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A better way to think about effort

It’s easy to think of effort in terms of its immediate implications:

Oh that’s going to take me a day.

I can do that in 5 minutes.

That’ll take months.

But that’s not’s really the best way to gauge effort.

Consider this example:

If you forego the process of editing & refining you could probably piece together a newsletter for your customers describing an upcoming promotion in 5 minutes. However in choosing to forego the editing & refining process, you end up sending the newsletter with ambiguous language around the promotion — this ambiguous language leads to confusion, several of your customers contacting customer support (perhaps this you as well) over the next several days, and likely a decent chunk of lost business.

Alternatively, if you had spent 10 times the amount of time — 50 minutes — drafting, editing, and refining the newsletter to ensure that it was written clearly, you may very well have been able to save yourself from all the pain described above.

Effort needs to be thought of in terms of second-, third-, and fourth-order effects.

Yes, you might be able to do something quickly but then what? How durable is the relief? Will it create more problems?

Yes, something might take quite a bit of effort & energy up front but then what? Will it streamline other activities? Will it make things easier in the long run?

When the easy thing doesn’t create negative downstream effects, do it.

When the easy thing creates more pain down the road, don’t do it — resist the temptation.

When the hard thing creates positive downstream effects, do it.

When you gauge effort in this way, you’ll find that more often than not it’s actually much easier to do a very hard thing now that will save you energy in the long run, than to do an easy thing now that will incur an increasing burden over time.




Taiwanese American, daily blogger of ideas about impactful work in service of others, photographer (ephemera.photography)

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William Liao

William Liao

Taiwanese American, daily blogger of ideas about impactful work in service of others, photographer (ephemera.photography)

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