What policy led to this bad outcome?

Julia Galef, a writer on rationality, had a great spin on how we can better separate processes and outcomes and pick where we want to maximize. When things go wrong, she asks herself – “What policy am I following that produced this bad outcome?”

For example, she shares a policy example wherein you always arrive 1 hour 20 minutes before a flight. However, this policy may result in you missing the occasional flight due to an accident on the road. But, if you over react to the bad outcome and change policy to be at the airport 2 hours earlier, as a frequent flier, you’re going to be spend hundreds of hours waiting at airports.

Similarly, I could spend 2x the time before sending every email to ensure there isn’t any typo or mistake. But, that would be a very expensive policy that would eat in to other productive time. So, it is best I assume that there will be mistakes and repeat sends that fix them from time to time.

There are a few places in life where we need a 100% success rate. It makes sense to choose fail safe, rigorous policies in those cases. But, otherwise, we’re better off picking good policies/processes/decisions that do the job most of the time.

And, in the off chance they don’t work, we must learn to habitually separate bad outcomes from good processes.

(H/T: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss)

Actions and Outcomes

Our actions drive outcomes. In most cases, we don’t control outcomes. Our outcomes are generally controlled either by other people (boss, teacher, customer, peers) or by environmental factors (markets, context). At best, all we control is the process that leads to our actions.

And, yet, we are capable of spending a large proportion of our time on outcome-related activities (worrying about outcomes, then worrying about the results, then feeling upset or elated by the results). And, outcome-related activities have got to rank among the worst ways to spend our time because –
1. Spending time on outcomes is useless as they don’t generally change the outcome
2. They take away time from today’s processes and actions that will determine future outcomes

So, if you are caught up about something today, I’d recommend asking just one question – “Is this within my control?”
If the answer is yes, then it is in the action zone. Then, if it is aligned with your priorities, agonize over the process, front-load work, and give it your best shot.
If the answer is no, think about all the actions you could be spending your time on that would make tomorrow better. There generally are a few. If you can’t find any, call your mom. Or stare at the ceiling if you will.

Anything you choose to do will be better than worrying about an outcome you do not control.