So today in the midst of planning my goals and tasks for my projects, this question came up: What makes a task challenging and how do we design a challenging task?
A little bit of context: as you know a good way to think about goal achievement would be to first picture a long term vision/goal that is inspiring, and then to break that goal down into manageable projects and even further into smaller goals. We can call this process baby-stepping or small-chunking.
So if we combine this idea with the notion that we should try to maximise our flow state experiences in life,
then it naturally leads to the question of how can we consistently create tasks for ourselves that are not only meaningful in that they bring us to our long-term goals, but also in that they challenge, yet do not overwhelm us?
I think like many other things in life this is probably a process that requires a certain degree of guess-and-check/experimentation to figure out. But let’s say we were to try… :p
So here are some ideas I have come up with that might be used to measure how challenging a task is.
- The “Have I done it before?” test. If so, how well did I perform at it?This one is pretty much self-explanatory. Obviously if I have done the exact task before and I performed extremely well at it, then the task is unlikely to be very challenging. (there’s an exception ofcourse which I will come to in a bit.)
- If I have not done this task before, did I do a similar task before? How similar? How well did I perform at that?So I suppose this is similar to the idea like how we can show students math examples and then get them to work on slightly different examples. I do, we do, you do. I suppose if we really wanted to (and yes I want to) we can nerd this thing up and introduce some kind of metric to measure similarity. :p
- Is the environment/context changing? If so, on average, how fast does it change? Are there more things staying constant or do many things change at once? This is the caveat I mentioned in number 1. For example, making decisions in combat can be incredibly challenging because the environment is so dynamic. Many variables can shift together and it takes a lot of “thinking on your feet” to solve the problems. Another example: if we have cycled before and we can do it well, it doesn’t mean we can cycle under all conditions. Imagine if the terrain and weather conditions keep on changing when you cycle… Finally the best example of this is probably trading on short time frames. The order flow can shift in an instant and disrupt even the best laid plans.
- Have I broken it down into simple, clear, concise step-by-step executable instructions that I can visualise and implement?This is probably similar to the idea of scaffolding for students. The more scaffold provided the less challenging the task is. Of course ultimately we would want to develop students to be able to do this breakdown on their own.
I suppose the next step from here on would be to use real-life examples and to try and come up with a metric system to measure each factor and give an overall score of the level of challenge of tasks. And then a certain sweet spot would be considered optimum for achieving flow. I think this might be really helpful for teachers to plan activities. What do you think? 🙂