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Time-Based Metric For Overreaching

How can you tell if you're overreaching? Here are simple guidelines:

90% of the time, thinking should take 2 minutes or less. (1 in 10 things goes past 2 minutes.)

90% of cases that take longer should be under 15 minutes. (1 in 100 things goes past 15 minutes.)

90% of the cases that take longer than that should be under 2 days. (1 in 1000 things goes past 2 days.)

Next steps should be fast. You shouldn't be stuck for long periods of time. ("Long" means longer than the amounts of time above. A main point of this post is that people have the times wrong and are routinely stuck for a few hours and don't realize how long and bad that is.)

Most stuff you do should be small and easy. If it's not, break it into smaller parts (so that you can be making progress frequently by finishing one little part) or find easier stuff to do.

If someone says something, you should usually have an idea of your reply within 2 minutes. A clarifying question is fine as a reply. It doesn't have to be a big thing. Or if you are going to give a big reply where you make 5 points, then you could think of each point as a mini project and figure each one out in 2 minutes.

If you're writing an article or novel, most steps should take less than 2 minutes of thinking before you do them. A paragraph is a reasonable step. You decide what the next idea will be, then you write the paragraph for it. If you stop midway through the paragraph, starting again is another step. If you need to do planning for the paragraph, e.g. checking your notes about the plot and your chapter outline, those activities are also steps. If you spend 10 minutes reading your notes before starting a paragraph, that's fine, that's time spent making progress on the activity. The time limits are for the time you aren't doing anything, where you're just thinking and not actively, directly getting anything time. When the breaks between actively doing stuff are larger than these time limits, that indicates it's hard for you and a lot of problems are coming up and you're probably making a bunch of mistakes.

Don't try to cheat. This will only help people who approach it honestly. Like if you think of a clarifying question in 10 seconds, just ask it. Don't save it for 1 minute 50 seconds to try to get extra thinking time.

If you're usually going near the time limits, something is wrong. Sometimes it should be 5 seconds, sometimes 30 seconds, sometimes 90 seconds. If you're frequently just under 2 minutes (or a little over and rounding down), you're probably overreaching. For the 2 day timeframe, most of those should only take a couple hours of time you actually spend on it. Actually spending a large portion of one day, let alone two days, should be much rarer. Two days gives you time to sleep on it, or leave it on the back burner for a while, wihch is good to do occassionally.

These guidelines are not exact but the simplicity and ease-of-measurement are major upsides. They can give you a ballpark of what to look for. Compare what you do to this and see if it's even close. I think people don't have much understanding of how long "too long" is, in concrete numbers, so this will help.

Elliot Temple on February 12, 2019

Comments (2)

Fortnite overreaches by adding new features (with new bugs) while they have a bunch of bugs. Ninja says this could kill the game.


Anonymous at 4:25 PM on April 10, 2019 | #12121 | reply | quote

Some comments on overreaching from the Fallible Ideas Discord chatroom today:

[7:48 PM] curi: If you have experience both with projects where you get overwhelmed (that's a typical way that overreaching feels) and projects where you have things under control and succeed, then you can make judgments about future projects: is it planned out enough to know what to expect? Do you know the relevant skills/fields enough? Do you have the resources needed? etc. Most people are really used to being rushed all the time, and glossing over lots of mistakes all the time – they are in a chronic state of overreaching which they interpret as normal. So they know a new project will be like that, but they think that's normal, so they do it anyway.

[7:50 PM] curi: Another thing to try is asking yourself "Am I confident I'm doing this right? Would it be surprising to me if I made a mistake?" or "Am I confident that this paragraph I wrote is correct? Would a mistake surprise me?" People often know they wouldn't be very surprised by a mistake being pointed out, and/or know they aren't very confident. Those things indicate overreaching (if your goal is success. it's different if your goal is just to practice or try something out in an exploratory way).

[7:52 PM] curi: High errors rates are often caused by lack of resources, e.g. trying to do something super cheaply or super fast. (Time and money are typical important resources.) A good rule of thumb for a project is to have 50% extra for resources. That means if you think it should take $100 and 10 hours, you budget $150 and 15 hours. That allows for random variations (sometimes things go better or worse than expected) without it causing big problems.

[7:54 PM] TheRatWay: Wow that's quite a helpful way to think about it

[7:54 PM] curi: A lot of people try to add margin for error to individual steps within a project (e.g. they should be able to do one task in an hour, so they give it 90min). But it's better to add margins to the whole project.

[7:56 PM] curi: Because statistical fluctuations are bigger on a small scale. A task could take 3x longer than expected. But for a whole project, your luck evens out more (some things take close to the expected value, and the things that take more or less help cancel each other out)

curi at 7:58 PM on July 18, 2019 | #13126 | reply | quote

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