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Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-time-you-have/
Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation
Part 2a: Empirical time management
Part 3: The time that you have
There is a process called The Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan. The process is designed to deal with personal problems that are stubborn. The first step in the process is to make a list of all the things that you are doing or not doing that does not contribute to the goal. As you go through the process you analyse why you do these things based on what it feels like to do them.
The process is meant to be done with structure but can be done simply by asking. Yesterday I asked someone who said he ate sugar, ate carbs, and didn't exercise. Knowing this alone doesn't solve the problem but it helps.
The ITC process was generated by observing patients and therapists for thousands of hours and thousands of cases. Kegan observed what seems to be effective to bring about change, in people and generated this process to assist in doing so. The ITC hits on a fundamental universal. If you read my brief guide on Empirical time management, as well as part 1 - exploration-exploitation of this series it speaks to this universal. Namely what we are doing with our time is everything we are choosing not to do with our time. It's a trade off between our values and it's counter-commitments in ITC that's often discovering the hidden counter commitments to the goals.
The interesting thing about what you end up doing with your time is that these are the things that form your revealed preferences. Revealed preference theory is an economic theory that differentiates between people's stated preferences and their actual actions and behaviours. It's all good and well to say that your preferences are one thing, but if you never end up doing that; your revealed preferences are in fact something entirely different.
For example - if you say you want to be a healthy person, and yet you never find yourself doing the things that you say you want to do in order to be healthy; your revealed preferences suggest that you are in fact not revealing the actions of a healthy person. If you live to the ripe old age of 55 and the heavy weight of 130kg and you never end up exercising several times a week or eating healthy food; that means your health goals were a rather weak preference over the things you actually ended up doing (eating plenty and not keeping fit).
It's important to note that revealed preferences are different to preferences, they are in fact distinctly different. They are their own subset. Revealed preferences are just another description that informs the map of, "me as a person". In many ways, a revealed preference is much much more real than a simple preference that does not actually come about. On a philosophical level, if we have a LoudMouthBot, and all it does is declare it's preference for things. "I want everyone to be friends", "you need to be friends with me". However it never does anything. You can log into the bot's IRC channel and see it declaring preferences, day in, day out. Hour after hour. And yet, not actually doing those preferences. He's just a bot, spitting out words that are preferences (almost analogous to a p-zombie). You could look at LoudMouthBot from the outside and say, "all it does is spew text into a text chat", and that would be an observation which for all purposes can be taken as true. In contrast, AgentyBot doesn't really declare a preference, Agentybot knows the litany of truth.
If the sky is blue
I desire to believe that the sky is blue,
If the sky is not blue
- I desire to believe that the sky is not blue.
Or for this case; a litany of objectivity,
If my revealed preferences show that I desire this goal
I desire to know that is my goal,
If my revealed preferences show that I do not desire this goal
I desire to know that is not my goal.
Revealed preferences work in two directions. On the one hand you can discover your revealed preferences and let that inform your future judgements and future actions. On the other hand you can make your revealed preferences show that they line up with your goal.
A friend asked me how she should find her purpose, Easier said than done right? That's why I suggested an exercise that does the first of the two. In contrast if you already know your goals you want to take stock of what you are doing and align it with your desired goals.
I already covered how to empirically assess your time, That would be the first step of how you take stock of what you are doing.
The second step is to consider and figure out your desired goals. Unfortunately the process as to how to do that is not always obvious. For some people they can literally just take 5 minutes and a piece of paper and list off their goals. For everyone else I have some clues in the form of the list of common human goals. By going down the list of goals that people commonly obtain you can cue your sense of what are some of the things that you care about, and figure out which ones matter to you. There are other exercises, but I take it as read that knowing what your goals are is important. After you have your list of goals you might like to consider estimating what fraction of your time you want to offer to each of your goals.
The third step is one that I am yet to write about. Your job is to compare the list of your goals and the list of your time use and consider which object level tasks would bring you towards your goals and which actions that you are doing are not enabling you to move towards your goals.
Everything that you do will take time. Any goal you want to head towards will take time, if you are spending your time on one task towards one goal and not on another task towards another goal; you are preferencing the task you are doing over the other task.
If these are your revealed preferences, what do you reveal that you care about?
- Define what we really care about.
- Define what results we think we can aim for within what we really care about
- Define what actions we can take to yield a trajectory towards those results
- Stick to it because it's what we really want to do.
That's what's important right? Doing the work you value because it leads towards your goals (which are the things you care about).
If you are not doing that, then your revealed preferences are showing that you are not a very strategic. If you find parts of your brain doing what they want at the detriment of other parts of your goals, you need to reason with them. Use the powers of VoI, treat this problem as an exploration-exploitation problem, and run some experiments (post coming soon).
This whole; define what you really care about and then head towards it, you should know that it needs doing now, or you are making bad trade offs.
Meta: this is part 3 of 4 of this series.
Meta: this took 5+ hours to piece together. I am not yet very good at staying on task when I don't know how to put the right words in the right order yet. I guess I need more practice. What I usually do is take small breaks and come back to it.
A friend came to me with a startup as her main goal. I am keen on my coaching skills so I would from time to time ask her what the top 3 most important things she could be doing today would be. She would proceed to come back with a list. A few days later I would check back and ask her what she got done. She would very excitedly tell me all about the other things she was doing that weren't the top 3 things.
I watched this behaviour for a while before commenting. Eventually I asked her about it and she conceded she was doing tasks that seem easier than the important things because they feel like progress, say by doing four small 15 minute tasks you got four things done right? Whereas if you work on an important task for an hour you only got one thing done.
Our brains like to use Rule of thumb type judgements to know what pathways to follow. In this case, Am I making progress towards my goal was replaced by, have I completed things which was easily gamified by, How do I do the most little things I can.
The same thing happens when people pay attention to their health. Get healthy turns into, Lose weight, which turns into unhealthy body images and great confusion. Although this is probably more related to us not being clear and specific on what the health goal was in the first place.
So what say you have a lost purpose. You want to do X but you find yourself doing the remarkably similar Y. How do you fix that?
1. Be specific
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where–" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
It's not going to work 100% of the time, but it does help.
Imagine you told a monkey to go collect coconuts, every coconut the monkey brings back you will give him one reward. You mean the large useful ones that you might find in a supermarket. Knowing how important coconuts are but not really understanding the task, while collecting large coconuts he finds some smaller ones, realising he can carry two half-size coconuts instead of one large one, he goes to find more smaller coconuts, until he is collecting teeny coconuts about the size of a coin. Strictly speaking he is collecting coconuts, but you can easily say that's not the coconut you want.
We don't actually work with monkeys (despite what you might think). Your own brain as well as the brain of other people will get a good return on specific instructions.
2. Goal factoring (CFAR technique)
Goal factoring is about working out the purpose of a task that you do. For example I used to attend a group that was often hit and miss about whether I liked it. I broke down my intentions of going to the group as:
- meet new people
- learn cool things
- hang out with friends
I didn't notice so easily, but as soon as I had this list it was easy to see that the group was waxing and waning in such a way that there were (for a more than 6month period) no new people. Along with this I had been there long enough that learning new things was hard simply because I knew everything that everyone else knew, so there was less "new" to learn. The third thing that happened is that a culture shift happened and the friends I liked hanging out with were less often there than the friends I was not super thrilled about hanging with.
Consequently I left that group and rescued my weeknight.
3. Applause lights in the territory
The concept of Applause lights were not invented by me:
"...it means that you have said the word "democracy", so the audience is supposed to cheer. It's not so much a propositionalstatement, as the equivalent of the "Applause" light that tells a studio audience when to clap."
Applause lights are often things that sound good but are not of any substance. We need these because sometimes we need to climb ladders of abstraction and very quickly explain what we mean without being specific.
But we also need to climb back down those ladders and get specific if we ever want to make progress towards the goal. What is actually going to lead us to Health, or Coconuts or A successful startup or Progress towards that goal?
And how can we pursue it with the ferocity of someone who knows exactly how much time they have left.
Meta: this post is a true story. Thanks to Peta for the inspiration and I hope she moves swiftly towards the important tasks from here on.
Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write
My peer-reviewed article in a psychology journal on the topic of meaning and purpose in a non-religious setting is now accessible without a paywall for a limited time, so get it while it's free if you're interested. I'd be interested in hearing your feedback on it. For those curious, the article is not directly related to my Intentional Insights project, but is a part of my aspiration to raise the sanity waterline regarding religion, the focus of Eliezer's original piece on the sanity waterline.
This list has several purposes:
- For someone with some completed goals who is looking to move forward to new horizons; help you consider which common goal-pursuits you have not explored and if you want to try to strive for something in one of these directions.
- For someone without clear goals who is looking to create them and does not know where to start.
- For someone with too many specific goals who is looking to consider the essences of those goals and what they are really striving for.
- For someone who doesn't really understand goals or why we go after them to get a better feel for "what" potential goals could be.
What to do with this list?
- Go through this list (copy paste to your own document) and cross out the things you probably don't care about. Some of these have overlapping solutions of projects that you can do that fulfils multiple goal-space concepts. (5mins)
- For the remaining goals; rank them either "1 to n", in "tiers" of high to low priority or generally order them in some way that is coherent to you. (For serious quantification; consider giving them points - i.e. 100 points for achieving a self-awareness and understanding goal but a pleasure/creativity goal might be only worth 20 points in comparison) (10mins)
- Make a list of your ongoing projects (5-10mins), and check if they actually match up to your most preferable goals. (or your number ranking) (5-10mins) If not; make sure you have a really really good excuse for yourself.
- Consider how you might like to do things differently that prioritise your current plans to fit more inline with your goals. (10-20mins)
- Repeat this task at an appropriate interval (6monthly, monthly, when your goals significantly change, when your life significantly changes, when major projects end)