June 13, 2020

Work in Bouts

Often it’s best to separate strategizing’ from execution’ spend some time thinking about how you are going to spend your time, but once you’ve decided, go hard on executing. Periodically switch back to strategizing. 80,000-Hours calls this working in bouts.

Sources: Niel Bowerman on goal-setting, hacking motivation, and 80,000 Hours’ bout system — Lynette @ EA Coaching

So we have sprints, which are bouts and then we have interbout periods, where you’re allowed to doss about a bit more and go on holiday and catch up on smalls. Whereas in your bouts, you’re supposed to sprint on a key priority. We are currently in a bout, hence why I have like 22 meetings in two days. But if EAG was in an interbout period than I’d probably go a little bit easier.

Square Signals : Satisfaction and progress in open-ended work - Andy-Matuschak

I begin each day by selecting some action-oriented goals which I hope will advance some broader achievement-oriented goal. For example, if I’m working towards an in-classroom prototype around a set of ideas, I might aim to spend three focused hours fleshing those ideas out in sketches. This is a natural spot for brief deliberation, but once the day begins, I focus on the actions I’ve chosen and suppress planning. The rest of the day’s work becomes roughly deontological. I give myself permission to be satisfied with the day if I spent three focused hours sketching like I’d planned. Weekly, I reflect on the previous week’s mix of actions and my progress towards the broader goal. I consider what’s working and what’s not, then I make a few notes about how I’d like to adjust my daily mix of actions in the next week. I always assign some target date to that broader goal (“run a prototype in classrooms by June 1”). My weekly reflection pushes on that date: does it need to move? Does my daily work need to change focus to hit it? These higher-level reflections help me feel a sense of progress (or note a lack of one), and their regular course corrections give me the safety to draw satisfaction day-to-day from ambiguous, action-oriented goals. Monthly, and when completing a broader achievement-oriented goal, I reflect on the bigger picture which defines my goals. That roadmap invariably evolves as my work proceeds, but maintaining that long-term plan helps me connect my present work to downstream goals. Those connections themselves inspire satisfaction: they help me see a path to my true goals. From time to time, I flip back into execution mode. It feels like an old friend. We say hello, dance for a while, and part ways smiling, just as it always was. Open-ended mode is more enigmatic, reserved—yet occasionally it sparks some moment so singular it lights up the whole year. Those moments don’t happen without the days spent together between those moments. I’m slowly learning to make the most of our quiet strolls.


Notes