(31) High Performance: a curious secret.

‘The time spent on an agenda item in a meeting is inversely proportional to its value’.

This law is also known as the ‘bike shed fallacy of attention.’ It tells us that if the agenda of a team consists of two items (for instance the color of the new bike shed and the engineering details of the new high pressure reactor), invariably most of the discussion time will focus on the color of the bike shed.

This behavior seems odd, but it can simply be explained by two distinctive thinking patters. First of all, thinking is a high energy consuming activity, so we have the tendency to avoid thinking about difficult subjects as much as possible. The second reason is that it is much easier to just have an opinion (red looks nicer!) than to have an informed opinion (there is a mistake in the calculations of these safety valves).

Here are two ideas for a researcher to avoid wasting your time on the trivial, while ignoring the essential.

  1. Start every meeting with the most important and difficult subject and only move to the next agenda item when a decision has been taken. This behavior is called ‘Putting the Dead Rat on the table.’
  1. Start your own working day with doing the most important task first: this is also known as ‘Eating your Frog:’ if you start every day by ‘eating a living frog,’ you will have accomplished your most difficult and essential task and everything else during the rest of the day will be easy. More than 95% of the decisions we take in our life will not matter much: just pick one and go. Therefore, High Performance starts by acting boldly and focusing on those very few decisions which really count.

Let’s hear from you: as a professional, what is your experience with dead rats and living frogs?

Paul Rulkens is an expert in high performance: the art and science of achieving bold goals with the least amount of effort. More successful ideas, including his popular TEDx talks, can be found on www.agrippaci.com


With love for Researchers’ hard work,



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