CTO Compass

How To Make Good Contracts With Yourself

CTO Compass series

It was a beautiful evening as the passengers boarded the aeroplane. The plane took off smoothly, and everything was going well until the lights went out, and the plane started to shake. Panic set in as the passengers tried to figure out what was happening.

Suddenly, the emergency lighting system came on, illuminating the aisle with bright, clear, steady lines of light. The passengers could see them clearly and quickly reach the emergency exits.

Rules should be clear and unambiguous

Perhaps you have decided to live a healthier lifestyle and want to reduce your alcohol consumption by drinking moderately. That’s a pretty weak position. What does “moderately” even mean? Is that one drink, two, or three?

Vague promises lead to poor results. It’s far more potent to set clear rules you will not breach.

“I do not drink alcohol”

100% all in

The word ‘decide’ comes from the Latin ‘decidere’, which means determine to cut off. A decision is where you cut off all other options such that you’ve set yourself a particular path forward.

It is far easier to decide something and be 100% all in than it is only to be 90%, 95% or even 99% sure.

Creating a clear, bright line like this also saves you vast amounts of willpower over the long term. You have made the decision once, which removes a thousand future choices where you would otherwise have to decide each time how much you’re going to drink this time.

Crucially, the line is clear when you are at your lowest point or most under pressure. When you are tired and have the least willpower, you need clear guidance to do the right thing. In these moments, you’re most likely to drink and then go further and drink too much.

In my own life, I have a few bright lines around food. One of the biggest is that I don’t drink sugar. I no longer drink Coke and other similar sugary drinks, including diet versions – it may not be sugar, but the highly processed replacements aren’t any better. When we’re out, since I already made a pre-commitment, my choice is easier, and if I’m in any doubt, then I choose water.

High agency and more confidence

High-agency people are more satisfied and more productive. When you set bright lines for your staff to follow, they are more able to operate autonomously within those rules and will feel they have more agency. You will also gain confidence as you begin to trust yourself. You do what you say you will do.

Here’s another one of mine: No social media during lunch breaks. A lunch break is a time to be “off”. I want to use the time to reset and prepare for being back “on”. Social media is a distraction and time-sink, often containing toxic ideas and sentiments.

Instead, I find activities that re-energise me; reading, taking a walk, doing some Indian Clubs movement flows, or playing with our dog.

Spiral upward

In the best legal contracts, clauses are unambiguous such that there is little to no wiggle room for interpretation. Lawyers like to say that these contracts have “bright lines”. Writing clear maintainable code is similar; when the intent of the logic is simple and readable, it’s easy to follow and understand what will happen at each level of abstraction.

When creating principles and installing habits for ourselves or our teams, self-imposed rules or constraints make clear what you will or will not do. Like the emergency lighting in an aircraft, the bright lines show you the way to go when you’re under intense pressure.

So, what are some of your bright lines, professionally and personally?

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

  • Where would setting a bright line for yourself give you a leg up?
  • If I make a 100% decision, what would this look like?
    • What can you make a 100% non-negotiable commitment to?
    • What is and is not acceptable behaviour?

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