Weighted Error Rates [CF Article]

I read this. It touched on something I’ve thought about some before:

People in general have weighted mistake rates that are way too high .

and more specifically:

Most people underestimate the weighted error rates of most projects. They under estimate the resource requirements (time, energy, money, knowledge, everything). And they overestimate their capacity, their resources. And they don’t take into account statistical fluctuations. They try to book their schedule 100% full with projects instead of 2/3 full. The result? Often they plan to do 500% or more of what would work. They end up in a constant state of being overly busy, stressed, rushed, etc. And then what happens? They make lots of mistakes. They screw up because they are rushing. They forget things. They aren’t at their best. They multitask (trying to jam in many projects at once) and lose time task switching. Etc. And that makes things go slower or fail entirely. When you’re overbooked, you’re less efficient, so you actually get less done.

I think one problem I have with this idea is that it doesn’t seem to match the way I interpret what I see in the world. There’s a bunch of ways to describe what I think I see, but I think it’s all the same kind of observation:

  • The people who I regard as successful in life also seem to be reliably busy / overscheduled
  • The people I know who aren’t very busy don’t seem to accomplish much in life
  • When I look over my own life so far, I think I accomplished the most when I was at my busiest

Some possible causes for my observations that are compatible with what you wrote are:

  • How busy someone seems (including me) doesn’t accurately reflect how busy they actually are
  • What I regard as successful and/or not accomplishing much in life are wrong. IOW the people I regard as successful really aren’t, and the people I regard as not accomplishing much really are
  • There are other factors driving success which are merely correlated with being busy. IOW the busy, successful people I know would be even more successful if they were less busy, and the not-busy, unsuccessful people I know would be even less successful if they were busier
  • My sample is too small and/or biased for my observations to mean anything

BTW, there are independent claims along those lines, e.g. https://fourhourworkweek.com

[A possibility is that] How busy someone seems (including me) doesn’t accurately reflect how busy they actually are

IIRC, Jonathan Stark said that top executive type people have particularly high reply rates to his emails, particularly to bait questions. (I read that months ago; don’t have the link.) That suggests they aren’t actually super busy.

Also, 8+ hour work days are somewhat of a myth for knowledge workers like programmers. Students also can’t sustainably study that much.


If you had any examples to share that you think are counter-examples, we could discuss them. It’s hard to reply much with both no examples and no philosophical criticisms of my reasoning. But more broadly, since you haven’t put in the work to study and learn what I’m saying, I don’t think you’re in a position to apply it to analyze anything. I think the more appropriate thing to do would be to try to understand what I said before trying to argue with it.

Those stereotypically sound like people with much less than 2/3 of their time scheduled/allocated.

Someone could easily present as busy, and be busy, and work during 100% of their working hours, while only scheduling/allocating 2/3 of their working hours in advance. Busy people have plenty to do if they get some time that isn’t pre-committed, so they don’t have to always plan activities in advance to avoid idle time…

Also btw some people put flex time on their calendars in various forms. That doesn’t make it count as scheduling in the relevant sense.

I’ve definitely seen both Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon indicate that they aren’t overly busy or flustered.

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Nice article. Bezos claims it may be different for small startups, but also says:

all of our senior executives operate the same way I do

The way he operates includes “puttering” around in the morning, no meetings before 10am, the most important meetings are before lunch, he stops doing much at 5pm, and he tries hard to get 8 hours of sleep.

He explains some reasoning for this. Basically he needs to make high quality decisions more than he needs to make lots of decisions.

Bezos says one reason for making a small number of high quality decisions is thinking about the future. I think he partly means that you can’t micromanage with tons of small decisions if you are thinking at least 3 months ahead and often longer. The details aren’t ready yet. So thinking ahead forces you to focus on a smaller number of bigger picture decisions.

Bezos also says that junior executives make a larger number of less important and more reversible decisions than senior executives. They should be careful about copying senior executives’ actions when faced with different types of decisions.

Also:

Warren Buffet says he’s good if he makes three good decisions a year, and I really believe that.

That makes sense for Buffet since he makes a small number of large bets.

I like the idea of this article in the abstract. I thought about it and realized that my normal (unthinking) approach to productivity is always do as much as I can, but that’s problematic because it commonly results in me either over-working and getting stressed, or under-working by procrastinating and telling myself I’ll “do it later.” Replacing do as much as I can with a clear & achievable goal would solve both those problems.

As it happens, I’m kind of in a perfect situation to try applying this 2/3rds idea, because I have a short-term goal with a very simple metric. I have a comprehensive exam coming up in a few weeks and I have to do many practice problems to prepare for it (the more the merrier). Yesterday I did 3, but I goofed around a lot and it felt like I probably could have done 6 if I needed to, so today I will aim for 4. I’ll keep trying to explicitly estimate my daily capacity then set 2/3rds of it as a daily goal. I’ll keep a log.

Goldratt‘s most relevant book is Critical Chain.

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I wasn’t intentionally trying to argue with it.

My perspective: I read the article & thought I understood it enough to have an opinion about something that seemed like a major point. I tried to think of some ways my opinion might be wrong. I didn’t come to a conclusion about whether my opinion was right or wrong (and I still haven’t).

Often in the past I haven’t posted opinions of this sort after reading your articles. I have been trying to post more opinions because of:

Maybe I misunderstood that suggestion as favoring the kind of post I wrote when that’s not actually what you meant.

Otherwise, I don’t know if you think my opinion indicated misunderstanding the point you made in the article, or was about a minor rather than major point, or something else. And I don’t know what made my post an argument.