At our house, "Canada's Worst Driver" is a huge hit. The show is so popular nationwide that it's into its eighth season. Not too shabby.
Speaking of "hit," that's what contestants do to the inanimate objects in the obstacle courses, on a regular basis. On "Canada's Worst Driver," the expert judges consist of a retired cop, a couple of advanced driving instructors, and - yes - a psychologist.
This last one is telling, because the show is like a lab demonstration of just how sound theories of attention are. Even if you're a talented driver, distractions can be hazardous. Distractions can drain anyone's ability to concentrate. The most dysfunctional drivers also happen, quite often, to be part of dysfunctional couples. When the hyper-critical spouse is riding shotgun, there is screaming, crying, and denting of fenders. When they kick the spouse out and let the "hopeless" driver go it alone, there is often marked improvement.
Many of us would rather rely on our "raw skill" than admit we need to step back and build in a consistent routine intended to manage our natural limitations.
In the highly acclaimed "Thinking: Fast and Slow," Daniel Kahneman synthesizes decades of research that has uncovered two distinct thinking "systems" in our brains. System 1 (reactive) is essential for bundling together eons of evolution and a lifetime of experience into seamless performance. As amazing as this system is, its performance is easily degraded - for example, by fatigue and distractions. It won't work effectively in the modern world without System 2, a deliberative form of thinking that is required to produce rational outcomes.
Back to the example of driving: assuming we're reasonably skilled drivers, Kahneman notes that we're amazing at letting our eyes and hands work to steer around a curve, with little consciousness of our skill in processing the information and reacting to it. But we need System 2 to tell us to set up a routine like drinking coffee, singing, and rolling the windows down on a long drive. Inside a modern vehicle, System 1 doesn't perceive enough danger, so if it gets sleepy, it sees nothing wrong with taking a nap.
Too often, we hop into our PPC accounts with an excess dependence on an all-too-human System 1, like we're some spreadsheet-enabled Tarzan swinging on a vine.
But not even seasonality or being busy should be an excuse for failing to schedule in the deliberative, "slow-thinking" activities as part of the work week. The fact that it feels "right" to nervously tweak incremental details of accounts during the "fast season" doesn't make that activity particularly effective. It doesn't mean you're off the hook in terms of System 2, any more than the lack of daylight and the bitter cold make it any less important for me to step away from this desk, put down the carbs, and go jump rope (unless I want to develop the metabolism and body fat levels of a black bear).
Granting that it's hard to work on the important-but-not-urgent during a season when everything seems urgent, here's a list of initiatives to consider:
Cognitive scientists like Kahneman and his colleagues often employ a simple word to describe the tendency to over-rely on System 1 (reactive/heuristic thought), and to avoid too much engagement with the more mentally taxing System 2: "lazy." It seems we're hard-wired to conserve mental energy. To adapt better to modern, complex systems, it's a tendency we need to combat.
There might be pressure on you to hop into your PPC accounts and "drive them hard" at this time of year, like you're late for the airport. But if you're ready for the season, there should be no need for that. Stay the course, and keep mapping the future as you manage the present. Top management will probably dig this too, in the long run. Schedule an appropriate amount of time in your schedule for System 2 thinking, no matter what time of year it is, and you'll be consistently effective instead of a hazardous, distracted mess.
PPC image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Goodman is founder and President of Toronto-based Page Zero Media, a full-service marketing agency founded in 2000. Page Zero focuses on paid search campaigns as well as a variety of custom digital marketing programs. Clients include Direct Energy, Canon, MIT, BLR, and a host of others. He is also co-founder of Traffick.com, an award-winning industry commentary site; author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed., 2008); and frequently quoted in the business press. In recent years he has acted as program chair for the SES Toronto conference and all told, has spoken or moderated at countless SES events since 2002. His spare time eccentricities include rollerblading without kneepads and naming his Japanese maples. Also in his spare time, he co-founded HomeStars, a consumer review site with aspirations to become "the TripAdvisor for home improvement." He lives in Toronto with his wife Carolyn.