The Valley of Disappointment

“We often expect progress to be linear. At the very least, we hope it will come quickly. In reality, the results of our efforts are often delayed. It is not until months or years later that we realize the true value of the previous work we have done. This can result in a “valley of disappointment” where people feel discouraged after putting in weeks or months of hard work without experiencing any results. However, this work was not wasted. It was simply being stored. It is not until much later that the full value of previous efforts is revealed.”

James Clear

The Expectancy Curve

In James Clear’s fantastic book Atomic Habits, he explains the idea of the expectancy curve. I think it’s a great tool to overcome imposter syndrome or any other form of the attack. The expectancy curve helps us keep going by giving us a frame to understand our insufficiencies.

Whenever we learn something new, we expect our progress to follow a straight line but in reality our progress is more parabolic. This results in a period of time when we are performing at a lower level than we’re expecting. This time period is called The Valley of Disappointment and it’s duration depends on the skill and how much deliberate practice we choose to put in.

When we feel like we’re underperforming, it’s easy to feel like we aren’t “meant” to do that new thing but all we need to do is stick with our newfound skill until we reach the critical point. The critical point is where the level of our skill matches our expectations. When we reach the critical point we stop suffering from imposter syndrome, feel more confident in our abilities, and (most importantly) keep developing our skills.

Most people stop cultivating their skills when they’re in the valley of disappointment but the ones who make it to the critical point can start to reap the benefits of their faith, consistency, and hard work.

I’ve seen this play out in a number of skills but I found this especially true in music production, hurdling, and cooking.

It can take weeks, months, or even years to get to the critical point. When I first took up music production, I was told that I would have to practice producing for 5 years before I would be able to compose, mix, and master a song from start to finish.

This was me kind of understanding The Expectancy Curve and The Valley of Disappointment years before I could articulate it. The idea of The Valley of Disappointment and taking 5 years before I could complete a song gave me a longer time frame for proficiency. This longer time frame is what made it easier for me to cut myself some slack. That freedom to make mistakes helped me grow. I always thought that made me a little insane but [Kobe Bryant] talks about having the freedom to make mistakes and how that leads to accelerated growth too.

This isn’t to say that The Valley of Disappointment isn’t a tough place to be. It’s easy to think all the work we’re putting in is futile and insane but it isn’t. The work we put in while we’re in the valley is exactly what gives us the ability to move out of it and enjoy the fruits of our labor later on. Deliberate practice is never wasted effort. Our efforts compound over time and this is especially true with skill development.

It’s difficult to move past The Valley of Disappointment but I do think as we learn more we find peace in our insufficiencies. The more I learned about music production, the more I realized that the experienced producers who said music production had a 5 year valley of disappointment were right. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. (Which totally applies to everything btw)

“Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” 

Chinese proverb

The whole idea is to stick with things for a while. Ask people in the field how long it took them to feel comfortable and confident in their position. I remember an ER doc saying it took him 10 years before he felt like he reach his critical point. Proficiency take time.

I find that knowing The Valley of Disappointment exists helps me get through it. The upset is temporary and I know I’m right around the corner from being a badass.

5 More Tips for Better Scheduling

“There are two types of time: alive time and dead time. One is when you sit around, when you wait until things happen to you. The other is when you are in control, when you make every second count, when you are learning and improving and growing.”

Robert Greene (1959 – )

If you haven’t read my other post about scheduling you can find it here -> 5 Tips for Better Scheduling. I believe that scheduling is a skill that needs to be developed over time. Over the years, I have found a few things that work best for me. One thing I love about scheduling is that it’s a metaskill, meaning getting better at scheduling will help with your other skills too! So here are 5 more tips for better scheduling – take what you love and leave what you don’t.

Change Your Repeating Unit of Time

A balanced life, the ideal of many people. But what does it mean to live a balanced life? If we were to take a 24 hour period and divide up the time based on what was important to us, what would that day look like? Most people work an average of 8 hours per day and sleep for the same amount. So if we did the math, after working and sleeping we’re only left with 8 hours for the rest of our lives. How much of that do we want to spend with our families? Or making art? Or watching TV? Or reading books? How much can we actually accomplish in 8 hours? It’s pretty much impossible to have a balance life this way. There are only so many hours in the day. But what if we used more than a day?

We have 24 hours in a day, so in a week we have 168 hours. If we subtract 8 hours per day for sleeping and working, then we are left with 56 hours for the rest of our lives. I find it a lot easier to think about my time in terms of weeks and not days. 56 hours is much easier to work with than 8. Another thing about this scheduling hack that I love, is if the 56 hours still aren’t enough time for you, then you can observe the repeating unit of time as two weeks and you have 112 hours to deal with.

Let me break this down further.

If we considered Monday at midnight to be the beginning of the week, then the middle of the week is Thursday at noon. So don’t stress if the first half of your week is a little unbalanced, you can make up for in during the second half of the week.

Hour Sweet Median Dots (2019) – Christopher S. Mukiibi

A balanced life is a myth (for the most part). Sometimes the key is a paradigm shift and a little self restraint. We can’t live our entire lives in a day, but thankfully we’ve been given more than one.

Internalize Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law comes from Cyril Parkinson’s The Economist, which basically states that:

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

I noticed this whenever I put my assignments off untill the last minute.

It would go something like…my professor would give me 30 days to do an essay. I spend 29 of them (if I’m being honest) doing nothing for the paper. The night before the due date, my anxiety kicks in and my adrenaline fueled hands bust out the 20 page monster in less than 12 hours. Thankfully, I kicked this habit by the time my semester-long chemical engineering senior design project came along – that probably wouldn’t have been finished in 12 hours.

This phenomena is seen all over the world, from people of all ages, and in all fields of expertise. People tend to use up all of the time they plan for something. Most people have an 8 hour workday but don’t need all 8 hours to do their work, yet it takes them 8 hours anyway.

This is why deadline and due dates can be useful. Whenever we see that we are at risk for experiencing something really painful like embarrassment or a misstep, we get down to the really important parts to get our goal accomplished. When we procrastinate the night before a paper is due, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about which font to use or even which words could best convey our ideas. We just focus on getting the entire paper done as a whole. When it comes down to it, there is something that activates within us, cuts the fluff, and gets shit done.

Set deadline that seems a little too short. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done.

However, beware of the planning fallacy – we aren’t good at predicting how long things will take. Sometimes we will need more time for a project and sometimes we don’t. Parkinson’s Law is not like gravity. It’s more of a rule of thumb that tends to happen if we aren’t being 100% intentional. I have this small theory that this can apply to bags when I pack clothes too or money I budget for a trip, but those are for another time.

Maintain an Impeccable Calendar

When I first started to schedule things, my calendar quickly turned into something that I couldn’t trust. When I got a notification to study or work on a project, part of me wasn’t sure if I really needed to be doing that thing so I didn’t. Over time, my calendar wasn’t reliable and honestly just an extra burden in my life. This is when I found the importance of maintaining an accurate and updated calendar. Scheduling is meant to be a tool to help you, not an extra chore or another “right things to do.” Our calendars can only help if they are reliable, and they can only be reliable if we take time to make sure the inputs are accurate, specific, and updated. If not, they’ll turn into just another hurdle and not only will it be a hindrance in our lives but our calendars could actually make things worse!

So keep a good relationship with your calendar. Trust it and put in the effort to make it something that you trust. It can help keep you on the path.

Nothing is Too Small To Schedule

This is something that took me a little while to really understand. One of my mentors even told me this when I first started using my calendar consistently. I used to just schedule the big things (e.g. lectures, work, client meetings, etc.) and honestly, I thought it was a waste of time to schedule in the small things. I figured, as long as I had the big events covered then I was good. But as the fate of all false perspectives, this wasn’t sustainable over time and I found myself in a worse position. My schedule wasn’t working for me the way it should and I felt more pressure trying to keep it up.

So I took my mentor’s advice and started to schedule the small things like texting my boss back, rewriting a song lyric, or uploading something to the internet. This brought my scheduling game to a new level. My calendar became an extension of myself. Whenever I get the feeling like I’ll forget something, no matter how small it is, I put it right in my calendar. Now, the only time I forget to do something is if I forget to schedule in my calendar. Still human right?

Always Set Alerts – the More Obnoxious the Better

I like to set alerts for when to leave. Smart phones usually update as the traffic changes so we can be alerted when we need to leave a little earlier. This is super helpful (if you trust technology like that). In order to get the notifications to leave and when traffic changes, you must set the location of the event. This goes with the Be Specific as Possible tip from the last scheduling post. Give your calendar as much information as it can and let the technology do the work for you.

Usually, I am 100% against notifications. Notifications are terrible for our productivity and mental health. I have all notifications of my phone shut off except for 2. The notifications constantly grab at our attention forcing our minds to task-switch which prevents us from doing any real deep work or being present.

The 2 notifications I still keep on my phone are when my bank account balance falls under a certain amount and when it is time to leave for the next event on my calendar. The first one is so I can make sure no fishy business is happening with my money and the second is to make sure that I am punctual to my appointments. I like to use the Apple calendar app synced with my gmail account so I can have my calendar on all my devices.

5 Tips for Better Scheduling

“These things, they take time.”

Gabe Newell (1962 – )

It took me about 3 years before my scheduling skills were good enough to actually rely on my calendar. Today, scheduling is an integral part of my daily life and it’s a skill I’m happy I decided to take some time to develop. With better scheduling came better performances at work and school, plus I was forgetting less and never double booking myself. Here are 5 tips from my years of practice.

A few lessons from years of experimentation and research…

Start by Scheduling High Priority Events First

When I build a schedule, I start by scheduling the highest priority events first. This ensures that I have enough time to get the important stuff done. Everything else comes after. If I didn’t know what to schedule first, I would take some time to reflect on what I would be proud of accomplishing by the end of the day. The famous business consultant, Jim Collins, says “If you have more than three priorities you have no priorities.” Get clear if you aren’t. Open a fresh schedule and start with the important things. During my semesters sessions in college, I’d make sure I would schedule my classes first. Nowadays, when I’m building a new schedule I start with my work schedule on the ambulance since it’s the least flexible commitment I have.

Plan Everything to the End

I cannot even begin to express the amount of half-baked plans that have ruined otherwise great days. From not studying everything I should for my exams to wasting time being bored with my friends, not planning to the end has totally blindsided me time after time.

Robert Greene talks about the utility in planning to the end in his book The 48 Laws of Power, which is on my Must Read List. It’s Law 29 and I highly suggest checking out the whole book, at least that chapter.

It really would have helped if I took the extra 5 to 10 minutes (or even 40 minutes) to bring my plan all the way rather than complacently telling myself “ah, this is good enough.” Planning everything to the end helps with managing overwhelm and gives you a clear finish line. Just the planning to the end in itself (not even executing your plan) is a great exercise in patience and foresight.

Immediately Schedule when a Task will be Done

And by immediately I mean right when you find out you have to do it, schedule it. I like to put it down in some free space for then readjust it to a more reasonable spot once I get a free moment. If done properly, this prevents me from forgetting the little things that slip through the cracks. And as long as I maintain integrity within my calendar, I can consider that task already done. Honestly, I probably open my calendar app more than any other app!

This really helped in college when I was drowning from the flood of assignments. I would always ask myself “Where am I going to find the time to do all of this?” As long as I scheduled something in my calendar, and I knew myself as the kind of person that follows through on my commitments, then I didn’t have to worry about how or when this was going to get done. This little tweak helped me be more present, which allowed me to perform better in classes and have more fun when I was enjoying my leisure time.

Be as Specific as Possible

Set up a time AND place. Be as specific as possible. Leave nothing up to choice when you schedule something. I find that having to make decisions increases resistance.

For example, if I wanted to study I am going to

  • schedule a time I am going to start and stop
  • decide which library to go to
  • which chair to sit in
  • which back-up chair to sit in
  • which subject to study.

When you schedule something, do yourself a favor and make as many of the decisions early on as possible so it can be an effortless process when you’re on the go.

I want to leave as little decisions for Future Chris as possible because he will do anything he can to wiggle out of a less than ideal situation.

Best selling author and social psychologist researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson argues, it is not enough just to articulate what needs doing, it also requires clearly laying out what needs to be done, by who and by when. This is know as If-Then Planning. Halvorson also makes many decisions early on too. Planning the choices that I make has saved me tons of time! This is a huge secret for getting myself to do what I say I’m going to do.

Schedule Entropy Management & Downtime

First, let’s learn a little bit about thermodynamics. There are three (kinda four) main laws of thermodynamics, but we’re just going to focus on the 2nd law for now.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that the entropy of the universe, if viewed as an isolated system, increases over time.

So what’s entropy?

Entropy – en·tro·py /ˈentrəpē/ – noun – lack of order or predictability.

The first time I heard of entropy was during the thermodynamics unit in my AP chemistry class. Actually, I was absent that day and my classmate, Matt, explained it to me. He told me the easiest way to think about it is as a measure of randomness. The more entropy there is, the crazier things are. I think its so funny that there’s a way to measure how chaotic something is.

So what does this all mean?

It means everything gets more chaotic over time. This applies to your calendars, finances, grades, anything. Don’t believe me? Just watch what happens to your room if you don’t clean it for a year. You could neglect anything for a month and watch entropy increase indiscriminately.

The natural state of things is that they decay and become more entropic. It is not the default state for things to get better, or ever work properly. So we have to actively maintain the entropic growth that naturally occur in our calendars.

Yportne (2019) – Christopher S. Mukiibi

How do we stop our lives from getting too chaotic?

The best way to manage the chaos is to schedule time to manage it. Since we are aware that things get more chaotic over time, we know that we have to set aside time to restore order.

I literally schedule time in my calendar to clean up any of the inaccuracies or mistakes in my calendar. Just like when we have to do our laundry, clean our rooms, or take showers, we need to set time aside to clean up our calendar so it can help us. I like to schedule in an entropy management (EM) session at least once every two weeks.

Sometimes I have longer time periods when I don’t have an EM session but then I notice my life starts feeling more stressful.

Some quintessential signs that I needed an EM sesh were:

  • feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted
  • accidentally double booking myself or miss appointments
  • forgetting to do my assignments
  • feeling spread too thin
  • feeling like I’m reaching my limits

Scheduling downtime is a concept for the people, like me, who get so excited when working on something that they forget to attend to their other responsibilities. Honestly, sometimes I forget to eat, sleep, or even go to the bathroom when I’m pulled into my zone.

Downtime is a time of inactivity or reduced activity in order to recover and allow better performance for the primary function.

Sleep is a fantastic example of downtime in nature. Our bodies have to rest for roughly 8 hours a day to function properly. There have been plenty of studies done that explain how terrible losing sleep is for us. Creativity is one of the first things to go when we don’t allow ourselves time to rejuvenate, and when we lose creativity, we lose our ability to problem solve. If you are interested in how sleep affects us, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Matthew Walker’s research on sleep. It’s alarming to say the least.

I schedule downtime every single day. I usually have my downtime at the end of the day (after 10pm), but sometimes I’ll take a few moments throughout my day if things run a little ahead of schedule. I like to give myself some contingency time in between my scheduled events. I simply leave an extra 15 (sometimes 30) minutes in between some of the events just account for this.

I’m not as efficient, but it takes real life into account. Sometimes things run a little longer than expected or shit happens and we will need that extra time to make up for it.

Plus, if we don’t have a few extra minutes to enjoy a beautiful moment in our lives, then do we really have a life at all?

This is a skill like everything else and takes a while to become proficient. Remember, it took me 3 years before I could really count on my scheduling skills. The first 3 years were months of me making mistakes and figuring out what works best for me. I’m still tweaking things and developing myself in this skill every day and every day that I do, I am making my life a little easier in the future. Scheduling is for everyone, we just need to figure out what works best for us as individuals.