Excerpt: Suzy Welch's "10-10-10"

Now, to be clear, there is nothing literal about each ten in 10-10-10. The first 10 basically stands for "right now"— as in, one minute, one hour, or one week. The second 10 represents that point in the foreseeable future when the initial reaction to your decision has passed but its consequences continue to play out in ways you can reasonably predict. And the third 10 stands for a time in a future that is so far off that its particulars are entirely vague. So, really, 10-10-10 could just as well be referring to nine days, fifteen months, and twenty years, or two hours, six months, and eight years. The name of the process is just a totem meant to directionally suggest time frames along the lines of: in the heat of the moment, somewhat later, and when all is said and done.

The last step of the 10-10-10 process is analysis. For this stage, you need to take all the information you've just compiled and compare it to your innermost values—your beliefs, goals, dreams, and needs. In short, this part of 10-10-10 impels you to ask: "Knowing what I now know about all of my options and their consequences, which decision will best help me create a life of my own making?"

And with the answer to that, you have your 10-10-10 solution.

IN THE BEGINNING As I've said, a fully conceptualized version of 10-10-10, logistics and all, didn't exactly strike me like a thunderbolt that Hawaiian morning. Rather, my thinking was more like, "I have to stop running around tamping down fires and trying to make everyone happy. When the kids are in their twenties, they're going to love me or hate me for decisions far bigger than whether or not I took them on a four-day business trip in February 1996. I'm just living too much in the moment, for God's sake."

And with that, I formed the concept of "10-10." I was going to start making my decisions based on a balance of short-term and long-term considerations. What nonsense it had been, I told myself, to have schlepped the kids five thousand miles for a few piddling swims on the beach together. If I had left them home, their pouting would have lasted a day at most, had there even been any.

Almost instantly, however, I became aware of the incompleteness of my emergent idea. Over the next few months, I was actually going to be away from home twice more, for a wedding and then for another conference. Maybe my trip to Hawaii, taken cumulatively, had me absent from the children too much. Maybe, for true balance and perspective, my new decision-making process needed to consider a more middle-term horizon as well.

Thus 10-10-10 was officially born.

With nothing to lose, I started applying the process to all sorts of dilemmas both at home and work as soon as we returned to Boston. Should I stay at the office for an emergency when I promised the kids I'd be home at six? Should I spend the holidays with my parents or my in-laws? Should I confront a difficult writer about a late manuscript? Should I focus my time on an article submitted by a promising newcomer or a steady old-timer? Much to my surprise, I found that the process invariably led me to faster, cleaner, and sounder decisions. And as an unexpected bonus, it also gave me a way to explain myself to all the relevant "constituents"—my kids or parents or boss— with clarity and confidence. "Let me tell you how I came to that decision," I could finally say, and go from there.

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