Have you ever left a bandage on your arm too long? If you leave it on too long, you feel anywhere from discomfort to pain when you pull it off. Does that change your choice—do you choose to rip the bandage off as soon as you realize that? Or do you choose to leave it on, and hope that if you get it wet, maybe it will “just” come off with less pain?
If you’re like me, and you wait too long, you pull the hair on your arm when you remove the bandage. I traded off short-term convenience for long-term pain.
Let me offer another example from my field, software. I was part of a team that consciously used shortcuts to gain short-term project speed. We knew we needed to fix those shortcuts at some point. When we returned to the code or tests within a few days to a week, we felt some fixing pain. However, the longer we waited the more the problems seemed to multiply. The longer we waited to fix the pain, the more difficult the fixing was. And the longer the rest of the project took.
Sometimes, I get lucky and the situation resolves while I dither. I’m pretty sure that’s only occurred a handful of times. (Or I might not notice!) More often, the consequences compound while I wait to resolve the long-term pain.
That’s why I decided I needed some heuristics—rules of thumb to decide. I’m not suggesting these questions will work for everything. However, they might offer you insight.
Consider These Questions About Short-Term or Long-Term Pain
I use the various Circles of Control, Influence, and Concern to organize my thinking. First, the consequences to me:
- What are the direct consequences to me, if I don’t address this situation right now?
- How expensive will this be to fix now? What about later?
- Am I the only one who will feel those consequences?
If I’m the only one who might feel the pain, and the expense is low, I might decide to wait. This is the bandage on my arm. Even if I whine to my husband, the cost is low.
Next, the consequences to others: Who will incur some “expense” if I wait to address this pain? I have strong feelings about not causing other people avoidable pain:
- How will my decision affect my family?
- Will my team members have to work around my problems?
- Might our customers think we have bad products? (Or might they not notice?)
What about pain to the greater Circle of Concern? Where do I have responsibilities to other people outside my family and my team? That leads me to another question about the range of our responsibilities.
Should We Separate Our Local and Global Responsibilities?
The Circle of Concern begs us to consider the meta problem—not just the local issue but how that issue affects society as a whole. Almost any time I go meta like this with a big question, the answer is a big “It Depends”.
Here are some questions about our responsibilities to others:
- I just read that Social Security might be out of money by 2035. What responsibilities do we have to other people who need support?
- Since kids under 12 can’t take the vaccine yet, what are our responsibilities to children who are—and are not—part of our families?
- Should we decide who to work for, to make social media, security, and automation (as examples) work for us as individuals or the companies that employ us—or some other alternative? Where do our responsibilities lie?
These are Big Questions. I suspect each of us might answer differently. These questions don’t seem much like the bandage question. However, when I apply the various circles questions, I realize I might have an answer that just works for me. And the more complex the question, the more I realize I need more research.
That’s the question this week: How do you choose between short-term convenience and long-term pain?