Michael He

March 21, 2022

Live for Three Weeks

Three weeks is as long as I can realistically manage my life.

When I properly analyze how my months go by, I see repetitions of two weeks or three weeks at a time, adding up to fifty-two or what have you. The marker is rather arbitrary, usually a major personal event, mood swing, or the start of some major project (and sometimes relating to academics and work). The weeks when I am consciously aware of my current priority and interest are much more meaningful and memorable. 

After deliberately doing that since the beginning of this year, I have a vague answer.

Three weeks is short enough to not get a lot of things done, but long enough to actually get something done. This makes it the building block of something bigger, like a LEGO piece. 

You cannot build a rocket in three weeks, but you can write a high-quality essay. However, you cannot write a book in three weeks (unless you are James Patterson with dozens of ghostwriters). That doesn't mean the essay is not ambitious enough. Do that once a month and you net yourself twelve high-quality essays, or enough material to actually publish as a book. 

Why not aim for a month then? Why not think even larger, in terms of quarters or even years? These questions are hard to answer, but I think it's got to do with neuroscience and our brain's capacity, especially relating to how habits, feedback loops, and neurochemicals work together. 

We are very short-sighted creatures, so long-term vision is hard to have in the first place. Meticulous future plans often derail us, as our preferences shift way too often to predict our behavior way down the line. That is why new year resolutions often fail. People who have so-called long-term outlook do not have extreme detailed vision of the future, but they stay firmly grounded in the principles that can lead to long-term positive results. 

But if three weeks is a good number, then why not shorten it to days or a week? We are surely likely to control each day even better!

Unfortunately, that also doesn't seem to work. Substantial progress does not rely on the count of individual days, or it wouldn't be substantial. More than one week gives a sort of continuity from a few days of work into a longer-term project (but not too long). 

At the same time, it unlocks something psychological in us, our rationale. We can start to plan and prepare for the near future, while still focusing on the present, which brings us the most satisfaction and productivity. 

That is why I will continue to live in three week chunks for now. It seems interesting enough! I have three more of these before graduation. Let me report back to you on the experience by then.