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99. Bikeshedding: Why The Simplest Tasks Can Keep You Stuck (A Behavioral Economics Foundations Episode)

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Today, we are going to be talking about bikeshedding, also known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. There is definitely a reason I am talking about this topic right now, as it very much impacts us all at this time of extreme change during the coronavirus pandemic. This is part of a series of sorts in talking about concepts that are relevant to our changing lives and many of us being sequestered at home and doing most everything virtually (some for the very first time).  As with most concepts you will hear me talk about on this show, bikeshedding is something we do all the time and don’t really realize it is happening. The thing that makes this concept different from a lot of others is how much it is holding us all back ALL THE TIME without our conscious consent. You may call this “being a perfectionist” and many of us ambitious folks struggle with this tendency. The thing is, for the most part, people are not suffering from perfectionism in every aspect and possible decision. They tend to get hung up on really tiny details that don’t matter so much in the long run.  The question is: why do those things get so much of our attention? Why do they feel so important in the moment and like you can’t move forward until they are dealt with?  More often than not, this is because your brain is bikeshedding (and essentially avoiding a more important topic that makes it scared or nervous).  Here’s what you can expect in this episode: I will give you an explanation of what bikeshedding is, with some of the most common examples. Then I am going to give you a list of questions that you can ask yourself (and explain why those particular questions matter) to help you shake things up and get out of that bikeshedding mindset so you can actually achieve goals and move forward. Be sure to get your freebie worksheet on bikeshedding to help you overcome this sneaky brain trick.

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Show Notes:

  • [02:36] Bikeshedding is something we do all the time and don’t really realize it is happening.  
  • [03:53] The term “bikeshedding” was coined by Cyril Northcoat Parkinson, who came up with the term.  
  • [04:22] Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fit the amount of time allocated to it. 
  • [06:05] Just like a goldfish will grow to the size of its bowl, our tasks will take up as much time as we will allow them to.   
  • [06:57] Parkinson’s Law of Triviality finds that people will waste time focusing on trivial details while ignoring the bigger, more important problems. As a result, those important problems end up with less time than would be optimal. 
  • [08:25] We tend to get hung up on really tiny details that don’t matter so much in the long run.  
  • [09:57] The consequences of picking the wrong shade of blue in your logo (potentially a bikeshedding issue) are not that big, and the mistake could be fixed relatively easily down the road if need be.
  • [10:52] Your brain hates the idea of entering an uncertain territory, so it will make other things seem more important than they are to keep you dwelling on them, and therefore stick in the status quo it loves so much.   
  • [11:27] Overcoming bikeshedding is sometimes a battle with yourself and your brain’s natural tendencies. It takes a conscious effort to say, “No, that’s not important right now” and you can only do that if you know your goals and take the time to prioritize what matters.  
  • [11:57] When you don’t have a plan, your subconscious can run rampant and decide what it wants you to focus on, and its priorities don’t always align with your conscious goals.  
  • [12:17] Tackling Parkinson’s Law of Triviality can help with time management, resource allocation, project management, project planning, and general direction for your work, business, and life.
  • [13:37] Having a good name for your business is important, but it isn’t everything. 
  • [15:28] You have to start swinging. Try for things, follow up with things, do some research so you don’t look ridiculous, but pick your top outlets and send a personalized pitch.  
  • [17:31] You don’t want to perfect a course and spend hours and days of your time agonizing over it when you don’t even know if people want it.  
  • [18:59] In business you have to write the content first. Come up with the plan and write it all out with the least amount of words possible and your designer can come up with something great.
  • [21:06] Will I even remember this 5 years from now? Or even 5 days?
  • [22:19] What is the consequence if I get it wrong?
  • [24:34] Is this decision helping me reach my goals…or keeping me from them?
  • [25:38] Having an accountability buddy that you trust can be really helpful. They can help shine light on things, but don’t ask a ton of people advice on every little problem you have.  
  • [26:45] Many people get sucked into bikeshedding because they are too worried about what other people think and are trying to please others with their decisions instead of doing what would make them happy or help them achieve their own goals.  
  • [27:41] What makes you happy and feeling fulfilled is central to you. Don’t make all your effort about other people’s opinions. 
  • [29:18] Your brain preference to focus on trivial stuff instead of big stuff is not limited to your own trivial problems. It can also easily and happily consume itself with everyone else’s trivial junk (and them with yours).
  • [30:14] The lesson here is not to ask for other peoples’ input if it is a bikeshedding problem, especially if their opinion will not coincide well with your goals and happiness.  
  • [31:07] Bikeshedding is an ongoing problem which makes it so your brain wants to focus on little, inconsequential details so you never have time to tackle the big stuff that moves you forward toward your goals and shift the status quo. 
  • [33:16] Bikeshedding makes you feel worse and you don’t achieve your goals.
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