Business Productivity: Hofstadter's Law



How long is your list of goals? It’s probably a mile long… or close to it. How long is your to-do list at the start of the day? You might start the day smiling because you think you’re going to get everything done. You’re motivated and pumped up, right?

Not so fast. There’s something called Hofstadter’s Law to contend with. If you constantly find yourself with huge goals and to-do lists that you’re sure you can get done…but you’re constantly missing the mark, missing deadlines, and feeling frustrated with your lack of productivity, then Hofstadter’s Law is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to.

Hofstadter’s Law states: “it always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

In short, this law states that we have a hard time figuring out how long it will take us to do complex tasks. The “law” was meant to relate to programmers, but entrepreneurs certainly see a lot of it as well. It can be very frustrating.

Much of what we do in business and marketing is complex and time-consuming. We think we can do important tasks within a certain amount of time, but it doesn’t happen, for whatever reason.

We know that deadlines are important because our tasks expand to fit the amount of time we have available (Parkinson’s Law). But we also know we tend to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task. How do these things work together? It depends on how you approach it— it depends on what skills you have, what kind of pressure you feel, and how motivated you are to get it done.

It’s All a Little Too Much

We usually have way too many things on our to-do lists. We have too many goals and too many distractions in life. When there’s so much going on, and so many distractions, it becomes impossible to accurately estimate the amount of time it will take us to complete a task. It becomes impossible to do anything at all, actually because it’s so paralyzing.

There will always be situations that arise that we couldn’t have expected. This can be very frustrating and take us far off course, leading us to wonder what is wrong with us—it’s easy to feel like a failure. We usually plan with great optimism and think that this time, we’re going to achieve our goals. But we fail.

That’s why it is so important to learn how to become more productive. You have to learn to set firm deadlines for yourself in a fun and interesting way. You need to learn to drop unimportant tasks so you can focus on what’s important. You have to know exactly what you want to achieve and where you’re going in your business.

The Power Of The Human Mind Will Carry You

The human mind is incredible. It can take you places you never thought you could possibly go. You can achieve things you never thought you could achieve. Understanding Hofstadter’s Law and using deadlines in the right way will be a revelation for you.

Becoming more efficient and productive will help you get more done so you can earn more. You’ll also be able to work much less overall than you work right now. You’re going to be as efficient as a Swiss timepiece. This isn’t about theory— this is about getting down to business and making it happen. Let’s get started.

Improving Your Sense of Time

People with productivity problems and who find themselves victims to Hofstadter’s Law often have a lack of understanding about time. You start your day excited about all the things you’re going to complete. You have a list of ten things to do, but you have no doubt that you're going to complete them all.

But then you get to the end of the day and realize you’ve only done half of the things on your list. You worked hard, so what happened?

Dealing With Poor Time Estimation

It’s very likely that you poorly estimated how much time it would take you to complete the tasks on your list- Hoftstadter’s Law strikes again. It’s true that once you become more productive, and fine tune your skills of productivity, you can get much more done than you ever thought possible. But you also have to be realistic about it.

Some people are born with a naturally poor sense of time. They tend to show up late for events and appointments, have trouble getting ready and getting out the door in the morning, can’t meet deadlines, and don’t accomplish things within the time frame they thought they would.

Everyone Perceives Time Differently

First, realize that everyone perceives time differently. Sure, we all have a clock, but that’s only loosely related to how you feel about time in a certain moment. You, as an individual, have a different perception of time right now than you did the last time you were working on a major project.

You have a different perception of time right now than you did while you were watching your favorite TV show and waiting to find out the answer to the latest cliffhanger. Your perception of time depends on what you're doing at the moment, how you perceive what you’re doing, your nature, and a variety of other factors.

Improving Your Perception of Time

You can improve your perception of time, including how long a task will take you to complete, by becoming more aware of the reality of your projects.

Challenge yourself to complete your projects within a certain period of time. Adjust your estimates as you gain experience and develop systems to work better and faster. Timing yourself and setting time limits is a fantastic way to enhance your perception of time, even if it’s not a strong suit of yours.

You Actually Don’t Want to Notice the Time At All…

Timing yourself and attempting to beat the clock is just the start of it. It’s your goal as a highly productive person not to notice the time much at all. You want to be able to get into such an excellent flow of work that the whole workday goes by without you even noticing. Absolutely anything could be happening around you, but you don’t notice or get distracted because you're so in tune with what you’re doing.

Timing yourself and beating your “best time” and not paying attention to the time at all may be polar opposites, but they’re both necessary. Timing yourself and making a game of it can improve your understanding and perception of time, the reality of time, and how much you can accomplish within a certain timeframe. Get better at ignoring distractions so you can beat the clock and you’ll naturally enter a state of flow in your work— that’s your ultimate goal.

Are You Scared Of Your Work?

Scientists have also looked into how our emotions affect how we perceive time. If you're afraid or fearful, time seems to slow down. Your body even enters into fight or flight mode. If you're fearful of your work, fearful of failing, or fearful of success, these things can affect you.

Be mindful of how you approach your work and feel about your work and how that affects how you view the time it takes you to complete your work. If your work is in line with what you love, feel good about, and look forward to, time will pass much more easily and you’ll be able to get a lot more done.

Sometimes, you think you can get a lot more done than you actually can. Other times, you think you can do next to nothing, but really you just need to push yourself.

Be more mindful of time and what seems to speed it up or slow it down for you. Test and track how this works in your business and you’ll be able to more readily enter the flow state where the passage of time means nothing at all, except that it goes by in the blink of an eye and you’ve produced some fantastic work.

To “Beat” Hofstadter’s Law…

Hopefully, you now have a solid understanding of what this is all about. Start to think about how this law applies to your life and the way you work. I think you’ll see some patterns there.

Find ways to cut down on the tasks you have to do by focusing on what’s most important and leads to the most income and success in your business. De-stress your life. Work on things that make you feel good and in tune with what you’re doing.

Find ways to create systems in your business so you can get more done in less time. Be aware of the passage of time and learn to navigate time through the lens of your nature and the habits, both good and bad, that you’ve fallen into.

Most importantly, give yourself a break. If you’re constantly missing deadlines and struggling with your work, just relax. You’re a work in progress. Be more realistic with yourself and with your current capabilities. Then, take steps to improve your productivity and mindset so you can accomplish so much more than you ever thought possible.