people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten

I often find myself dragged, more like enticed at the prospect of an open bar, to several tech-business-y events every so often. At tech-business-y events, to be honest, you are more likely to find more employers of techies than techies themselves.

From working with and therefore interacting with techies a lot, as well as being one, I can tell you for free that the occasional techie might show up at the prospect of an open bar. Unless they have an inherent interest in business/entrepreneurship, they are unlikely to be present for more than just the food and drinks. A techie will be more concerned with their Github profile, their contributions to open source projects, their Stack Overflow profile, and rarely about much else, let alone networking.

All this is however unnecessary.

Because such events are not my forte, I would really rather be behind my computer screen, jabbing away at my keyboard, I normally set a goal. A goal that ensures I don’t just go in, drink 7 glasses of wine, make small talk with the people I already know and then head home as soon as I can. A small goal though, something that ensures I am not completely putting myself off from attending such things. Normally, something to the tune of, make at least one new contact! Just one. A doable task. Another thing is to leave having learnt at least one new thing. Always on the lookout for words or wisdom of some sort.

So the discussion at this particular event, Founder Friday, was surprisingly of great interest to me. I’m not sure what I expected, but even just the name, Founder Friday, already had me putting my guard up. I imagined walking in and having someone take one look at me and discovering there is nothing much to speak of that I have founded.

I found the conversation fairly relevant, and was hooked from beginning to end. Following everything that was said back and forth like a tennis match. The general theme of the conversation was what Kenyan tech start-ups need to get to the next level. The next level being that stage where they are being valued at millions, possibly billions of dollars and are being acquired and exiting. That conversation in itself is a post, but not intended to be the point of this here post.

I do have a weakness for intros that go on and on before getting to the point, don’t I?
Le sigh. Please just accept me as I am.

*intro ends here*

So, this one guy said something that struck me. Struck me the way that a low-hanging branch that is right in your path would strike you if you walked right into it. They felt like long lost friends I had been looking for for a long time, friends who I had forgotten I even knew, did not know I was looking for but once I found them, I realised that they were exactly what I needed. They fit into a perception gap that I had not known was gaping this whole time.

This one guy said, “People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten.”

Read that again, it takes a few seconds to really sink in.

As a strong believer in the power of words to find you when you are ready for them, I felt as though those were the very words I needed to hear. I have, of late, been actively planning my days and subsequently weeks. I have gotten as far as laying down weekly plans, and once that is more ingrained and comes a little more naturally, I intend to start planning monthly, and finally effectively plan out years, possibly even decades.

So, all that for now is still in my future plans, my someday plans, so let us just concentrate on where I have reached…daily and weekly plans.

Giving an example, I would like to sit for the French as well as Spanish A2 level exams in around November of this year. To get me there, I have a daily slot where I work on languages. I’m localizing my planning, currently keeping it small at daily and weekly schedules just so that I can first figure out what works for me and what does not. In my first week of planning, I tried allocated an hour to the language of the day. Half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. Within each half hour, one per language, I set out to listen to three new conversations in a 100-episode series I have been making my way through, put in some grammar work as well as watch a short film.

When the week was out, I was taking stock and realised, as was to be expected, I had not achieved even half of what I had planned to.

What is this desire to jam pack everything into one hour as though the world is ending next month? Unattainable.

Reeling back and becoming a bit more realistic, in the second week, I decided to declutter my schedule in general. In particular, with my languages, I would instead concentrate on one language a day and alternate them, do one every other day. I also realised that the second half hour pocket allocated to language in my day was rarely getting spent as intended so I got rid of that all together. It is now dedicated to reading a book.

Once the second week was done, having set slightly more realistic expectations of what to achieve in my half hour language pocket, upon evaluation, I found that I had done much better.

On week three, I decluttered yet again. Instead of trying to listen and transcribe each conversation in the series I listen to as well as take note of and conjugate new verbs and find the meanings of new words, do a page’s worth of exercises in my accompanying grammar books as well as watch a short film and listen to one hour of Spanish/French music at work, I scaled back yet again and committed to doing only the first. Sure the task itself takes less than half an hour, but with the time that remains, I go through conversations transcribed on previous days.

Upon evaluation of the progress of that week, I found that I was now, 90% of the time, getting things I set out to do done. Sure, I was setting out to do less to start with, you could argue that, but I was still getting more done than I had been in the first week of this experiment when I was running around like a headless chicken trying to take my Spanish and French language skills to expert/native level in 24 hours.

I have explained in detail my process with the language ‘pockets’ of my day, but consider this same evolution for a whole day’s worth of activities. When it comes to work tasks, I no longer wake up with an itch to revolutionize the whole industry, even solving one bug is enough. When it comes time to write, that is all I do. I do not try to create content for my personal blog as well as for my technical data blog as well as for my short stories collection all at the same time. It may sound absurd, but about a month ago, this is what my schedule looked like. Everything I ever want to achieve crammed into little pockets spread over 24 hours.

People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten.”

I thought about this, really thought about it, and realised it is exactly what I was doing. Trying to be fluent in Spanish and French, build up to running a half marathon as well as swimming 5k, publish on both my personal and technical blogs daily as well as work on a collection of short stories.

I envisioned myself 25 and winning a Pulitzer, contributing regularly to the New Yorker, conversing with native Spanish and French speakers the world over as though we were countrymen, born and bred on the same soil, as well as building a neural network that smashes all known records when it comes to Natural Language Processing or Time Series data prediction.

In the context of a year, it is absurd to hope to achieve all this. Broken down to months and then weeks and then days, there is just too much going on, too much I am expecting myself to do in 24 hours and the net effect is getting nothing done. Sticking to such a plan is setting myself up to, in a year, seeing such meagre results, if any at all, that I quite possibly throw in the towel. That’s if I even get to a year without burning out from the million and one things I have been trying to do.

In the context of ten years though, in the context of 10 years, I stand a chance. In the context of ten years I could be all that and so much more. I would like to triathalon, to pick up the piano again, to learn to play the harmonica, to be a published fictional writer, to visit every continent of this world and then start working towards visiting every country.

The list is long.

The key is to not set out to do it all in one year.

Life is a long con, you have time darling.

Just don’t stop working at it, whatever it is.

And that is the story of how I now no longer stress myself too much. 3 of those French/Spanish conversations is enough for a day. It may seem like a slow pace but in a year I will be somewhere, even if that somewhere is simply moving my focus to grammar and exercises, because then a year from then I can be moving to Spain/France and getting more regular practice.

I’ve got time.

* Warning : Sadistic Finish *

Unless I die, in which case, I will have done what I can with the time I was given.

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