When you project out how long it's going to take you to complete something, and build a calendar and actions around that -- what pace do you choose?
I've found most people who are driven (so, not intentionally slacking or setting things artificially easy) are going to pick one of two paces:
Either (1) the realistic pace, which accounts for delays, bumps in the road, etc, or
(2) the max sustainable pace, which is what you could theoretically do if you didn't get off track.
I'm pretty well-convinced now that #2 is a dangerous way to plan.
The fact is, thing do go wrong. Which would be fine if you could recalibrate without it effecting you, but most people get neurotic and demoralized when they're missing their targets and deadlines and falling behind a pace they've set.
There is at least one major downside to setting a realistic pace, which is Parkinson's Law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." So, you might unintentionally/subconciously go slower than you could if you've set a pace that has more slack.
Despite that, I think the potential Parkinson's Law disadvantages are greatly outweighed by the demoralization/neurosis of setting a max sustainable pace (and inevitably, eventually, falling short).
Humans are fallible, we're not robots. If you set the highest realistically possible pace, eventually an illness, accident, or whatever will throw you off, and then things can cascade pretty quickly into problems. While it seems less heroic and triumphant on the surface, building slack into your projections and giving yourself room to breathe is probably more conducive to achieving things consistently without going crazy.
I agree with most of what you say here, Sebastian. However, I think the problem does not lie necessarily with pace, but rather with goals that require a maximum sustainable pace to reach. Not reaching a position-based goal (i.e. "I need to reach this precise destination in X amount of time") can be very demoralizing, but I think that velocity-based goals (based on the pace at which your progress, regardless of goals) are much better to taper motivational troughs. And the good thing about velocity-based goals is that they also allow for inevitable bumps in the road and unforeseeable circumstances where you know you'll have to take a break. I've used this method during the past few months and I've really gotten a lot done (including starting my own blog, learning about basic programming and web design, learning photography, Photoshop, and still going strong with my Chinese studies). I've actually written a blog post partly on this idea, which I borrowed from Scott Young. Here's the relevant excerpt:
"Scott Young is a popular blogger on learning and productivity, who recently completed his 1 year MIT Challenge. In his free e-book entitled “Get More From Life,” Scott argues that focusing only on how much growth we are experiencing at any given moment is the only true indicator of success. This is because the past has already occurred and only exists as a fuzzy memory. The future hasn’t yet happened and lies only in the realm of speculation.
If you have ever set goals for yourself and have failed to reach them, you probably know that this is usually very demotivating. This is often why so many new goal setters fail to continue with this practice, says Scott. The pain of failing to achieve when you’ve tried your best is often too great. Velocity-based goals remove this problem entirely.
Velocity simply refers to the speed at which you are learning. The goal is, therefore, not necessarily to reach a certain destination in the distant future, but to make sure that every day you cover a distance satisfying enough so that you feel like you are making good progress. Now, take good note of the following: because a goal is simply a servant of directing and pushing your own growth, as long as you know you are trying your best (maximum velocity possible), then the goal is successful regardless of whether you underestimated the deadline necessary.
Nonetheless, position-based goal setting can still be useful, but I would encourage you to combine position-based goals together with velocity-based goals. For example, have a position-based goal where you see yourself at a certain point (destination) in the future (say, I will reach a B2 level in Spanish at the end of the year), but also think of your goal as how much you will be able to improve every day/week/month. For example, in the case of language learning, this could mean having a goal of learning at a certain rate, and keeping a certain routine every day. At the end of the road, even if you didn’t manage to reach your position-based goal, if you still stuck to your velocity-based one, you will have succeeded and will have avoided severely losing motivation."
If you are interested in reading the whole blog post, you can visit www[.]lingholic[.]com
Wow, I feel like I'm reading something I wrote... Literally in the exact same position as far as discovering what you call velocity based goals and how much they've helped me.
Yeah! Seems like what you were referring to was pretty much about the same concept, and it seems it has been working great for you too. I've been using this way of looking at learning since many months now, especially in regards to language learning, and it has really helped me tremendously. And once you actually get into the habit of learning at a certain pace and doing a certain amount of learning/study/work on a particular topic everyday, it becomes sort of automated, and does not require any "motivational juice" any more.
My problem with setting a deadline is I'll underestimate the workload and then end up spending the week before pushing myself way too hard to meet it. This is one reason why most of my goals are now time based. Spend at least 10 dedicated hours per week on X, rather than have X finished by month 2 or else. Since I've converted to this I'm also much better about giving estimates to clients on when their work will be done and generally I finish things way ahead of schedule because I don't have the opportunity to procrastinate starting.
Obviously if you're the type of person who puts off shipping something for months because it "has to be perfect" this wouldn't work for you though, but my problem was always prioritizing which project to work on, now that's decided at the begining of the week.
Have you ever had an incredibly amazing day or week, with huge breakthroughs… and then thought it would be permanent, when it wasn't?
I've spent immense time investigating this phenomenon. It's as aggravating as anything else imaginable. You're flying along, doing incredibly well, it seems like you've turned up to a higher level of production, productivity, creativity, teamwork, whatever -- only to sink back down, and sometimes worse than before for a while.
What causes this?
Well, there's old fashioned complacency or overconfidence -- which is why Tokugawa Ieyasu made his famous quote that, "after victory, tighten the straps on your helmet."
Many people say that if you cheat you’re only cheating yourself. I disagree. While there’s an element of truth to this it’s also an overstatement. Before we talk about when this rule doesn’t apply, however, let’s discuss a few situations in which it does.
The idea is that cheating is wrong primarily when it’s done out of laziness. Cheating can be ethical in many circumstances, however, when it frees up time or resources that could (and will be) better spent improving the world.
If you’re set on becoming a psychologist, and your history teacher tries forcing you to memorize dozens of dates from World War II it may be in your best interest to cheat.