On Overestimating and Underestimating Yourself

“People often overestimate what they can get done in one year, and underestimate what they can get done in three.”

—something Paul Tevis told me

The quote about is apparently a common bit of wisdom runners share, which is where Paul heard that from, and it applies to other facets of life. One thing I’ve learned is that I’ve frequently overestimated how many work I can get done in a short period of time — something I’m much better at today, though I’m still learning how to juggle freelancing, the day job, convention crunch from both of those, self-publishing and wedding stuff.

When I feel overwhelmed, I come back to this quote from Paul. He said it to me sometime in 2011, and it has stuck with me ever since. When I’m feeling like I’m too consumed by work, I remember that I’m overestimating how much I can get done in a year, and that it’s okay for me to throttle down or shelve some stuff I’m working on, because that’s necessary for preserving my sanity… and sanity is a necessary component for getting the work complete and of quality.

The second half of that statement, that people underestimate what they can get done in three years, was curious when I first heard it, but I understand now. Many people are so focused on the short-term that they don’t realize the power of the long game. It’s a reminder that the progress we make in life is for keeps, and that if we can only achieve half of what we set out to do in a given year, over time that’s still a hell of a lot.

Impatience is part of human nature, especially the younger you are and the newer you are at something. It’s important that we keep in mind the natural tendency to overestimate in the short-term and underestimate in the long-term.

I hope Paul’s quote helps you as much as it has helped me.

– Ryan


2 Responses to On Overestimating and Underestimating Yourself

  1. I definitely find truth in the quote in my personal life, but was curious about its origin.

    I found Paul’s original post at http://paultevis.com/blog/2011/12/11/5k-after-ten-miles.html where he said that he heard it first on a list.

    Search further, It looks like in fact it may be a Bill Gates quote from the book “The Road Ahead”: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/302999-most-people-overestimate-what-they-can-do-in-one-year

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      That makes sense. It’s one of those koans that permeates many aspects of life, and I’ve seen that miscalculation botch many a software project.

      – Ryan

      (Looking at Paul’s post now triggers the memory around him saying it to me. I don’t remember when in the year — though definitely in 2011 — but I remember it was an early Sunday morning after an EndGame event, where he, Jeremy Tidwell, and I sat in the lobby of the decent hotel across the street. Memory is odd, made odder by the fact that Paul & I worked for months on his game about memory.)