Why You Get Nothing Done When You Have So Much Free Time

Interesting musings on a subject I can attest to be true.  Why is it we get so much done when we’re on a tight schedule but then fail to get anything done when we have a long vacation?  The same applies to work too.  Give someone a long time to get a project done and it will still come in late.  Give them a short time and it will be done earlier.  The author attributes this to Innumeracy.  That is, the inability of humans to understand large numbers.  When we see a huge amount of time, we don’t understand the true magnitude or true limit of that size.  It is this same effect that often casues lottery winners to go broke.  They have what they think is a huge amount of money and don’t understand when the finiteness catches up to them.  Likewise when a person has a seemingly lot of time available, they fill it with too much stuff and end up getting nothing (important) done.  The author has a suggestion for solving this.  He suggests applying the 80-20 rule.  Target the top 20% of the tasks you have to do.  The other 80% only if they can fill in the gaps.  Basically this boils down to prioritizing.  When we have a seemingly infinite amount of time in front of us, prioritizing doesn’t feel necessary and so low-priority tasks dominate.  Perhaps this is why Agile works so much better than Waterfall.  By imposing numerous (arbitrary) deadlines mid-project, it forces prioritization. 

Comments (1)

  1. I think lack of motivation plays its role too. When you see a lot of time ahead you’re not motivated to work in full swing. Then, when deadlines approache we do our best to catch them so our performance rises.

    I think that’s not really about agile vs waterfall but about small tasks vs big tasks. If you have your tasks cut to few-hour pieces instead of few-week ones you just put much more dedlines on your way.

    In construction projects many tasks can be parted to smaller ones with quantities. You’ll build 5 meters of wall today and another 5 tommorow. It’s impossible to do it with software – you don’t measure a number of lines of code to decide whether a task is completed or not. And of course that’s easier for managers to deal with one 2-week task instead of 30 4-hour tasks.