Beware Tractability Bias | Scott H Young - Deepstash
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Measuring Progress

Measuring Progress

We all crave progress. That craving distorts what and how we work on things. Vital pursuits with less tangible progress are frequently sidelined for trivialities we can check off a to-do list.

It's like waiting for a computer task to complete. Wouldn't it be harder if the progress bar weren’t even there?

Progress itself is good. But it is more easily measured in some pursuits than others. This leads to Tractability bias—the tendency to focus on pursuits with more conspicuous progress.


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Sieging The Castle

Sieging The Castle

Imagine a task of sieging a castle. First you try the front gate, and get repelled. Then you try the ramparts on the side. You dig tunnels and construct battering rams. Progress is zero until you finally break through.

Frustrations and fatigue mount with each failure. If success doesn’t arrive soon, it's easy to abandon the fight.

The choice between easy raids and hard sieges appears in our work as well - The routine tasks to tick off versus the real work that makes your career.


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Tractability = 1/Opportunity

Tractability = 1/Opportunity

A task could be broken down. And by exploring difficulties it entails, the space becomes more valuable as the competition reduces. Tractable tasks are easier. But that also means there is more competition. Paul Graham argues this to be a major factor behind the success of companies like Stripe.

Not all important work is intractable. But it is the intersection of intractability and importance that stymies us. Paying deliberate attention to that overlap matters, because we’re more likely to neglect it.


154 reads

Making Real Work More Tractable

Making Real Work More Tractable

We can make changes in our productivity systems to shift away from the easy satisfaction of checking off to-do items.

  1. Elevate the status of your sincere attempts. Measure your day with progress than hours, this naturally pushes to more tractable tasks.
  2. Narrow your focus to the “real” work. Keep a deep work tally. It prevents you from counting emailing and others that distorts away from more central challenges.
  3. Simply stop tracking. If a metric misleads, it may be better to stop paying attention to it. If counting the books read is keeping you from doing the important tasks, stop counting.


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Thinking Real Progress

Thinking Real Progress

It’s hard to feel progress when sieging a castle. With multiple attempts, failures teach you one more thing that wouldn't work in the situation. One would have to wait for failures to end and a breakthrough to finally come. There’s no progress bar because the distance is still unknown.

Real progress occurs when we hold the maxim that it is better to fail at what matters than to succeed at something trivial.


151 reads



Neuropsychology and Employees |Understanding passions and habits


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