Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Innate Estimation

When we consider how long something is going to take us, we estimate it. Many times it is purely subconscious, but if you stop and think about it, we all do it all the time:


The light is yellow, let me see, do I have time to get through it before it is completely red?


I gotta pick up Maggie from school at 3. I can be 5-10 minutes late and she won’t be too grumpy, but more than that and it will be apocalyptic. If there is no line at the drive-thru, I can manage stopping at the Bank on the way.


I told them this morning that I would have this task done. It isn’t all that hard and I still have all afternoon. I don’t actually need to be out of here until 6 tonight, so, yeah, I can do lunch in the city.


When we estimate, do we actually consider potential interruptions? Now a day, no one stops their car to answer their cell phone, whether they should or not; so incoming calls do not impact arrival times unless they are directly associated with safety; however, incoming calls while you are working on an assignment do delay – Driving is a tactile activity that though we shouldn’t, we can successfully complete it at a more subconscious level. (Have you ever pulled into your driveway from a particularly harrowing day and realized that you don’t remember any facet of the commute?) Development work is knowledge work and though the brain is the best multi-processor ever, it is best at multi-processing subconscious and below. Once tasks need the actual conscious power of the brain, you gotta really concentrate (always check your oxygen levels!). I can walk, and talk, and chew gum, but I have never learned to play the piano with two hands – I can’t even multi-task a melody and a harmony in a seamless fashion!


When we estimate tasks, we naturally take many things into consideration. We look at various scenarios. Above, in my three examples, the first and the third address happy path because those are the ones I find more personally satisfactory: I don’t want to wait another light cycle; I want to do lunch with Ellen. The second addresses the non-happy path; but if you really look at it, the personal happy path is I can get my bank errand done and only inconvenience Maggie a little – so I will risk a sad path for her to give myself a happier path!

2 Comments:

Blogger Jerry D. Odenwelder Jr. said...

Matthew,
I think there is an un-finished sentence in the last paragraph. Perhaps the result of a task switch :-)

3:03 PM  
Blogger mgelbwaks said...

You were right. Initially, I thought it was a result of the sporatic network connection, but I read over the text version and it was there as well. Ceratainly a task switch - I was tempted to leave it for posterity, but I was too embarrassed!

4:53 AM  

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