Think about what you accomplished today. Did you check off a lot of boxes? If so, did that make you feel good or smug? Or, was there any real value in what you did? We easily get caught up in the mundane of doing everyday things (busy work) that we end up simply checking off a bunch of items without producing things of any real value. We may have done a thousand things, but what did we actually accomplish? What did we really get done in terms of results/outcomes? This is known as the “Effort Trap”. It can mean doing a lot of admin-related work (like email) all day and not doing enough “deep work” (work that has real value).
Working in organizations, we focus so much on doing the work and spending long hours. We become fixated on doing things when we should be focused on results. For instance, organizations are focused more on training as part of an ongoing development, when they should be focused on real, tangible results from it. Ditto with HR: they need to stop obsessing about deliverables and start focusing on real value.
Organizations focus on the wrong metrics to begin with. They are more concerned with their employees showing up at work on time and logging their hours. In fact, what should matter more to them is whether their employees are producing real, tangible results. In other words, employees are “rewarded” for compliance — showing up at work. Doing things simply out of compliance does not produce results and has no lasting value, and in business, it’s all about results.
In organizations, employees think that because they work long hours, they ought to be rewarded in terms of a promotion or raise. Working long hours doesn’t necessarily equate to results. If anything, it could just mean that you’re doing the work without actually accomplishing anything, at which point you need to question yourself (and the organization you work for also needs to question you). It’s not about how you spent those hours working; it’s about the results you produced in the time you spent. I wrote about how we can work less to work better and how that is in the best interest of all stakeholders involved.
When you want a promotion or a raise, focus on things you accomplished instead of merely citing things you did. This is also how we write our CV/résumés. We write a bulleted list of things we did, and less about things we accomplished.
We focus on input instead of output. This is as common with those who work at lower levels in the organization as with those in the executive board. It’s a chronic problem.
As an expert, it doesn’t matter if you simply show up. Are you able to fix and resolve things quickly? If not, why are you here? You should be rewarded for the results you produce, not the time/effort you spend. Nobody cares what you do. What they care about is the results/outcomes/objectives being met. How were they better off by hiring you? By the way, if you spent less time producing results, should you be rewarded less? Of course not. Time should not be a determinant of value.
Another example to illustrate the difference between results and time spent: the number of phone calls you made or leads you pursued (input) does not directly relate to how much business you got (output).
So much of the personal tech on the web is about finding the right tool for the job, but there isn’t as much focus on the results we get from using the tools. The thing is, it’s not about the tools we use; it’s about what tools allow us to create. The tool should become invisible as it is just a means to an end. The thing that drives the tool is you, which is irreplaceable. Besides, no one is going to remember you for the tools you used. People are going to remember you for the things you made and how those things added value in their lives.
The application of this principle goes beyond the context of getting results at work. For instance, in advertising, what companies fail to understand is that it’s not about having a better camera; it’s about taking better pictures. It’s not about the “features” that a company uses to sell you; it’s about what you can do with it. Features don’t mean anything. Features are inputs, and we couldn’t care less about inputs.
If your WiFi at work stopped working, you would file a complaint with your internet service provider. If your issue is not resolved, it does not matter what the service provider did at their end, regardless of what they say.
It doesn’t matter that you learned Spanish in school (input) if you can’t live in South America and comfortably speak that language (output).
At the end of the day, no one cares about the time or effort (input) we put into the work we did for ourselves (or for others). The important part is the results (output) we got from the work we did, and that carries a lot of value.
So how do we focus on output? Move away from the tactical “What” to the strategic “Why”. They want to reduce attrition. Ask them why. Why do you want to do this? It’s your job to move yourself from thinking in terms of input to thinking about output (and getting others to do it as well).
This is difficult to do because our culture values hard work (and not results) by default, and thus makes it difficult for us to avoid the Effort Trap. But we need to remind ourselves that it’s about working smart, not hard. As we discussed in the draft on Time, any regular Joe can work a lot of hours and make money. The question is if he can work less and make the same amount.
Stop scheduling every minute in your calendar. Focus on the results, not on arbitrary tasks. Block off uninterrupted time to getting those results.
Reflect on your day to think about what you truly accomplished.
Learn to delegate things effectively to others. Focus on results. Give them some leeway in how they do things within reasonable constraints, and trust them to do it.
Learn to market your services in terms of output. That means using the right language in communicating your value to your clients. That can make all the difference in getting their business because clients don’t care about what you do; they care about the results you can get for them. Let me illustrate this with the following example.
Recently, a relative contacted me offering to help me with “branding”. He wanted to work with me for free out of “good will” and “no material motive”, or so he said. Although I trusted his intent completely, he had demonstrated little in terms of actionable value he could provide to my business. On the contrary, he wanted me to tell him how he could add value to my business. I told him as a digital branding expert, it was his job (not mine) to create a need for his services. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he may have not communicated that value out of laziness, lack of knowledge, or what have you. But no value communicated meant no results. Likewise, in business, it’s all about results.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what we do if it doesn’t amount to much. We might as well be wasting our time. It’s not about the time/effort (input) we put into doing something, but the real value (output) produced from it. Nobody cares how hard you worked. What they care about are the results you got from the work you did. Those results have intangible value.