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One Question to Know If You Can Predict Your Future

One Question to Know If You Can Predict Your Future

The Boston “Big Dig” project — a central artery and tunnel through the city — is one of the biggest engineering fails of modern times.[1] While it did get completed, it took way longer than expected. It was eight years behind schedule when finished, and the cost got way out of control. It was supposed to be $2.6 billion and became $24 billion counting interest on the debt. Concrete was mixed wrong. A ceiling collapsed and killed a car passenger. The entire process was a mess.

    But how did this happen? How did a series of capable adults and city officials so drastically miss on the time and budget for a large project? And what can we learn from it?

    We are bad estimators

    We often want to assume projects and new initiatives will go according to a best-case scenario, i.e. no delays, no interruptions, etc. That’s usually not the case. Other priorities arise. Distractions happen.

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    You should be positive about the projects you undertake, yes. But you also need to prepare for the worst — and since most of us aren’t great predictors of the future, we definitely need those plans. Think of a basic, daily example: the supermarket. Oftentimes you’ll tell yourself “20-30 minutes for essentials.” Then you end up there 1 hour. We’re not good at estimating time, in general.

    When we were considering a new feature on Lifehack’s website, we initially thought we could finish it in two weeks. That didn’t seem like very long. But the concept of “two weeks” doesn’t help identify the time for each section of the project.

    So we asked ourselves a critical question: Can I break this down into smaller chunks?

    We decided to break down the work like this:

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    • 1.5 hours for research
    • 3 hours for building the tools foundation
    • 1 hour for testing
    • 1 hour for amendments etc.

      When we broke it down, it seemed like 2.5 weeks was a more reasonable time estimate.

      If you break a big project into smaller items, it’s easier to estimate. What if you thought of a 15-week project as 15 one-week projects? Wouldn’t that make the planning more successful?

      Further breaking it down

      Break big chunks into small, manageable tasks, then work through those one step at a time. Repeat the question: can I break this down still?

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        Whenever you break something down, think about going even further down — a 15-week project can get down to a 20-hour chunk, but that 20-hour chunk can become a series of 2-hour chunks too.

        The goal here is to make things easier for yourself — and make the estimation of time more realistic.

        Some projects, like The Big Dig, are huge in nature. That is true. But even The Big Dig could have been broken down into manageable chunks and probably come in closer to time and budget expectations.

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        In your personal life, you can definitely execute this strategy. Just make the big, overwhelming projects into small, manageable pieces. Work through those. Eventually the whole big project will be done!

        Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

        Reference

        More by this author

        Leon Ho

        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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        Last Updated on July 8, 2020

        How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

        How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

        What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

        When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

        In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

        While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

        As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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          Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

          Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

          The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

          But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

          However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

          This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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          Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

          We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

          Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

          Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

          The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

          When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

          When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

          How to Make Decision Effectively

          Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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          1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

          You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

          Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

          Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

          2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

          You don’t have to choose all the time.

          Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

          Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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          3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

          You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

          The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

          Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

          Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

          So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

          More Tips About Decision Making

          Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

          Reference

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