Productivity Through Stake

~ 6 minute read.

The first 15 days of this year I spent pow­er­ing through my bach­e­lor’s the­sis, 15 hours per day, no ex­cus­es, su­per con­sis­tent­ly. I pre­pared ev­ery morn­ing by stack­ing my clothes for the next day to­geth­er with a sec­ond alarm on my phone in the bath­room. This way I had to get up with my first alarm to turn off the sec­ond be­fore it would go off and wake up my neigh­bor­hood or my room­mate.

“Ah, so your dead­line was on the 16th!”—you might say. No: I made a bet with my mom that I could pull it off in two weeks; my ac­tu­al dead­line was the 5th of Feb­ru­ary.

I rough­ly went like this:

When is the dead­line for your the­sis again? – Mom

Feb­ru­ary 5th, rough­ly a month left… – Jonathan

A month? Is that enough time? – Mom

Sure, if I want­ed, I could fin­ish it in two weeks. – Jonathan

Hah! I bet against that. – Mom

… – Jonathan

(f*ck) – Jonathan’s brain.

Ha! This brain is mine now! – Jonathan’s lim­bic sys­tem.

I that mo­ment, I un­der­stood that this was the ul­ti­mate op­por­tu­ni­ty to fi­nal­ly get this the­sis done. There is noth­ing, that can’t wait for two weeks, I was now able to tell ev­ery­body about the bet and they would un­der­stand why I didn’t want to go out or avoid oth­er so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties. Any in­com­ing re­quests could be post­poned to af­ter the 15th. Any projects I want­ed to work on in­stead would wait for me un­til then, al­so.

I was free to fo­cus on one thing. And I had a sus­pi­cion: the ego and pride I con­nect­ed to this bet would give me un­usu­al con­trol. With what I saw in a TED talk 1 on youtube and heared in the “Willpow­er In­stinct” 2 months la­teer, this now makes a lot of sense.

The stake: should I win, I want­ed my moth­er to let me do what­ev­er I want­ed ca­reer-wise. She is a more safe­ty fo­cussed per­son—reg­u­lar month­ly in­come in safe em­ploy­ment—and hence it was a longer process of acus­tom­ing to the plans of her en­trepreneuri­al­ly in­clined son. This was less the re­quire­ment of per­mis­sion, but would mark a sym­bol­ic point in time, af­ter which there was no doubt, that I would at least try the self-em­ploy­ment path.

In re­turn, I was sup­posed to get some pre­mi­um bathing salts. Prob­a­bly not a pret­ty fair bet, but since my mom might have want­ed that Bach­e­lor’s the­sis done more than I did…

I did pull it off and while my su­per­vis­ing doc­tor­and re­quest­ed some sig­nif­i­cant changes af­ter I sent him that ini­tial ver­sion on the 15th of Feb­ru­ary, the most im­por­tant work was done: I had “got­ten it out the door” and now had some­thing to it­er­ate on. See my blog post about Con­struct Ar­cade for why I be­lieve that is im­por­tant.

Clos­ing, here are two of the more painful anec­dotes around my bach­e­lor’s the­sis:

Not Early Enough

Do you know any­one who didn’t just in time fin­ish his the­sis for print­ing? I pride my­self in this be­ing rare.

Yet, a com­ment I got af­ter the pre­sen­ta­tion of the the­sis was that I didn’t hand in a draft in time to get feed­back. Yes, I did not ex­plic­it­ly re­quest feed­back from the pro­fes­sor as I ad­mit­ted­ly sort of re­mem­ber him men­tion­ing that this is some­thing I should do, but com­plete­ly had for­got­ten about. Af­ter men­tion­ing that I did send in a draft, I was ac­cused of “Well, two days be­fore the dead­line is not enough.”

I had more im­por­tant things to do than bitch about my grade be­ing af­fect­ed by this, so I kept my cool and dropped it. This shall serve as mem­o­ry min­utes of this sit­u­a­tion in­stead.

Af­ter a care­ful at­tempt at solv­ing this, I spec­u­late that my su­per­vis­ing doc­tor­and had mis­un­der­stood the email that in­clud­ed my draft and—be­ing busy and not hav­ing aware­ness of my dead­line date—thought the dead­line had to be im­mi­nent and there­fore see­ing it as too late to for­ward it to the pro­fes­sor or re­mind me that I could do so. This could there­fore all have been solved by men­tion­ing the dead­line in that email.

One way or an­oth­er, if any­body ends up not hir­ing me be­cause of my grade in my bach­e­lor’s the­sis out of all things I did, then it’s ap­par­ent­ly not the job for me. And that would pre­sume all my at­tempts at build­ing my own busi­ness­es fail, leav­ing me want­ing a job like that.

Bad Stats

Un­der pres­sure you are more like­ly to make mis­takes. As I ex­pect­ed or hoped for a cer­tain re­sult from my work on the the­sis, this al­so primed me to more read­i­ly ac­cept mea­sure­ments that would sup­port it.

So, I mea­sured and ac­ci­den­tal­ly flipped two la­bels in the mea­sure­ments, caus­ing the op­po­site of the ac­tu­al re­sults.

I am very glad that I no­ticed this in those two weeks that I had left be­fore hand-in. Even though I still be­lieve that with the nec­es­sary op­ti­miza­tions the pro­posed method can be su­pe­ri­or to clas­si­cal culling meth­ods (on some vir­tu­al re­al­i­ty head mount­ed dis­plays), I would have like­ly gone more pub­lic with this tech­nique, caus­ing this to bite me in a big way lat­er.

“En­ter the cult of ex­treme pro­duc­tiv­i­ty | Mark Adams”
“Willpow­er In­stinct” by Kel­ly Mc­Go­ni­gal Ph.D.

Writ­ten in 40 min­utes.