Challenging the time = value myth
We live in a presentee-ism culture. Even those of us who don’t have a boss who (we feel) expects us to but in 26 hours per day often feel guilty about downing tools. And here’s why: we subconsciously equate time with value. The longer we spend crafting something the more of our soul we have poured into it and so the more valuable we instinctively feel it is.
I do the same – we all do. I look at a loaf of bread I’ve baked and feel a swelling of pride – the bread has value to me far above an identical load that I spent about 22 seconds buying from the supermarket. (Yeah, I know, mine tastes better than the supermarket version but you know what I mean.)
But think about it logically…
For something like, say, learning a foreign language, does it really matter how long it takes us to learn it?
Surely the less time we spend on something the better in those circumstances. If I put up some IKEA furniture it doesn’t make it any better for having taken me two hours to assemble a wardrobe than if it had all gone right first time and I’d put it all in place in only 45 minutes.
In fact, the 45 minute version is better, all other things being equal.
It still hangs my clothes just the same, right?
In other words, we should stop automatically equating value and time-spent. Instead we should start equating value with utility. If I can cook a meal in 10 minutes instead of 25, and no one can taste the difference, then in terms of productivity, the ten minute version is the better option. Anything over and above that is time you spend cooking for some other reason – for ego, to avoid other work or because it’s a hobby or something you like to do with people… Those aren’t necessarily bad things, they’re just just not reasons to spend more time when what you’re measuring is your productivity.
Now, with all of that in mind, let’s move on to applying that concept in a way that might be quite challenging.
What does ‘good enough’ look like?
The problem many of us have is that we can’t differentiate between what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. That leads to us doing more and more and more of something, because you simply don’t know when to stop. (Yes, I know, there are other reasons for this problem too, but let’s take it one at a time!)
Sooooo… here’s a short video I did, looking at the workbooks we use on our training days. Prepare to be shocked by my standards, despite that my company is one the UK’s elite training organisations! 😉
Now, as I’m sure you’ll have noticed, that video isn’t perfect. In fact there are lots of places I could have tidied it up. In fact I could probably even have re-shot it. I could have used expensive equipment and better microphones and so on. I could even have used my studio, rather than shooting from my car, using my iPhone…
But if you are utterly honest, how badly did those little things really get in the way of the point the video was making?
Sure, I could have done the video again (and again and again and again) but would it have been good value-for-my-time? Once the video was good enough I could move on to other things and save all the time I’d otherwise have spent re-shooting or editing it. Yes I could have made it better, but for the vast majority of people those improvements in quality wouldn’t have been worthwhile, as for (almost) everyone that quality of video is absolutely good enough to get the message over.
Take another look, in more general terms
The first bit of effort is usually just setting up. Then you get more and more value as you progress until it’s just not worth the effort any more. The zone of diminishing marginal returns means you have to put in more and more effort to get each extra bit of improvement.
Here’s a personal example…
I’ve been working on restoring the table/workbench in our kitchen at home. There’s a lot (seriously, a lot!) of sanding down. Then sanding down again, and again, and again with ever-finer sandpaper. And it’s all to be done by hand, to make sure it stays perfectly aligned to the grain of the woods. Then there’s varnishing and re-sanding and re-varnishing.
All in all there’s a lot of elbow grease.
So what do you think? I think it looks rather fine, personally.
But if you look closely you can see dints and dings – even one or two scratches. I could take them out: I know I could, by doing more sanding and so on, but I have to ask myself if it’s worth it. For an extra few hours of effort I would get something that looked only a little bit better.
I think I’ve found what “good enough” looks like. 😉
This very early podcast episode looks at this in quite a challenging way! 😉
So the question now becomes: what does good enough look like? In other words, how do you recognise good enough, before you start work? That’s what the next lesson is about.