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Method Of Doing Things Soon

People have two main modes of doing tasks: now or never.

They often try to do tasks soon, but not today. Then a few months later they haven't done it. A small portion of those tasks get reprioritized and most get abandoned (a few remain on people's unrealistic todo lists year after year).

People are bad at scheduling things which are semi-urgent. They don't have to do it immediately, but they shouldn't put it off for months.

Semi-urgent is a really common category. Learning in general is semi-urgent. It's uncommon that you need to learn something right now. If you learn to read at age 7 or at age 7.25 (3 whole months later), it's not a big deal. If you learn a math concept a few months later, in the long run that doesn't matter. If you learn about WWII a few months later, it doesn't matter. But you don't want to put those things off forever, either. They are good to learn reasonably soon.

A major reason for now or never is short-term emotions. People have a spark of excitement or interest that quickly fades, so they have to do something now (or quite soon) or else they lose their motivation. They commonly lose their motivation when they sleep and get an emotional reset. There isn't a simple fix for this. People should stop basing their lives on short-term emotions. They should stop being whim worshipers, as Ayn Rand called it.

I have a partial solution to this problem. It's a way of specifying "soon" in more detail.

You do 80% of the things you plan to do "soon" within 1 week. Of the ones you don't do, you finish 80% of those within 1 more week (2 total). Of the ones you don't do, you finish 80% of those with 2 more weeks (4 total). If you still didn't do it, you can give up.

With this method, less than 1% of stuff won't get done. And each phase is reasonably easy. You're only trying to do 4 out of 5 things. You can have a significant failure rate (up to 1 in 5) and still succeed at the 80% target. And there are only 3 phases, and the maximum time you have to worry about something is under a month.

Even though it has a small number of lenient phases, this method gets 96% of things done within 2 weeks and 99.2% within 4 weeks.

What can go wrong? The biggest thing is you plan to do stuff you don't want to do. Then you still won't want to do it next week or the week after. If you're intentionally avoiding something, I haven't offered any advice to fix that. And if you primarily act based on short-term emotions which are gone in week 2, this method also doesn't address that. And I don't tell you when you should change your mind and purposely decide not to do stuff (other than letting you off the hook after the third phase, which should happen less than 1% of the time so it's not that big a deal).

Still, I think it offers some useful guidelines. It gives you ballparks of what should be happening if things are going right and you're acting reasonably. When you deviate from this method, you can use that as a signal that something is broken – you're trying to do something you don't want to do, or you're trying to do something that you were emotional about when you decided to do it and you're no longer emotional about it, or your scheduling is broken in some way (e.g. you plan to do way more things than you have time for).

People commonly have only a vague idea of when "soon" is, so they don't even know when things should be getting done or when they are failing. It helps to have some guidelines for "soon" to compare your behavior against, so you can see which things you did soon and which you didn't, instead of fooling yourself with moving goalposts.


Elliot Temple on February 4, 2019

Comments (1)

Note you can trivially change the timeline while keeping the proportions the same. E.g. double, triple or 10x the amounts of time for bigger projects. The 3 phases and 80%s stay the same. The first two phases are the same length and the third phase is double the length. You can also shorten the timeline for stuff that should be done faster, like by substituting a week with one day or with two days.


curi at 7:03 PM on February 4, 2019 | #11782 | reply | quote

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