Degrees of Freedom

Statistics captures the possible variances in a system with the evocative term “degrees of freedom.”

Though I’ve never been on especially close terms with statistics, this idea has stuck in my mind. In a more abstract sense, I find it a helpful way of thinking about how to strategize in a system.

If, for example, your days feel too busy, it’s tempting to think of only a couple of variables: number of days and level of busyness. But there are many more potential degrees of freedom than that: busy days are made up of busy hours, which are made up of commutes and calls and impromptu conversations and overcommitments and …

When you can’t seem to get a handle on a problem, try breaking down the variables into smaller pieces. At that scale, it’s much easier to see the variance — and the degrees of freedom available to you.