Scope and Scale of Plans and Activities

Inspired by Eames’ “Powers of Ten” I explore the scope and scale of plans and activities based on duration. I take a one hour duration as the starting point and look at a factor or 10,000 in each direction: from 1/300 of a second to 10,000 hours.

Source: Powers of Ten (which was inspired by “Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps” by Kees Boeke)

I remember watching this film in high school and having it change my perspective. I thought I would try and look at not distances but durations in the context of planning tasks and individual (and organizational) objectives. I set one hour as the zero point and looked at a factor of 10,000 in either direction. The yellow background cells are the powers of ten, the blue hold other durations that I thought should be included for “human scale” activities.

of 10
Duration Human Scale / Meaning Flow/Plan
-5 0.03 seconds Subliminal Perception Flow
-4 0.3 seconds Keystroke Flow
-3 3 seconds Read a headline or a tweet Flow/Habit
-3 to -2 Other useful durations in seconds: 10, 15, 20
-2 30 seconds a very small task Flow/Habit/Checklist
-2 to -1 Other useful durations: 1 minute, 90 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes
-1 6 minutes a small task Flow/Plan/Checklist
-1 to 0 Other useful durations in minutes: 10, 15, 20, and 30
0 1 hour a medium task Flow/Plan/Checklist
0 to 1 Other useful durations: 90 minutes, 2 hours, 4 hours
1 10 hours one day’s work Flow/Plan
1 to 2 Other useful durations: 2 days, one week
2 100 hours two weeks or a fortnight Plan
2 to 3 Other useful durations: one month, one quarter (13 weeks), six months, nine months
3 1,000 hours 20 weeks (no natural analog) Mission/Plan
2 to 3 Other useful durations: one year, 18 months, two years
4 10,000 hours 4 years – a career at one company
a high school or  college education
enough deliberate practice to develop expertise
5 100,000 hours 40 years – a career Mission

I think the time scales break down into five overlapping domains:

  • Mission: significant accomplishments that require sustained effort over a long period of time.
  • Plan/Strategy:  objectives that require a written plan that is revised in response to results to accomplish.
  • Flow/Proficiency: short term objective that can be accomplished as the result of a single concentrated effort, the plan can essentially be kept in your head, and one outcome is often learning and increased proficiency.
  • Habit: an action that is done autonomously and often without conscious awareness or control.
  • Checklist:  a sequence of actions that may overload short term memory or is executed under significant time pressure or with high risk of failure. Normally written down to ensure compliance.

There are also recurring cycles that are not accounted for that can trigger habits or team or organizational actions

  • Hourly
  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Quarterly
  • Yearly

This is an attempt to map out project and process duration as well as task length and an individual’s ability to remain in flow. Whether you are planning a meeting, your day, a project, a startup, or your life, time is the single irreplaceable resource. Understanding how different durations stack and recur in cycles is part of that.

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