“How did you go bankrupt?"
"Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
In an era where we're always thinking about the near-term future, it's often really helpful to use tools that help us manage our perspective relative to time.
Big projects are big. Hard projects are hard. Estimating the time it'll take to complete a project is notoriously difficult.
Part of what makes it so difficult to estimate a big project's level of effort is its distance from you: projects like "make an app" or "plan a wedding" can seem diminutive in size until it's time to start the first bit of a project. When that start date pops up in your calendar, you often feel overwhelmed.
I call this a "Horizon Problem": mountains that seem small in the distance feel overwhelming when viewed up close. It's a big part of why we procrastinate instead of getting started with a project when the time arrives.
Some of the most powerful products are designed specifically to solve these problems:
Simple is what inspired me to write this post: it brings your distant financial goals into the present, and shows how current financial decisions effect those distant goals. It helps bring the future into the present. (Need to save up for a new roof? That'll be $10 a day for the next three months. Want to meet your savings goal for a vacation in July? Better not buy that iPad Mini.) Simple's Safe-to-Spend and Goals tools are some of the most powerful financial tools I've seen, because they solve a Horizon Problem in a meaningful way.
LoseIt, the Jawbone UP, FitBit, Lift
… these tools take distant fitness goals and bring them into attainable daily activities. Small changes over time add up to big ones - it's more approachable to lose 1 pound a week than it is to lose 52 pounds a year.
Health Insurance & Social Security
… these are some pretty powerful concepts: everybody chips in as they work, and then upon retirement, can benefit from those years of savings. 
School (and CodeAcademy, HackDesign, etc)
… day by day, you might not think you're learning much in school, but over time? That stuff adds up. The distant goal of "get a degree" or "code an app" becomes a series of small steps, bringing the future goal into the present.
The products, services, and programs that target Horizon Problems help us to:
- make small additions over time that add up to a mountain of change.
- bring the future into the present in a tangible way to prepare you for the Big Thing.
- help you take the first step of the climb.
So far, I think that a lot of these tools focus on health and wealth: these are two areas where incremental change adds up to significant benefit - and it's easy to forget your long-term financial or fitness goals if there's a pricey new iPad available or your buddies are going out for greasy, delicious pizza.
There are other places, though, where I think we could apply this principle - one area that comes to mind is interpersonal relationships. We build our friendships over time, yet we increasingly rely on shallow methods of communication like Twitter and Facebook. How could we use the Horizon Problem to improve the quality of our interpersonal, non-digital relationships?