day free plan here where he takes one key insight and expands it each day for 30 days.

As I seek to boost my productivity, while keeping healthy margins, I’m reminded that the Bible even tells us to use our time wisely.

  • Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5.16, ESV)
  • So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90.12, ESV)

How can you boost your productivity this week?

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