Two Kinds of Wrong Timing for Recurring Execution (22/30)
I'm writing 30 posts in 30 days. This is number 22.
Previously, I talked about two kinds of abstraction mistakes when choosing the right abstraction level to think. Today, I’d like to talk about two kinds of wrong timing mistakes for execution. The two abstraction mistakes piece took Cedric Chin’s piece on choosing the right abstraction level for thinking as inspiration to delve deeper.
In this piece, I’m talking about taking recurring actions wrongly and the lens through which to analyze poor execution is timing issues. I will not argue, however, why I choose to use timing as the lens to analyze recurring execution, and simply assume to be the case. I’m sure there are situations where timing is not the cause for poor execution. There’s also the case I’m choosing the label timing incorrectly. If you have a better term for this, do let me know as a comment below.
Graphs for Understanding the Wrong Timing
I repeat the same pattern as the two kinds of wrong abstraction level piece: with a graph. In this case, my two axes are: Frequency and Period. Period refers to the length of time per session while frequency is how often the sessions occur. Straight forward enough for now.
When we have this, we now can designate a zone where things are executed in the right timing. Let’s call this the right timing zone.
Now, the two axes give us guidance how we can go from right timing to the wrong timing: vertically and horizontally.
Vertically means we can be either too frequent or not frequent enough.
Horizontally means we can be spending too much time per session or not enough.
Therefore, when you break it down, technically, you can make actually four subtypes of mistakes:
too frequent and too long per session
too frequent and not long enough per session
not frequent enough and too long per session
not frequent enough and not long enough per session
So far, this has been a tad abstract and I apologize. Let’s use an example to understand this. Assuming you are earnestly trying your best to succeed at establish a new habit, like writing regularly. Then this timing graph makes a lot more sense.
How Mistakes Overlap
In the previous piece about two wrong abstraction mistakes, where I wrote how being too abstract tends towards too hazy and too concrete tends towards too precise. In wrong timing for recurring execution, the influence of one mistake over another works differently.
When you aim to be more frequent and become too frequent for your sessions, you tend towards not devoting long enough per session. When you aim to have long sessions and end up being spending too much time per session, your frequency tends to drop. It’s as if frequency and period length forms a fraction that equals to a constant value.
However, notice that this inverse relationship only happens when you focus on one axis and go overboard. When you do too little, it doesn’t necessarily lead to the opposite direction in the other axis. Meaning if you aim for less frequent writing sessions (which is a bit counterintuitive for establishing a new writing habit), you won’t automatically end up spend more time per session. It might happen that way if your writing habit is pretty established and you wanted to switch things up. Almost certainly not when it’s a new habit.
Same story the other way round. Aim for shorter writing sessions (again, this is counterintuitive for establishing new habits), and you won’t automatically end up writing more frequently.
Adding to the complexity is when execution and non-execution sessions are mirror opposites that both contribute to your overall goals. Let’s use regular gym sessions as the example to think through instead.
You exercise frequently and that leads to you not resting enough in between sessions. In other words, increase in frequency for gym sessions by definition necessarily means shorter recovery period lengths which are in between the gym sessions. This situation might act in contrary to your goals as exertion and recovery both contribute to you gaining muscle for instance.
In any case, the right abstraction to think about bad timing fit for your recurring execution can be summarized as two ways:
We can be too frequent or too infrequent in our sessions.
We can spend too much or too little time per session.
In fact, my current experiment with 30 posts in 30 days is my way of experimenting on the frequency knob. I have never set out to write and publish with such high frequency before even though there’s a clear end to the experiment. Which is partly why this is a good experiment. Try something radically different in one dimension to extract feedback is always a good way to poke reality.