Productivity and GTD
What You See Is All There Is
“The more I see, the less I know for sure.” ~ John Lennon
WYSIATI is the acronym for de What you see is all there is, a cognitive bias described by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, fast and slow, which explains how irrational we are when making decisions and how little it matters to us.
I already talked about this book in another article, but I remind you that it’s based on the co-existence of these two thinking modes in our mind:
- One, called System 1, functions in a fast and automatic way, without hardly any effort or a feeling of conscious control.
- The other, called System 2, is in charge of doing mental activities that need some effort, always on demand.
Most of the times, the System 1, which functions as a first filter, responds to anything without having to include System 2, the rational part. This is very useful to economize a good part of our activities, but it can be problematic when we make important decisions, because System 1 is often wrong.
WYSIATI refers to the fact that we normally make our judgements and impressions according to the information we have available. In general we don’t spend too much time thinking “well, there are still many things I don’t know”. Simply, we assert what we do know.
The most clear example of this phenomenon takes place when we meet someone. We take less than a second to build up an impression of people. Immediately, we decide whether they are kind and nice or dominant and hostile, and whether we will like them or not. And we do all this based on a very incomplete information, such as their facial features or the way they move.
When we make decisions, our mind only takes into consideration the things it know and, regardless of their quality and quantity, the only thing it tries to do with them is to build a coherent story. That’s enough. The story doesn’t have to be accurate, complete or reliable, it only has to be coherent. It seems incredible, right? A small group of incomplete, non representative information allows us to understand the world (obviously, our way.)
Making decisions this way is easy, comfortable, intuitive, and even worse, it makes us feel confident and competent at work.
At a personal level, it’s very difficult to avoid this kind of behavior because it’s in our DNA. The only thing that we can do is to recognize when the consequences of making a decision are going to be important and try to think slowly in such situations (something that most people didn’t do in the UK’s Brexit referendum.)
That’s why it’s good to let things cool down and not jump to a quick conclusion. When we avoid to respond immediately to something we allow System 2 play its role to build up a better opinion and, probably, inform us that we need more quality information to make a better decision.
In most cases it is wise to avoid the urge to immediately react to new stuff. This idea underlies in the separation between the two first stages of GTD: capture and clarify. Many times I realize that when I capture new tasks or ideas in my system and let it cool a couple of days before processing, I end up applying a much more suitable implementation approach than the one I would apply if I had processed them immediately.