Monday, April 20, 2015

Double it and Add Two

A few summers ago I had a job working in a marine biology lab. It turns out I don't like marine biology that much, but one thing that stuck with me about the experience was a phrase that the guy I was working under always said about long-term projects. "However long you think it's going to take, double it and add two." There has never been a truer, more universal statement. Human beings are amazing at overestimating their own competence. Whether it's how long an group meeting will take, or how many hours you will spend studying for an exam, or how many months it will take to finish your UROP project, or how much time you need to finish your Mod2 report, however long you think it's going to take: double it and add two.

The problem is that I did not remember this advice when, on Thursday night, I told myself that I could split up the report into reasonable chunks to do on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and sat down to read Game of Thrones. "I'll finish the methods and intro on Friday, do the figures and results after the gymnastics team CPW event on Saturday, and then finish up with the discussion section and abstract on Sunday. That way I only have to proofread on Monday before I turn it in." That's what I told myself on Thursday.

Friday night rolled around and I buckled down to finish the methods section. But being the master of distraction that I am, I got wrapped up in last-minute planing for the CPW event. By the time I realized what I was doing it was clear that I had a choice between writing the introduction and sleeping enough. I chose sleep. I would need to be fully awake in order to impress the pre-frosh into joining the gymnastics team. (Note: you should all join the team!)

 Do you know how heavy this is?
Nope, I made the same mistake as you. Double that, and add two. Pommel horses are really f#@!*ng heavy. Imagine moving one from the second floor of the z-center to Kresge, doing gymnastics for 3 hours and then bringing it back. Now imagine how motivated you would be to do your Mod2 report after that. Now halve that and subtract two. Yup, just about motivated enough to write a single paragraph.

That leaves Sunday to write the rest of the introduction, make the figures, and write the results, discussion and abstract. I'm not a morning person, so I got started around 1:30PM. By the time the peer review was starting I had finished the introduction and the first two figures. I printed my methods and introduction and headed to building 16. Note: peer review is very useful, I strongly advise it. After I had gotten my suggestions I headed straight back to get to work. Here's where the "double it and add two" really got me. I figured I could get through the figures and results before 2:00AM and wake up at a reasonable hour to write the discussion and abstract.

I finished the results section (and figures) at 7:45AM. At this point I came to the realization that:

Since I am not a robot, I decided to go to bed at that point and set an alarm for 12:30, figuring that I had left myself plenty of time to eat breakfast and write the last pieces of my report. Wrong again! After a very rushed proofreading I barely managed to upload my files before 5:00, squeaking by with a 4:57 timestamp.

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