When you say, "I'll get it done this week," you're just lying to yourself.
- A paper from MIT shows that few tasks are actually done in the time frame expected.
- People of all ages and levels of expertise were rather poor at estimating how long tasks take to complete.
- Writing and coding tasks took the longest to do.
Everybody is familiar with the difficulty of doing all the things you need to do, let alone doing everything you want to do. Something goes wrong, it takes longer to do one section than originally planned, you need somebody else to get their work done before you can start, and countless other problems get in the way. In the end, the task took much longer than we'd hoped.
Somehow, this is one of the more common human experiences, as anybody who has been to a seminar on SMART goal setting can tell you.
In an accidental study, a group of grad students, postdocs, and undergraduates at MIT spent nine months recording what they wanted to do, how long they thought it would take them to do it, and how long it actually took to complete—if it got done at all.
The rather Gonzo paper on it, "'I'll Finish It This Week' And Other Lies," is a humorous discussion of the difficulty of accurate goal-setting and a savage glimpse into the purgatories of others which are often so similar to our own.
People at MIT have trouble getting work done on time? I suddenly feel better about myself.
How long tasks were estimated to take (top) compared to how long they really took (bottom). If people were always right on how long things would take to do, the peaks would all be above x=1Credit: Kaley Brauer
Last year, the aforementioned researchers created a system to help support each other in their work and encourage one another to reach their goals. The system involved a weekly check-in where the participant listed the tasks they wanted to do and how long they expected them to take and report back a week later on how long those tasks actually took.
Perhaps by accident, this system took on the form of a longitudinal study, the sort of research that looks at a certain variable (in this case, task completion times) over a certain period of time.
The data included 559 tasks done over much of the last year, when they were completed, when they were expected to be completed, and how many working hours that represented. As explained in the paper, a task fit one of these categories:
1. Coding: any coding task for research or schoolwork (e.g., analysis in Python).
2. Writing: any writing or editing-focused task (e.g., working on a paper draft).
3. Reading: any reading-focused task (e.g., reading a journal article).
4. Administrative: any task related to running a research group or department (e.g., organizing meetings).
5. Talk Prep: writing or practicing a talk or poster presentation.
6. Service: volunteer work (e.g., organizing outreach activities).
7. Problem Set: homework for a class that is not coding- or reading-focused.
The median task took 1.4 times as long to accomplish as expected, while the average difference was a slightly larger 1.7 times. Just over half, 53%, of tasks were completed on time. Writing and coding tasks took the longest, with some taking ten times as long as expected.
Note to editor: See, it's not just me!
Tasks with deadlines were completed on time. This is shown in the problem set and service categories, as homework has a due date and volunteer events are planned. Postdocs were more accurate than anybody else, but this might be caused less by their age and experience and more by the type of work they were doing. Graduate students were worse than undergrads, suggesting that age is not a substantial factor.
Hopefully, you've read this far
It seems that even highly educated people who have to estimate the time their typical work will take on a regular basis aren't very good at it. It seems to be a universal truth that most tasks take much longer than expected. Even those who are quite experienced at these tasks were little better at making these estimations.
So, if you're planning on doing something within a certain period of time, it might be best to lengthen your original estimate. But beware! This might cause the actual time required to multiply yet again.
Alternatively, since tasks that come with hard deadlines tended to be completed on time at much better rates than those without, you could just add deadlines and stressful consequences for missing them to your goals. Other writers agree that this does wonders for getting writing done at only a moderate cost to your sanity.
Lead author and PhD candidate Kaley Brauer also noted that many of the study participants found that setting time-based goals, such as, "I will study for five hours," helped them stay on task better than setting results-based goals, such as, "I will master the art of underwater basket weaving after this five-hour block."
A curated watchlist from Big Think readers.
- We asked Big Think's readers and staff for their recommendations on films everyone should watch.
- A collection of fiction and non-fiction works from around the world, these movies will entertain and expand your horizons.
- The films cover various topics, explore numerous themes, and shed light on several controversial historical events.
Ever find yourself unsure of what movie to watch? Have you spent so much time looking at the options on a streaming service that you could have finished a film in the time it took you to pick one? It's alright. We've all been there.
Thanks to a couple of posts on Facebook and Twitter, we've collected some of your top film suggestions and combined them with a few of our own picks to make a list of 13 films you ought to see. They'll make you laugh, cry, learn, and scratch your head in utter confusion.
This experimental animated film by Richard Linklater explores the life of an unnamed man and his interactions with a variety of people concerning the meaning of life, the nature of reality, and the structure of society. It features cameos and brief scenes with many actors, filmmakers, and philosophers, among others.
The film's surreal and occasionally uncanny animated style was created via rotoscoping, the process of tracing over filmed footage, adding to the dreamlike atmosphere. While this style and the general lack of plot may put off some viewers, the film is highly regarded. Roger Ebert included it on his list of "Great Movies."
Mel Brooks' masterful spoof of classic horror makes fun of the monster films, the phenomena of never-ending sequels to films that don't need them, and cinema techniques from the 1930s.
The film follows Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), who has just inherited the estate of his infamous great-grandfather, the original Dr. Frankenstein, despite the younger having worked much of his life to distance himself from his family. Upon arriving in Transylvania, he is met by Igor (Marty Feldman), the great-grandson of the original; the young lab assistant Inga (Terri Garr); and the fearsome housekeeper Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman).
Being a Frankenstein, he can't help himself and ends up following in his grandfather's footsteps, much to the local villagers' irritation. The Creature (Peter Boyle) is a monster with a sensitive side and some tap dancing talent.
Note that this is a 50-year-old Mel Brooks' movie, and not everything in it has aged gracefully.
Based on the novella by Stephen King, Frank Darabont's film depicts life in the seemingly hopeless Shawshank State Penitentiary from the perspective of two men on the inside. At once a prison drama, an allegory for Christian Mysticism, and a character study, the film overcame a weak box office showing to become a hit in rentals and video sales.
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to multiple life terms for murder, despite his claims of innocence. In prison, he befriends smuggler Ellis "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), with whom he shares a dream of escaping to Mexico. Despite the brutality and corruption of the prison and its warden (Bob Gunton), Andy's hopefulness, resourcefulness, and professional skills help him and those around him to endure.The story is often praised for the relationship between Andy and Red, which is atypical in both the depth of the friendship it depicts and the fairly realistic conditions that spark it. The film is also brilliantly shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Giuseppe Tornatore's brilliant movie about nostalgia, going home again, youth, cinema, and what it costs to be the best version of yourself centers around the projectionists at a small theater in Sicily and their mutual love of movies.
Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin), a famous Italian filmmaker, is told that his old hometown friend Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) has died. He remembers in flashback the circumstances of his youth that brought the two of them together. The film follows their friendship and mutual love of movies as Salvatore grows older and considers where his life will take him.
Stanley Kubrick's burning satire of Cold War thinking might be the greatest example of a satire ever put to film. While it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, it is also possible to take large parts of the film as a serious and terrifying depiction of what could go wrong with nuclear weapons when the wrong people are in charge of them.
Insane US General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) exploits a loophole in the nuclear command structure to order a first strike on the USSR in retaliation for their evil plot to fluoridate water. President Muffley (Peter Sellers) and his advisors, including the childishly warmongering General Turgidson (George C. Scott) and "ex"-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers again), frantically try to cancel the attack. During these attempts, The Russian Ambassador (Peter Bull) informs them of a Doomsday Machine that will destroy the world if the attack is not prevented.
Oh, and ignore the disclaimer at the start of the film. Everything that it depicts was entirely possible for decades, several of the characters are based on real people, and the Russians really did build a Doomsday Machine.
Sleep well tonight!
A Pixar film by Andrew Stanton, WALL-E is the story of a lonely robot that cleans up garbage. While that might not sound like the beginnings of an animated masterpiece, the film is a beautifully animated story of love, environmentalism, and humanity.
Centuries after an environmental disaster, WALL-E (Ben Burtt) is the last cleaning robot on Earth. His lonesome existence is interrupted by the arrival of a sentry bot named EVE (Elissa Knight). Their adventure takes them into the depths of space, where they encounter the descendants of the people who left Earth so long ago and a host of other robots.While the film's environmentalist and anti-consumerist messages are often the focus of most reviews, the gorgeous animation is also a key element of the picture. Operating with minimal dialogue, the expressions, movements, and physical interactions of the characters carry much of the story. This is done so well as to make the lack of dialogue almost unnoticeable.
Once deemed the "Greatest Film of All Time" and universally considered one of the most influential movies ever created, "Bicycle Thieves" (also known as "The Bicycle Thief") is an Italian film by Vittorio De Sica noteworthy for its extreme realism.
Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), a poor man in post-war Italy, manages to buy a bicycle (which permits him to hold down a job) by selling his family's possessions. On his first day at work, a thief steals the bike. Doomed without it, Antonio and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) pursue the man through increasingly destitute sections of Rome.
The film was made on a shoestring budget, filmed on location, and features non-actors in all the major roles. While most of these actors did not translate their roles into film careers, a young Sergio Leone appears in a bit part.
The second Kubrick movie on our list, "2001" was co-written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. Its story also features input from experts and scientists, including a young Carl Sagan. It explores ideas of extraterrestrial intelligence, machine sentience, emotion in a scientific world, and possible future evolutionary paths for humanity.
While the plot isn't always easy to follow, the film traces the evolutionary history of humanity, from the rise of tool-making apes, to the discovery of evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence and the journey of a crew through space. Among them is humanity's greatest creation, the HAL 9000 computer (Douglas Rain), who will protect the mission he serves at all costs.
The film has long stretches without dialogue and limited performances by most of its actors. It is also the greatest science fiction film ever made and the one to which all others are compared.
Steven Spielberg's film depicts the story of Oscar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
Schindler (Liam Neeson), a member of the Nazi party, cashes in on military policies in occupied Poland. This allows him to make a fortune, which he uses to save his workers from the Holocaust. His accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), desperately balances the needs of the Jewish workers and his German bosses' greed while trying to keep everyone alive. Both of them interact with Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes), the psychopathic commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, who often complains of the tedium of his work. All the while, the multitude of people working for Mr. Schindler try to do as best they can in unimaginable circumstances.
The film is a powerful reminder of the horrors of the mid-twentieth century, several of which are depicted in graphic detail.
This is an adaption of the novella "Heart of Darkness" set in Vietnam and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It blends elements of a war film, surrealism, psychological horror, film noir, and a bad acid trip into an epic that dives into questions of morality, sanity, and existential nihilism.
Captain Ben Willard (Martin Sheen) is given a mission to "terminate" the command of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) with "extreme prejudice" as the US army fears the Colonel has gone insane. As Willard travels upriver with the crew of a river patrol boat (which includes a 14-year old Laurence Fishburne), he sees the depravity of the Vietnam War on full display. Along the way, they encounter Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and his love for Wagner, endless battles fought for esoteric reasons, and a mad photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) who considers Kurtz to be a genius.
Three major cuts of the film exist. In addition to the original, there is Redux, which adds 50 minutes of deleted scenes that provide some extra explanation while smoothing out some transitions. The most recent version, The Final Cut, is director Coppola's favorite and scales back some of these changes.
Our first staff pick is a documentary by Ava DuVernay. "13th" focuses on the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution—which bans slavery while allowing involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime—and the horrors it has wrought.
The film dives into the post-slavery social and economic history of the United States, demonstrating a link between the second half of that amendment and the rise of Jim Crow and mass incarceration. The film features interviews with various intellectuals and political figures, including Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Our second staff pick is a documentary by Errol Morris on the life and worldview of former United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Often considered the architect of the Vietnam War, McNamara reflects on his philosophy of war and how it can be applied or misapplied in different parts of life and warfare.
The interviews in the film were shot using Morris' interrotron device, which reflects the image of both the interviewer and the subject in a way that allows for the subject to face both the camera and an image of the person they are speaking to at the same time. The effect is that, unlike other interview formats, McNamara appears to be speaking directly to the viewer as he responds to Morris' questions.
The parallels between McNamara's era and today are striking, which makes for an excellent insight into current events.
Our final staff pick is a three-part, five-hour, Spanish language documentary by Patricio Guzmán on the rise and fall of the Chilean government under Allende.
Filming close to the action on Chile's streets before and during the 1973 coup, the crew interview people from all walks of life as the left-wing government tries to guide Chile along the path to socialism through democratic means before being overthrown. The film also includes newsreel footage from Leonardo Henrichsen, a journalist who filmed his own murder.
The film has a clear bias in favor of Allende's government. After the coup, one of the crew members even "disappeared" due to their left-wing politics. The worldview of the filmmakers is obvious and pervasive, but a dedicated watcher can see around it.
Add these great titles to your wish list or secure copies for yourself.
- We asked BigThink's readers and staff for their recommendations on books everyone should read.
- A collection of fiction and non-fiction works from around the world spanning millennia, these books will expand your horizons.
- Many of these books are long out of copyright, and can be read for free.
Do you ever want to read more but find yourself unsure of what to read? Lots of people have the same problem. To help, we're adding to the collection of "books everyone should read" lists. For this one, we reviewed hundreds of suggestions on what book everybody should read from a post on our Facebook page and combined them with some of our staff's picks.
They span more than 2,000 years of literature, include fiction and non-fiction works, and will make you think, laugh, and cry. So without further ado, here are 13 books you should read when you get the chance.
If you prefer digital books but yet own an e-reader, we've included links to purchase one (at two price points) at the bottom of this list.
"Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one…. cities will never have rest from their evils"
One of the most famous books of all time, Plato's "Republic" depicts Socrates debating the nature of justice. To do so, he appeals to the metaphysical theory of the forms, a vision of a Utopian city designed to exhibit perfect justice, the allegory of the cave, the Ring of Gyges, and the metaphor of the Ship of State.
To say that it has influenced and excited thinkers since it was written (around 375 BC) would be an understatement. The British philosopher Julian Baggini argued that while in this book Plato, "was wrong on almost every point, the questions it raises and the methods it uses are essential to the western tradition of philosophy. Without it we might not have philosophy as we know it."
Plato failed to take out a copyright on his book [it being written over 2,000 years ago likely played a role in this error] and several translations aren't copyrighted either. You can buy a copy at the link above, but it can also be read for free on Project Gutenberg.
"But rest assured: This tragedy is not a fiction. All is True."
Set in an unnamed Indian city during The Emergency, the story follows four people from very different walks of life as the country endures the struggle and changes of independence, a shifting economic picture, and social difficulties. Diving into one of the most controversial parts of India's modern history is no easy feat, but this book does it in a way that manages to keep the focus on the human side of the era.
Praised as one of the 10 greatest Asian novels by The Telegraph, the book won many awards upon release. The Wall Street Journal considered the book "A rich and varied spectacle, full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life."
"The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao; The name that can be defined is not the unchanging name."
Taoism's foundational text, and a philosophical work that influenced most Chinese philosophy that came after it. The book attempts to explain The Way (Tao) and the virtues which can express it. Nature and actions in accordance with it are praised. The unity or oneness that underlies the universe is also highlighted.
The oldest known copies of the text date back to 300 BCE. Despite ups and downs in Taoism's fortunes, the rise and fall of other philosophies, and occasional persecution, this book and its wisdom have endured all the while. Hundreds of Millions of people still adhere to some form of Taoism, and this book is the key to understanding their worldview.
Many thinkers have commented on the brilliance of the book. Chinese philosopher and writer Lin Yutang went so far as to say, "If there is one book in the whole of Oriental literature which one should read above all the others, it is, in my opinion, Laotse's Book of Tao."
"Oh dear, you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright?"
While the various editions of the book differ, the basic plot remains the same. Arthur Dent, recently forced off Earth due to it being blown up so a freeway could be built, goes on hilarious adventures around the galaxy with President Zaphod Beeblebrox, joyfully existential writer Ix, and Marvin the Paranoid Android—yes, Radiohead got it from here.
Also, the answer is 42, but we don't know the question.
Deemed a "whimsical odyssey" by Publishers Weekly and "inspired lunacy" by the Washington Post, the book series has legions of dedicated fans and several well-known adaptations.
The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." — Mark 12:31
As the holy text of Christianity and a collection of books with many focuses, there can be little wonder why the Bible is a frequently read, studied, criticized, and praised book. Featuring heroes like Sampson, teachers like Jesus, and epic tales like the Exodus, the Bible is a book with a large footprint on history and one to be counted among the great works of literature.
Even if you aren't a Christian, the Bible is worth a read. LearnReligions.com points out:
"If you're an avid reader, this is one bestseller you shouldn't miss. The Bible is an epic story of love, life, death, war, family, and more. It has its ups and downs, and it's pretty riveting. If you're not a reader, this may be the one book worth saying you read. If you're going to read anything, you can say you read the biggest bestseller of all time."
Plus, you know, understanding the belief system of the world's largest religion might come in handy sometime.
While some versions have copyrights, others don't, and most of them can be read online for free. Project Gutenberg has the very popular King James Edition here.
"A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others."
A behemoth of a book centering around a murder, "The Brothers Karamazov" is part mystery, part love story, part court case, and part theological drama all wrapped up in a philosophical novel that has attracted the attention of the world's greatest minds since it came out.
It was declared "the most magnificent novel ever written" by Sigmund Freud. William Faulkner and Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed to have read it regularly. Both Franz Kafka and Martin Heidegger felt the book directly influenced their work. Anything a group like that can all agree on is likely worth reading.
"The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired."
For the person who wants to know how the universe and our understanding of it came to exist but also wants a side of extremely dry British wit, this is the book for you. Featuring only a single equation, E=MC2, Hawking's book explores the history of astronomy, ideas of space and time, black holes, the universe, quantum mechanics, the theory of everything, and frontiers in science without jargon or the assumption that the reader has a degree in the hard sciences.
Widely praised on release, the book became a best seller and went through several editions, including "A Briefer History of Time" and an illustrated version.
"It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU the caption beneath it ran."
The magnum opus of George Orwell, this novel considers a then-future England under the boot of a totalitarian state known as Oceania. The plot follows mid-level bureaucrat Winston Smith as he tries to navigate the surveillance state in which he lives, works, loves, and secretly dreams of rebellion. All the while, Big Brother is watching.
As one of the most influential novels of the 20th century, it should come as no surprise that the review from Victor Pritchett read: "I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down."
"What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."
The story of a road trip from Minnesota to California features discussions of life, philosophy, hang-ups, and the effect of altitude on how well a motorbike runs. The problems of living life from a Romantic point of view against a Classical stance are a crucial part of the novel, and the attempt to find a middle ground lasts long after the road trip ends. All the while, ghosts from the past stalk the characters and ask questions that even they weren't prepared to answer.
The original New York Times review called the book "intellectual entertainment of the highest order," and it has become the best-selling philosophy book of all time.
"I haven't seen Calvin for about 15 minutes now. That probably means he's getting in trouble."
An anthology of comics by the great Bill Watterson depicting a young boy and his stuffed tiger, the series was the most popular comic strip in the United States for much of its run and continues to be loved by millions. While lacking an overarching plot, the series features several running gags and never loses its ability to touch on elements common to every childhood.
Praised as "vibrant, accessible, and beautiful" by mental floss and "one of the most beloved comic strips of all time" by the New York Post, this series is among the champions of comic strip fun.
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly. No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried. Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked. "They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone." "And what difference does that make?"
Our first staff pick is the hilarious, zany, and shell-shocking story of bomber pilots in WWII just trying to stay alive while they navigate the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army Air Corps. It follows the misadventures of John Yossarian as he and his squad mates try to get out of having to complete their ever-increasing quota of missions. The book also considers (anachronistically placed) elements of American society that began to emerge in the '50s and the absurdity of human existence.
The New York Herald Tribune called the book "A wild, moving, shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant roller-coaster of a book." Despite the non-linear plot, surreal occurrences, and dense language, Harper Lee said it was the only war novel she ever read that made any sense.
Widely considered a cult-classic, the book, fittingly, didn't win any awards on release and has been deemed a significant work of the 20th century.
"It is important to understand that the system of advantage is perpetuated when we do not acknowledge its existence."
Our second staff pick is from psychologist and Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum. Written in 1996, the book returned to the New York Times' best-seller list in June of 2020.
A bold consideration on how we discuss, or fail to discuss, race in America and its effects on our psychology, the book has sparked endless conversations and advanced debate since it first hit shelves. Featuring personal stories, empirical data, and her previous work in this field, the book makes a strong case for the need to engage with issues of racial identity in ways that many people currently do not.
Kirkus Reviews concluded that it is:
"A remarkably jargon-free book that is as rigorously analytical as it is refreshingly practical and drives its points home with a range of telling anecdotes. Tatum illuminates 'why talking about racism is so hard'' and what we can do to make it easier, leaving her readers more confident about facing the difficult terrain on the road to a genuinely color-blind society."
"'That is all. With the exercise of a little care, the nettle could be made useful; it is neglected and it becomes hurtful. It is exterminated. How many men resemble the nettle!' He added, after a pause: 'Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.'"
Our final staff pick is a masterpiece that tells the story of reformed criminal Jean Valjean, his adopted daughter Cosette, the people they met from all parts of French society, and the battle of the human spirit against the injustices of the world. Along the way, it takes the time to consider questions of life, death, God, evil, justice, convents, revolution, love, and French slang.
Described as "one of the half-dozen greatest novels of the world" by no less a writer than Upton Sinclair, and a frequently adapted favorite of audiences since its release, the book continues to speak to an essential part of our humanity in a way few others have.
When you buy something through a link in this article Big Think earns a small affiliate commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.
Watch The Daily Show comedian Jordan Klepper and elite improviser Bob Kulhan live.
These days, if you don't laugh, you might just scream. Enter comedian and The Daily Show regular Jordan Klepper!
In this Big Think Live session, Klepper will be in conversation with Bob Kulhan, CEO of Business Improv, talking creativity, adaptability and comedy in the age of COVID-19. How does The Daily Show team work remotely? What's it like to brainstorm in real-time on live TV? And what has comedy done for you lately?
Here's a simple method for finding out whether those shouts are good-natured or not.
- Not every audience member who speaks out during a comedy show is a heckler. But there's a way to test the waters without upsetting your audience, says comedian Paul F. Tompkins.
- By engaging in a civil way with the person who spoke out, you either give them an opportunity to add more fun to the show, or they'll reveal their true colors.
- If the person ends up being a heckler after you've attempted including them in the conversation, the audience will be on your side when you shut that person down.