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Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them (2009) (sivers.org)
507 points by mhb 27 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 173 comments

I call them "Secret Plans". You gotta save up the emotional energy and reward. On so many projects, you get the same neuro-chemical reward by talking about your project plans and how cool the result will be, as you do by making progress. By holding out, and only allowing progress itself to be a reward, and not just the talking, I usually get much further. The project may still die, but then I have something in my hands usually, and that's more rewarding than a bunch of people who think I only talk about things and never start/do any of them. . .

The soft overcomes the hard.

The slow overcomes the fast.

Let your workings remain a mystery.

Just show people the results.

-- Tao Te Ching, Chapter 36, Stephen Mitchell translation (http://taoteching.org.uk/index.php?c=36&a=Stephen+Mitchell)

Compared with the others translation on the same chapter, Mitchell's translation supposedly conveys the meaning rather than being exact?

This is why I refuse to do stand ups

I found the best response to standups in a prior job was to randomise a delay about ongoing work. Simply talk about what you did 2-5 days ago (depending on urgency of things). This obfuscates your exact productivity and takes away organisational power from micro-managing bosses.

Whenever a manager comes in or there is a meeting to check on your progress, you can slice of something from your buffer to present. For every problem you present (from few days) ago, you can already present the solution.

Or, in other words: Your productivity is some process that you don't want to be observed directly by your manager, because you will suffer negative consequences from them detecting the exact amplitudes. You simply apply non-stationary smoothing to it.

How do you prevent commit timestamps or completed tickets from giving you away?

Lots of times, the folks micromanaging aren't the ones looking at git.

I am so glad I am not in a company that does standup Coz I am the tech lead hahahahaha

Very clever.

Engineering manager here. I think a lot of people miss the point of standup, or abuse it to somehow micromanage engineers.

Standup is for the team, not the manager or PM. It serves multiple functions, but the most important is the last bit: "are you blocked by something?". Most of the time, someone else on the team knows how to unblock you. Other times, your manager is better positioned to get you what you need than you are. Most of us don't care when you work, or how much progress you made today, or whatever. Our job is to keep the ball rolling, not manage your time.

The status update portion exists so that your manager doesn't randomize you in the middle of the day asking about that thing you're working on. Not because s/he thinks you're slacking, but because your work ties into a bunch of other work that's going on, and it's the manager's job to coordinate. While you may be more effective working as an information silo, your team and org are hindered by it.

> the most important is the last bit: "are you blocked by something?"

If you've waited until the next standup to raise a blocker, you've potentially wasted as much as a day of your time.

If I have a blocker that I need unblocked to get my work done, I'll immediately get in touch with the person or team that can help unblock me. If I don't know who that is, or need help coordinating, I'll go to my manager, again, immediately.

> The status update portion exists so that your manager doesn't randomize you in the middle of the day asking about that thing you're working on.

That's what the issue tracker / scrum board / kanban board / whatever you use is for. Certainly some people and teams are better and worse about keeping it up to date, but a solid incentive of "if you keep this up to date we won't have to do standups" will motivate most people. As much as I hate Jira, if you eliminate a meeting from my day that I consider a waste of time, in exchange for keeping it updated, I will definitely keep it updated.

For special cases, the manager can asynchronously ask their report on Slack (or whatever) what they're up to, and the report can answer when they're at a natural break point.

This whole "we all need to be face to face in the same place at the same time" nonsense needs to go. People are remote, people are in different time zones, and they still need to be able to participate naturally and asynchronously.

Yes, and.

If you figured that out yesterday then yes, you should absolutely go get help immediately.

Mentioning blockers in standup is about admitting you need help. Lots of developers have trouble figuring out when they're wrapped around the axle.

And it can be a little passive aggressive, but it's also a chance to point out that you've been asking for help and getting nothing. Basically you're warning the master/manager that your story is gonna slip if they don't start managing.

> Basically you're warning the master/manager that your story is gonna slip if they don't start managing.

This. But it doesn't have to be accusatory like that. It's a way to have opportunity for feedback without having to be pressed for feedback.

The best manager I ever had was great because he totally trusted his people. Standups were a non-intrusive way to keep the overall pulse and make himself available if he was needed...that way he didn't need to vulture around to make sure he could insert himself if needed.

I'll take planned and well used 5 minutes of direct management over compulsive and nervous micromanaging anyday.

You don't need standup to have a quick private chat with your manager to tell them you've been trying to get help on something for a while but no one is giving you the time of day. Again: communication is a part of any job. If you aren't communicating, and need a daily meeting to force you to do so, you are not doing your job and need better training.

It isn't so simple. We are developers, we are used to solve problems on our own. A lot of times I spend a lot of time solving a problem that a coworker already knows. And I don't know that he already knows.

IME standups are not even effective in unblocking most people.

Why would someone want to admit they're blocked by something in front of everyone? Someone else will inevitably proclaim that they have the solution, however simple it may be, and make the asker look stupid while elevating themselves.

Most people know who to ask to be unblocked or can ask their manager.

1:1s are the time to sync with regards to status on projects not in the middle of the day.

Weekly roundtable meetings are the time to sync up with the rest of the team and learn what everyone is working on.

The only purpose of standups is to slavedrive people into "productivity", which inevitably ends up with them thinking of how to hyperbolize whatever they're working on minutes before standup begins. Its useless.

I really hope you aren't using 1:1s as status meetings, that's the worst possible use of your time[1].

As a developer I've found stand-ups to be useful to know what's going on within the team and if feature A with collide with feature B.

[1] https://randsinrepose.com/archives/the-update-the-vent-and-t...

I disagree with your reading of the article. It does not say that providing status updates in 1:1s are the "worst possible use of time" anywhere.

Quoted from the article: "The point of this discussion is not to solve my Disaster, the point is that we’re going to have a conversation where one of us is going to learn something more than just project status."

Status updates are a conducive part of 1:1s and its the perfect time to get unblocked as the quote above duly points out.

As for learning about whether "feature A will collide with feature B", weekly/biweekly roundtables are the perfect time to learn about such things. The weekly cadence allows people to find time to collaborate on the possible overlap.

Lastly, I don't think the article is even that good. It seems to make up for its lack of interesting-ness by feigning conviction and edginess. The central point of the article is highly unusual in that it lauds novelty over pragmatism.

A 1:1 should be an environment where all of what the article talks about CAN take place. But that doesn't mean it SHOULD during every meeting.

Does your team communicate outside of the stand-up?

I usually know what everyone is working on (because of ticket assignments, code reviews, some occasional side meeting, etc), as I usually work with teams of 5 (or less) people.

yeah, for a lot of people, being blocked isn't a bug, it's a feature.

> Standup is for the team, not the manager or PM.

Nope. Never once in my career have I been at a standup that was useful to me (a contributing or leading member of the team) and that wasn't simply for the manager. Your second paragraph also contradicts the first. Is it for the manager or not? Cause it sure as hell is not for the team members who are bored out of their minds listening to the other people on their team speak about their work that 99.9% of the time is completely irrelevant to one's own. This is the reality form the IC side. Maybe managers should wise up to it and stop wasting our time.

Standups are an extreme lack of parsimony. IMO, weekly 1:1s and biweekly roundtable meetings are the right quanta to compress work into so that its relevant to the respective audiences. Most people learn to bullshit and zone out during standups. Daily standups don't make sense in anything but a rare and specific tight deadline.

>It serves multiple functions, but the most important is the last bit: "are you blocked by something?". Most of the time, someone else on the team knows how to unblock you

To preface, I'm assuming you are talking about daily standups. How often do you see this actually working for you? In most cases, if someone is blocked, then they would communicate that, either to a manager or a coworker. If someone is blocked for days at a time and doesn't communicate anything, thats a problem in and of itself.

I'd like to get more value from them, but most times the devolve into "status updates" and then all engineers end up blocked by the standup.

Blockers are not always obvious.

People don't always realize that their tasks is blocking someone else.

Often times when engineers are blocked, they work on a lower priority tasks while they wait. Sometimes that is a good thing but other times they get off track.

Spending 10 minutes every day resolving the communication and prioritization mismatches early helps deliver software faster.

With just weekly meetings, these issues could go unresolved for days.

This assumes people don't communicate when they get blocked, but wait 24hs to announce it in a meeting.

Yes, exactly. A lot of people don't do a good job communicating this sort of thing. It helps to have someone else ask you what's blocking your progress.

I mean, c'mon. We're not children. We're professional developers. If anyone I worked with waited even a day to raise a blocker on an urgent task, I'd think much less of their abilities.

I don't disagree.

But sometimes you have to do what you have to do to keep the organization moving forward.

It's another trade off, though: do you annoy your developers for what I believe is just a slight increase in velocity?

While I do know some developers who like (or at least get enough value from to tolerate) standup, I know many more who find them an annoying waste of time. For teams that do standup first thing in the morning, it even makes them want to go to work less. How's that for starting the day on the wrong foot?

Sure, adding meetings that affect the whole team instead of addressing someone's lack of communication is the way to go.

that meeting is supposed to only take 5 minutes, and it is only to discover the issue, not to address it. addressing the issue happens after the meeting with only the people who are actually involved.

5 minutes or 5 hours, an interruption is an interruption. My ideal day to be fully productive would've no meetings at all. I don't need each day to be an ideal day, just once a week (or more if at all possible). However, when there is an scheduled interruption each day every day, guess what?

Also, anything that feels like micro-management will be considered micro-management. A daily meeting to give a status report looks a lot like that.

at the beginning or end of the day? or before or after lunch break?

micro-management is if i tell you every single step that you should do, but a daily status-update is not

> at the beginning or end of the day? or before or after lunch break?

That could work if everyone gets at work at the same time (+/-30m) or if everyone takes lunch at the same time (+/-30m), which has not been the case in most of the companies I've worked for. It'd be better at the end of the day, assuming no one does extra hours, but then it's even less useful or at least it becomes obvious it's all about status-updates.

> micro-management is if i tell you every single step that you should do, but a daily status-update is not

It's a micro-management enabler. There's no way to know if it's used to pressure someone to deliver, or to do things a certain way, without working in that team.

The bottom line is that stand-ups are of very questionable use. There are just better, more effective ways to communicate what everyone is working on, what things are done, and when someone is blocked. i.e: ticket assignments, PRs, sporadic side meetings, asynchronous communication (Slack, emails, etc), etc.

It'd be better at the end of the day, assuming no one does extra hours, but then it's even less useful or at least it becomes obvious it's all about status-updates.

i disagree that doing it in the evening makes it less useful. it shouldn't matter much if i report resterdays work and my plan for today, or i report todays work and my plan for tomorrow.

and sure, people doing scrum wrong can use this as a way to enable micromanagement. but as has been mentioned elsewhere, the alternative is managers running around and interrupting you at will. it's not reasonable to blame daily standups for that and reject it just because it gets abused by some.

the kitchen knife analogy comes to mind...

i have had nothing but positive experience with daily standups. they help me focus and not spend days trailing off on a tangent or failing to ask for help because i am the junior, to shy to ask questions, or worse, harbor the feeling that no-one cares about my work. in other words, for me the daily standups acted as a team-integrator.

as a team leader and manager, daily standups help me be uptodate on what's happening, and save me from having to invest time to check myself. if anything, daily standups help me avoid micromanaging, because they satisfy my anxiety about the work being done without needing to be intrusive.

5 minutes of your time, that you can prepare for, so you are not surprised by it, and you'll be left alone for the rest of the day.

> Often times when engineers are blocked, they work on a lower priority tasks while they wait. Sometimes that is a good thing but other times they get off track.

Not in my experience. Most developers I work with will raise issues in Slack as they come up. That's part of what being an owner of your tasks is about: communicating issues early and often.

Senior developers can work like that, but junior engineers need more managing.

In this case I think it's the opposite: most junior developers I know are much quick (sometimes a little too quick) to ask for help when they're stuck, while a senior developer's ego might get in the way of raising a flag.

The comments in relation to the view of process and management from the general HN audience makes me feel for the challenges of being an effective engineering manager.

Perhaps you should also feel for the engineers, who constantly have to put up with managers who don't understand what motivates them, and yet has power over them with regard to firing, compensation, work assignments, etc.

My most effective managers have mostly left me alone, and have genuinely interacted me to learn what motivates me and helps me get my work done most effectively, and then has put me in the best position possible for me to be successful. An effective manager needs to do that, individually, with each member of their team.

Standups to me are just a way to ensure everyone is awake. And able to answer a simple question and make a sentence. I don’t exactly care about the contents, except from time to time when it makes us notice that a colleague is on a wrong track.

They have real value in building team: We are all standing around in a circle; our alignment means something.

They're also one of my easiest ways to include remote workers- they always go first. (the phone is part of the circle)

That's contrived and juvenile. Standing in a circle with my team engaging in process for the sake of process doesn't make me feel like a part of a team. Getting stuff done and working directly with teammates on a daily basis, coordinating in person, on Slack, however we choose to do it, organically, is what makes me feel closer to my team.

Aren't those contradictory? Someone talking on the phone clearly isn't standing in the circle with you.

I understand the benefit of standing together, but not if you're going to add an exception for someone talking on a phone from anywhere in the world. Physical alignment is a great metaphor for team alignment, and therefore physical absence shows me someone cares more about sitting on their porch with their dog than being part of the team at work.

Depends on the kind of person. Surely a lot of programmers do not care about that kind of contrived team building. Solving a high priority bug or patching a server during downtime typically builds closer bonds.

Well said. Trust falls bring great value as well.

This is certainly a position I've found myself in, there's a temptation to talk about ideas you intend to do, but the ones I get progress on are ones where I actually execute on the concept, telling people later once I have something solid to show, or I already have someone engaged asking me about progress.

The current commentary might be a personality specific thing however, I've certainly seen people discuss ideas as a forcing mechanism to get them to work on them, and also people discussing ideas as a way to evaluate whether they're worth working on. I doubt it's very clear cut.

I've always taken this for granted. Shut up and keep digging - you'll be digging that much harder.

Sure, once the whole thing is done, tout the horn all you want.

Reminds me of a quote from Sara Blakely:

“I was very careful right away, it was a gut instinct that I had, to keep it to myself because I believe ideas are most vulnerable in their infancy, and it’s instinct to turn to your right or left in that moment and tell a friend, or tell your husband, and the moment you do that ego is invited into the mix, and then you end up spending all your time defending it, explaining it, and not pursuing it”

How I Built This podcast (9m20s)

I have definitely had my battles with people who want to poke holes in my plans, rather than support me. They think they're helping me, but they aren't. They're just killing my enthusiasm.

If I'd been left to try, I'd have worked hard at it, had an experienced, learned some things, and maybe even accomplished it. Instead, they did their best to stop me.

I now snap at people who do this to me. I no longer let them throw problem after problem at me, and instead shut them down before they can destroy my dream.

I accomplish a great many of the things I try, and I get exercise and knowledge from the failures.

That's too bad. I invite criticism of my projects, because I want to make sure I'm not fooling myself. Other people's perspective can shine new light on a problem and force you to reconsider the idea, hopefully leading to improved design.

It's very delicate because from personal experience most projects are likely to fail, and most projects start way over ambitious (almost a natural bias). What takes lots of experience to learn is also that that's not necessarily a problem. It's ok to fail sometimes, and it's ok to be overambitious at the beginning and scale back to achievability, most of the time.

Initial ambitions largely set an upper bound on whole project possibilities -- you generally want upper bounds set pretty high. All projects have unknown unknowns that will reveal themselves, and modeling this kind of meta-knowledge is difficult and perhaps not worth the effort.

So to offer a general counterpoint, it may be a valuable skill to listen to constructive advice including ones poking holes in your ideas. The key is to persevere in the face of problems, as long as they're not obviously intransposable (tip: don't go against laws of physics, e.g. thermodynamics or newton's laws). If those hurdles would come up sometime, it might be better to devote more time early on to overcome them.

This makes sense to keep in mind. It seems like there's a danger that some personalities will pursue a goal single-mindedly if there are absolutely no critical obstacles in their way. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Fyre Fest incident comes to mind. If the leads on that project had encountered more "No" would they have stopped, or at least scaled back, to something more achievable? This presumes positive intent in that case, though, which I'm not too sure of there.

When I'm ready for criticism, usually after a failure or partial failure, I invite it. Sometimes I even run my plans by people, looking for problems.

But if I'm not actually inviting that criticism, it is neither welcome nor helpful.

This very much depends on how motivated you are by external validation. For some people, the fear of losing social capital by not following through on a public commitment is motivating enough to accomplish stretch goals.

Source: used this technique to overcome my own procrastination trying to launch my first app as a solo founder. It worked, and I went on to raised a million VC to see if I could scale up the vision of a social goals app.

The downside of relying on external validation, as I learned the hard way, is when your self improvement startup goes down in flames, you really feel like a fuckup.

I announce my projects so people can tell me how stupid I am and it makes me more determined to succeed and show them how they are actually the ones who are stupid. I guess I'm petty like that.

I feel that. One could argue that all ambitious entrepreneur types are motivated at least partly by a burning desire to prove that the other guy or “the system” is in fact the asshole.

I don't agree. True ambition is very self centered, almost egotistic. The detractors never have as much invested as you and are largely irrelevant. You don't do it because they say you can't, you do it because they don't even exist.

Shouldn't you be doing this as a positive for yourself, instead of for a negative, external motivator?

Defiance. Often a negative trait, sometimes a motivator. Learn to control and harness it.

Ultimately, if you feel like you gave it your all until the end, whether you made the correct decisions or not, then in my opinion it was a good journey. Think of everything you learned in the process and how it's helped you since then! The opinions of people who don't understand that don't matter.

please tell me you called your app "GoalTender", if it involves payouts for social goals.

Not bad, except the thesis involved social capital, not actual cash.

The actual app was “mafia” branded, playing off of Mafia Wars which was big at the time. Your friends on the app would motivate you with virtual gifts and (naturally) virtual threats, like posting a dead fish on your wall.

This article treats all types of announcements as being equal. Not so!

A hazy announcement like "I'll be doing more to fight climate change" may indeed be empty virtue signaling that leads to nothing.

But what about a more precise announcement like: "I'll be writing a book on Topic X, which I plan to publish 15 months from now, and I'll be completing one chapter on the 25th of every month until then"? Now we've got intermediate deadlines, and deliverables, and at least the first stirrings of a coherent plan.

Announcements can work quite well, as long as you're willing to commit with enough clarity that your friends and rivals will keep you honest.

> But what about a more precise announcement like: "I'll be writing a book on Topic X, which I plan to publish 15 months from now, and I'll be completing one chapter on the 25th of every month until then"? Now we've got intermediate deadlines, and deliverables, and at least the first stirrings of a coherent plan.

As a data point, if I did this, it would probably make me much less likely to work on it and very anxious about the whole thing.

> "I'll be writing a book on Topic X, which I plan to publish 15 months from now, and I'll be completing one chapter on the 25th of every month until then"?

I did something similar when I began my first book. It accomplished nothing. I ended up stalling for several years.

What helped was a private commitment to myself to work on the book every day. It's definitely important to have a plan, but that's orthogonal to sharing a plan.

> your friends and rivals will keep you honest.

This depends on your friends, but I think at least in the US, most friendships are based on uncritical support. They aren't likely to cause friction by calling you on things you previously committed to doing unless that commitment actually affects them personally.

Maybe that's the way to use your social network to keep you honest. Make a commitment like: "If I finish this project by date X, I will contribute $YYYY to your favorite charity." Now your friend has some skin in the game.

Not the least reason is that you've constrained yourself to Topic X due to your own announcement.

Anecdotally, I think you've got the examples wrong.

For me, announcing specific projects that I'm working on definitely demotivates me. After announcing personal projects that may or may not fully happen, it feels like I'm then working for others who have expectations, rather than for myself. That's not fun.

But telling people about things like changes to my lifestyle are different. I feel like it almost even helps to have people ask me if I'm still working out, motivation to fulfill that expectation.

Maybe it's because in the first example, what I want to accomplish requires creativity, while in the second, it only requires regimen. Expectations of my regimen challenge me to work, expectations of my creativity feel like boundaries, which are antithetical to the creative process.

> feel like boundaries, which are antithetical to the creative process.

I agree with your overall point, but I wanted to point out that this is precisely backwards. Boundaries are essential to creativity. In a way, they are the source of creativity.

Or maybe I should say it as: the imposition and refinement of self-imposed boundaries is the creative process -- from the vast sea of all possibilities, you are winnowing down to one, the thing that you produce at the end. Artificial or external boundaries at the outset just give you a head start.

But that doesn't change your point, just the terminology. I agree that announcing projects can be highly demotivating. It's sort of like the winnowing process above is no longer happening exclusively in my own head, but rather I become dependent on what's going on in others' heads in order to match what I think their expectations are.

After telling someone else, half of the sea of possibilities is gone -- but I'm not sure which half, and drive myself crazy guessing. As you say, I'm now at least partly working for others instead of myself.

That's separate from the problem where announcing a cool project delivers much of the payoff, reducing motivation to work on it.

Yeah I think you're right on that. Challenge a pop musician to make a song using only a banjo and a synth and they'll produce something cool and unexpected. Good cuisine has come over time from the scarcity of food, and people putting effort into making what little they have taste good. Etc.

Everything that looks like genius from a distance is 95% craft when you see it up close.

The problem is that if the person is looking for some sort of validation, and the responses from people are ho-hum (or, worse, negative) that has a demotivating effect.

"Nobody is excited about my plan now; nobody will care when it gets done; why bother."

Alternately, people will be excited and encouraging for someone's announced plans, and the execution will feel like it's all downhill.

It's interesting that the GP mentioned that climate stuff is "virtue signalling", but announcing that you're writing a book is beneficial. Both are absolutely meaningless claims until there is execution, and announcements are self-sabotage or worse.

That's not how I read it.

The article seems to be specifically addressing the precise announcements you talk about and is making the case that they are bad because they provide an emotional response similar to actual completion.

I call this "letting all the steam go to the whistle instead of the wheels"

I sometimes wonder if a similar mechanism might be at play when you imagine accomplishing your goal in a Walter Mitty sort of way.

There are many projects which I can envision completing, and which I know I have the technical skills for. But I gain a certain amount of satisfaction just from picturing the completed work, and in the end I don't actually put in the effort to make it reality.

I suffer from the same affliction. Daydreaming forward often reveals additional functionalities and synergies and implications, so it even "feels" like progress, but I've learned the hard way that skipping to the last page of the book is counter-productive.

This mechanism (but applied to good deeds) is described hilariously by Louis C.K.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eiCyT5pY_E

I vaguely remember something about research showing that visualisation works well if you visualize both the positive outcome of achieving a goal and the negative outcome of not achieving it.

Can't be bothered to look it up, though :D

I find this has cut both ways in my life. In piano, it was always my goal to play Chopin Ballade No 1. After ~5 years of playing, I heard it and KNEW I wanted to learn it. It was only around ~15 years in, when I got the gumption and a teacher who didn't put the idea down, I signed up for a concert to play it, and I was FORCED to learn it. At that point, announcing to friends/family enhanced my practice, because I knew it'd occur on X date and I knew the beastly passages would require dozens of hours of repetition each.

On the other hand, the number of pieces I have stated my intention to learn, and never done so, is far greater than the number of pieces I actually know. I think it's just so easy to say "I love this piece, I'm going to learn it." Well, that took 5 seconds to say, but it will take 100 hours to learn the piece.

So, for me, it comes down to how truly/deeply motivated I am to begin with. If it's something I truly want, announcing makes no difference. If it's something I'm lukewarm on, I'm probably likely to announce something impulsively and commit myself to something I didn't think through.

This is (mostly) wrong. Sivers himself seems to have regretted how his talk was interpreted and posted this semi-retraction: https://sivers.org/zipit2

But identity-based goal or not, the conclusion that you make yourself less likely to achieve a goal by telling people about it defies common sense. I mean, here's the peer-reviewed science saying my common sense is wrong -- http://www.psych.nyu.edu/gollwitzer/09_Gollwitzer_Sheeran_Se... -- but this is a psychology paper from 2009 so I'm willing to bet real money on common sense, despite seeing no obvious flaw with the paper.

A single psychology paper showing a certain result is some evidence, but it's not much. Replication crisis and all that. With that said, it does make some intuitive sense to me (not that that counts as evidence either!). It may be that the pressure to change is relieved somewhat simply by announcing plans to do so.

Not generalizing, but for me personally, I'll often tell people about my plans as a way to hold myself to them. If I keep it to myself, it's easy for me to talk myself out of it, but once it's out there to other people and I know they're going to ask me for followup, I can commit.

I always think this way, but once I make a commitment, now I basically have a deadline, which for me, causes the procrastination impulse to kick in, and it takes effort to fight it.

I think that telling someone I'm going to do something makes me want to do it a little bit less because now I'm doing it for them, not for myself.

Yeah, I think it's definitely something that will vary by personality. I'm somewhat of a people pleaser so the external motivation works well for me.

I watched a TED talk about this years ago and recognized myself and my habits. I've since stopped announcing plans until I have a certain amount of concrete progress. Sometimes I still misjudge, and lose motivation. For me this applies for both small and big things.

Eg say I make plans to go to the gym tomorrow. If I tell someone I'm going to go to the gym, I am less likely to actually do it. If I keep my mouth shut I'll probably follow through. I currently have an idea of something I'd like to do. It will take a lot of physical and emotional work. I've tried to make plans before and discussed them with some friends, and always after the discussions it never ends up happening. This time I'm not telling anyone until the plan is actually in motion.

I'm interested in seeing that talk, if you can remember who it was. Or have a link.

I had thought the opposite was true. Announcing was supposed to be like committing. Curious if it just became a form of virtue signaling.

I'm not the person you replied to, but...

Could it be Derek Sivers' TED Talk "Keep your goals to yourself"?


I haven't watched this (I'm on a bus, bandwidth concerns) but the title just made me think: "yes, keep your goals to myself. In a diary. That way I won't be demotivated by premature announcement, yet I'll be bursting to have something to show when I make progress"

Promissing to ones self, for me at least, is a motivator because I trust myself more, and the trust is reinforced as I complete goals. But announcing "I'm doing this thing" either causes anxiety, or demotivates nectar is already our there, as the article describes.

I'm exactly opposite of that. If I announce plans, that adds an additional cost (embarrassment) to failing to accomplish them, which makes it less likely that I'll procrastinate or abandon the effort.

That's how I thought the fear of embarrassment turns into motivation too, but that is not real motivation as it doesn't come from within but from the outside, fearing of disappointing others or fearing personal embarrassment. That may work to keep one going but the reality is that things change, priorities change, motivation fades for good reasons. It is probably better to not announce anything until you've started off and made some progress and realized that you're on a good path.

This only works if people are excited for what you are making.

I once worked on an ambitious game for months, and then decided to make an announcement about what I was building. The reaction from most people was meh. I stopped working on it about a month later and all remaining copies of it have since been deleted by now. Never released.

> This only works if people are excited for what you are making.

I suppose I should have been more specific. I'm not talking about a public announcement, I'm talking about announcing it to my personal friends and colleagues. Whether or not they are excited by the project itself isn't really a factor -- they'll still want to know how the project is going.

I tend not to make any public announcements until at least beta.

A lot of people don't seem to be bothered by that.

I am. But the cost of embarrassing myself isn't something I consider up front.

I'm working on taking the long view, but it is hard.

I really hate this article. Pretty much everything I've ever accomplished in my life is because I speak it into existence and hold myself accountable. But then again, if you're the type of person who makes things happen, you don't rely on crappy psychology studies to tell you how to live your life.

I've seen a lot of these "successful people do this thing!" stories, but after years of reading them and watching how people act, I've come to the conclusion that those people are successful by nature first, and all these things they do are helpers, not enablers. Doing that thing won't turn people into successes.

These things are crutches that successful people use to improve themselves, not something that they learned in order to be successful. They'd be successful either way, this is just easier.

I think most people struggle with holding themselves accountable.

You are fortunate if you are an outlier in that regard.

I'm not the type of person who makes things happen. Especially if I can now fail in a public and embarrassing way having told people my plans.

If I keep things to myself I end up generally doing better.

Note the followup link he posts at the end: https://www.bassam.com/single-post/CSI-TED-Talks-What-Derek-...

Where it comes out in support of stating goals in some circumstances, and clarifies that what it's really against is saying things like "I want to be a lawyer", because then what that means is that you'll be apt to behave consistently with wanting to be a lawyer, and not with taking the steps to actually become a lawyer. (Or how my yoga-instructor friend explained it, "So then the universe responds, 'ok, poof! You now want to be a lawyer!'")


You don't "want" to stick to a vegan diet. You have a vegan diet.

The distinction is roughly, between a goal, and a plan.

A plan is something that you can immediately begin executing upon. That doesn't mean you won't falter, or that it has to be an on/off switch style revolution, but there's a clear set of things to do.

A goal is embryonic. You don't know how, or if, you can achieve it yet.

I am skeptical. Human desires are a thing, and I am going to continue to assume that there is a good reason they are a thing until I have a very detailed and very well tested explanation for why there is no harm in replacing all of my desires with plans.

I think I understand you. At a lower level, there is a very good reason why, during our teenage years, we develop our prefrontal cortex to moderate between our desires and our actions (and why for all of us, going from childlike "I see, I want, I do" to adult "I see, I want, I plan, I evaluate, I might do") is so traumatic.

That, or you've made a subtle joke which I'm not quite seeing :-)

Caveat for team and organizations: often leadership announces grand initiatives with great fanfare and the lack of follow-up, perceived or real makes people cynical.

Unfortunately, you cannot avoid announcing your plans if you expect others to follow you - its possible people don't understand what you want to achieve and end up just as frustrated. This is part of a leaders job.

I like what TA said about "make sure not to say it as a satisfaction but as dissatisfaction"- definitely keeping the focus on what you want to fix is better than the specific solution you've devised - you might end up finding a better solution anyway and people will help you do it.

Make announcements on small sub-plans often and follow-up even more often, so that people know feel that whatever you want to implement in your team/organization is happening. Definitely tell them a long-term goal, but keep the focus on the next task that needs to be done. And make the "small" announcements at the moment you feel you are ready to answer all questions the team might ask you, but not earlier.

So, to be effective in an organization you need to do "continuous announcing" of small plans.

The rule for big corporations is that you must announce your plans and make them as grand as possible to build your budget/empire. This is necessary to prevent a takeover from one of the other many groups doing the exact same thing within the company.

I don't share ideas with many people anymore. Even ideas, and especially not goals. Any negative people are out, which unfortunately is too many.

The few that are trusted and have an analytical mindset are helpful for sound boarding, even if you don't exactly get them to immediately quit their jobs and join you at exciting-new-startup-here.tld.

Finally, I try to spend more time in general with those directly contributing to achieve my goals, usually in the activity itself (e.g. work, training, study). Work can be harder to navigate because, well, I'm not responsible for firing ;-) but it is possible to at least move the needle.

That has the exact opposite effect on me. I actually use that method to shame myself into accomplishing what I've announced...

Likewise. I achieve very little unless I feel like I'm letting down other people if I don't succeed. I can cope with the self-loathing of letting myself down, so if my plans are private I struggle with motivation. In fact, I add extra sticks (which I react to far better than carrots): two years ago I announced my weight loss goal – which had a strict deadline – in public and the extra stipulation that were I to fail, I would not touch alcohol for the entire following year. I firmly believe that without either of those, I would have found it ludicrously easy to cheat and fail.

Agree. It seems plausible that this just varies by personality: some people are motivated by announcing, some are demotivated (and probably some are indifferent).

That's gernerally true for polster-types who brag around with what they have done wjile others see their contribution rather miniscule.

I know this could be understood insulting, still my observation though.

That's only if you're talking about major accomplishments, like "I'm gonna make Director by 2021". Ya that's bullshit and bragging. I'm referring to things like saying "Guys i'm gonna not drink for a month" or "I'm gonna finish that damn car repair this summer".

So true it happens to me many times. When I tell about the new idea or half done projects I feel less motivated to complete it.

So right now my lips are sealed on the current project that I am working and it's coming in good shape as of now

This happens to me too, and it's doubly worse when I've made a little progress on a project in addition to telling/showing someone.

For example, a couple of days ago, I implemented a 'MVP' for a sweet (my opinion ;) IntelliJ plugin[1], but since telling/showing co-workers I lost the motivation that got me started on it.

[1]: https://github.com/nndi-oss/intellij-gensett

Did you just jinkx the “coming in good shape as of now” part because you announced it?

Nope unless i tell what i am building its jinkx protected :D

Wonder if the feeling of being overwhelmed by the work involved in carrying out said plans feeds into this somehow. I mean, it's very easy to get carried away when planning things, and end up creating an absolutely enormous list of requirements you 'need' to meet to finish the project, many of which may require knowing more about the field to proceed.

That's certainly been an issue with my own projects, where the 'plan' ends up being more in line with the current HTML 5 specification in terms of length.

Meanwhile whenever I don't announce my plans/write them down in any way, it works better because I just get on with stuff and stop get sidetracked by irrelevant details and extras.

Also, announcing plans publically gets everyone hyped up about something to the point its original creator may struggle to get said project to live up to its own hype.

My experience confirms the decrease in motivation after anouncement of a new exercise routine, diet, or life plan. Keep it private unless you already have a 100% committment within yourself to follow through. I pre-announced that I was quitting smoking, but I was really ready, and haven't smoked in 12+ years.

The best thing I did last year was going to a gym 2 weeks before xmas and getting a membership and a trainer. I didn't tell anyone, I didn't make it my "new year resolution", I just went and did it. I'm still happily chugging along about 10 months later.

Depends on how you do it. Announce a launch date for your project and tell me you're not 100% busting your ass to try and meet it.

While in general, I agree with not announcing plans until they're finished, I do have two counterpoints

1) A year ago, I announced to in-person friends and on FB eliminating certain foods from my diet. Afterwards, it was easy because I could always remember I publicly announced it. Last year, it was chicken. This year, I added pork, soda, and processed meats. Haven't touched them since.

2) If it's very tangible and concrete then I find it works well. I announced writing daily for 30 days on my blog and successfully did it.

But yeah, general plans like I'm going to start a business or workout more usually fizzle out after the initial excitement.

I find this incredibly transformative, more than I expected when clicking on the link.

Intuitively, I always believed that announcing my plans would sort of put me on the hook for completing them. That if I announced something and later didn't deliver, I'd feel ashamed. Obviously avoiding shame wouldn't be the only thing motivated me, but I figured I could add shame-avoidance to the list of motivations and make things overall stronger.

But this is definitely something to think about, and try to apply to myself.

I think the keyword in this article is intentions. Those should remain private, but anything else about your work can be discussed and managed and is frequently better to do so.

The modern concept of a self is a difficult thing. I don't fully understand it. It seems to include a willingness to isolate and exile part of yourself. The boundary between what's internal and external is the basis of a whole category of research, but the modern pop-psychology idea is just to run with it as if we could know.

I always had some uncanny notion of this, and would keep my plans to myself. For some things, it's the way to go (like quitting your job and traveling). Probably b/c you don't need the external input; it only adds noise.

Yet I wouldn't be so quick to discourage sharing and doing what it takes to stay motivated. External motivation is great, I wish I had more of it!

I reckon there is greater glory in stating what you will do and following through ftw... and yummy humble pie for you if you give up or fail.

I think you have a good point on external input noise.

When you announce your plans to people close to you, such as family and friends and coworkers, you start getting input which is not necessarily useful even if their intentions are good.

Moreover, your announcement might make some people uncomfortable to the point where they try to sabotage you, either intentionally or subconsciously.

The article linked is not the one of the actual study. Here is the actual study: https://s18798.pcdn.co/motivationlab/wp-content/uploads/site... A cursory look shows the study talks about identity projection and actions (law students given extra material and asked to watch it, are less likely to watch it if they have told their observer they are going to watch it). However the difference is 1 minute of less watching and could be attributed to other factors.

Additionally, the same author has published research 5 years later (https://s18798.pcdn.co/motivationlab/wp-content/uploads/site...) that explains goal projection in public places is helpful as " is part of our everyday life and is fostered by high-goal commitment, perceiving others as similar, and ongoing goal striving.". So it is one thing to say you are going to be better at something by own self-study, but another when you are actually pursuing something and need help to achieve it. Announcing something allows you to connect with others sharing the same goal to get help or community, and shows you continue to be committed.

Feel free to read the studies and see if you can draw other conclusions, but this is not as black and white as the article claims.

I was torn on this. I don't want to feel like I'm shouting into the void if I'm working on something creative, because I do want other people to see what I make eventually. It seems to be reasonable to say that criticism is helpful if you're trying to get better at something (and take it in good faith). At some point that means releasing something to the public.

But I had been conflating finished work with the work needed to finish things. I'm also very tempted to reach out to people about what I want to get better at since I tend to seek validation externally. But only I can actually put in any effort towards my own goals.

Now my policy is to just shut up about it and put all that effort I could be spending speaking empty promises that haven't been fulfilled into putting my head down and doing things myself. Reaching out to people comes after you have something to show.

At the same time I want to meet people who are creative and that means outing yourself as creative also if you want that connection. It's hard putting in all that effort and being unable to talk to people about it.

Or as Al Swearengen put it on the best TV show ever, HBO's Deadwood: "Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh."

It definitely sets back the initial excitement or motivation behind a new idea, especially if it's half-backed. Can confirm from experience.

There's another counter to this. If you announce your plans but put a penalty on it for non-accomplishment it acts as a commitment device.

You should read about commitment devices in general but the idea is they FORCE you to do something you know you're probably not going to do.

A good example is to tell your friend you're going to run a marathon and if you don't you'll give her $1000.

The way you phrased that kind of makes it sound like just another commitment to be avoided. Wouldn't you need to do something more like "give your friend $1000 in escrow and tell her she should only give it back to you if you run the marathon"?

This depends how trustworthy you are in general, and is definitely an interesting question.

Would Gandhi take a pill which made him 1% less likely to not commit any murders, if it meant receiving a million dollars with no other strings attached?

The answer seems to be, "he would use a Schelling Fence" if that was an option.



You can go to a website like https://www.stickk.com/ and set up your commitment contract there.

Here's the Beeminder twitter account, earlier this month giving a link to their response to this exact question:


(tl;dr: they don't agree that announcing your goals makes you less likely to accomplish them. Which should not be surprising, to anyone who has already heard of Beeminder.)

Does reserving a domain name fall under the category of "Announcing your plans"? If so, my experience absolutely correlates with this. I might as well save my ideas to pocket. At least that's a free way to keep really interesting things I'll never see again.

Ah, yes... domain name addiction. Been there, done that =)

The number of things that I have an impulse to accomplish vastly exceeds my physical ability to accomplish them. This used to cause me great frustration but I’ve learned that I get a lot of value out of thought exploration, even if I can’t tell the difference between something I’ll want to stick with and something I’ll want to dump at any specific stage in the process.

If I announce my plans and am left without a need to follow through, that’s great. Apparently I didn’t really have a need for the thing, I just had a need for exploration, and I didn’t know that’s all I needed from the idea yet. I have plenty of things I want to do and can move on to the next thing.

https://interruptions.net/literature/Wicklund-BASP81.pdf Is my go-to reference article. The idea of 'symbolic self completion' resonates so strongly with my personal experiences that 'talking depletes'. The less said about what you're working on, what your goals are, how you want to be, the better.

The book "Ego is the Enemy" also explains this effect. (It may have been the origin idea that led me to chase down the research paper in the first place)

[Premature sense of completeness] Sums it all. I'd also add that such negative behavior is encouraged in our society to the point where praise is given for anything said, which is not even done yet. Premature achievers as well indeed take the idea of making the first step further down the perdition road and assume it's indeed even better to announce it publicly. I've always felt that speaking of what I plan to achieve is worthless because I knew I was seeking some gratification behind it, which sucked because why would you seek praise for what you haven't done yet?

I do not find this to be the case at all.

My friends and coworkers are aware of my work on a particular ML task and are cheering me on. Every major hurdle and obstacle I've encountered is met with support and an unending eagerness to try my product.

I am so ready to get this out the door and I'm spending all of my free time on it. It's going to be huge.

This has been a year long project that is the offshoot of another project that led me down this more exciting path. My investment is only getting more and more intense now that I've found the correct problem domain gradient to explore.

I had never seen these ideas put down on paper but it is true for me. My mind can be pretty satisfied with just thinking it knows how it would be if I accomplished something instead of actually doing it.

While I share your sentiment I think the article means sthg. Different. What I think it says is: If you have a plan and tell others about it's realization, you are less motivated to actually implement your plan.

Thinking about me it is bexause others start to monitor my doings, causing pressure and somewhat forcing me to work according to others schedules instead of my own. That's what workflife is about, no?

Hm. I've heard the exact opposite e.g. if you want to keep yourself accountable about doing something then you should tell everyone you know that you're doing it.

I think that only works if you tell people that will hold you accountable, like if you tell your spouse that you'll mow the lawn, they'll hold you to it. If you're posting "I'm going to lose weight this year!" on social media, people probably won't hold you accountable and you'll still be glad that you collected a bunch of likes and thumbsups without having to accomplish anything.

I remember reading about this years ago (maybe this very article). Announcing your plans seems to give you some of the satisfaction of having accomplished them, without actually doing anything. So ... I don't tell anyone if I'm planning a workout change, diet change, side project, etc, unless I figure I'll need the peer pressure more than my internal motivation.

I don't know about plans, but it does help to identify as 'the person who...' as long as those are the attributes you want. The person who executes or the person who is in shape or eats well are all positive traits that can be cultivated and self-reinforce. For me, there is more general bang for the popsci buck in the above than announcing plans.

I think it's just safe to say that it depends on what motivates you. It's been known for a very long time that announcing plans creates a form of external accountability, which might be motivation for a number of people, but not for some.

So saying that announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them I think is too much of a blanket statement.

I'd word it differently:

"Share your 'go up' goals selectively... share your 'go up' goals with everyone you possibly can"

So, if you want to give up smoking, share that with everyone including your mailman. They will help you on your path. However, beware of sharing your 'go up' goals - like starting a business - with others... they might drag you down.

A thread from 2014: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7496923

Discussed at the time (and submitted by the author): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=660720

How about keeping a plan secret makes you more motivated to accomplish it.

In the opposite case, you were already rewarded before the successful action, in this case, you will only get the reward once it succeeds. It forces you to focus on accomplishing instead of on giving off the appearance that you will be successful.

Although often the former may depend on the latter.

But then again: dreaming about startups will help you avoid pursuing a crazy career with no guarantee that it will work out. I often dream about startups that I could do and vividly imagine how successful they’d be. It feels really good. Then I stop and tell myself that I’ll never do it

I've heard the exact opposite from a lot of people I respect. That announcing plans and communicating with your peers and getting support and accountability for your plans actually increases the likelihood of success.

But I mean, that doesn't let you shit on the "posers" so whatever.

I believe that communicating a plan already in motion is not the same as expressing an idea one might have. If I understood correctly this article points out to the latter. While having already a plan in motion, you will want to share it with the people and colleagues that you want in order to continue an idea. But if you have an idea that you want to set in motion, and just share it around with everyone there's a high chance that it wont kick off.

What about announcing deadlines and completion times that others will depend on? Won't you feel more shameful if you can't meet that and will work harder to meet that rather than secretly working to accomplish something with no repercussions?

The concept of "vaporware" seems relevant to this discussion. It's easy to talk big and hype a product that doesn't actually exist yet, but following through and getting the product shipped is a hell of a lot harder.

I don't disagree with the study results. I guess talking about a thing can be a substitute for doing it.

But as others have mentioned, publicly committing to a specific measurable goal can help others hold you accountable.

I definitely buy this. I've blogged about personal projects, and writing out plans for a project tends to take some wind out of its sails. It's motivating to share progress, though.

I'd be interested in seeing what happens when someone else announces your plans. You don't get the same payoff, but still feel the obligation.

This is my personal way of doing things, if its my own plan where I wont need any outside parties, nobody hears about it

I generally find this is true. I work better on side projects and such if no one knows I'm doing it.

How would this work in the context of work in a team? Say you have an idea for fixing a bug. Without telling the manager about your intent how could you actually work on it? The manager comes quickly to find where all your hours went doing what pursuit.

Managers aren't hour bean counters or people you need permission from to do work. Of course, I'm not speaking of toxic environments.

Announcing plans is good because then you can actually get some satisfaction from it. You’re never going to accomplish anything anyway so you might as well take the happiness where you can get it.

I don't think that they understood your next level satire.

yeah I have this feeling as well. At the same time if someone asking “what’s up?” and you say nothing, I feel like lying.

So, do OKRs then make any sense?

53 days sober. Announced it at the start.

I think the difference here is it is announcing an accomplishment, not an intention. Since its already happened, you can build pride around it.

I believe the article is saying is that announcing "I'm going to quit drinking." Is not a good way to get and stay sober.

Right but growlist is providing a counterexample since Announced it at the start.

It is a probabilistic claim, not a causal one. Whether you announce it can clearly have no bearing on doing it, at the physical level. However, the studies showed that you're more likely to succeed it you kept it private.

Not guaranteed to succeed. Not doomed to fail if you announce. Just like getting dealt an ace as the first card doesn't determine if you win. Has better chances than getting a two, though.

Oh, thank God, I'm not crazy.

How else can you get validation?

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