Time & effort & value

Recently I received a time-sensitive request. My specific role was not spelled out, but the objective was clear. I inferred what I should/could do. I spent maybe 45 minutes reviewing some data in a report and drafting a suggested plan of action.

The recipients agreed with the plan and praised the “detailed” analysis.

I felt vaguely uncomfortable. I hadn’t spent that much time on it. Yet spending hours on analysis wouldn’t have changed the recommendations, and timely response was the priority. Given the nature of the plan, small errors in precision wouldn’t be harmful.

The discomfort wasn’t about a lack of due diligence or confidence in the plan. It about being praised for work that felt easy to me.

This realization dawned as I was relaying the experience to my partner—and I recalled the times that he’s expressed to me the dissonance between his perceived effort and what he’s paid to do and lauded for. And then my mind summoned an excerpt from a podcast I’d listened several days before:

I once had a business coach who was working with women entrepreneurs and working with us on pricing. And she was looking at how we were charging for different parts of our services, and all types of entrepreneurs. And she looked at our prices, and she kept on saying, “Why is that number so low?” And different people, myself included, would say, “Well, I can do that in my sleep.” Or, “That’s really easy for me.” And she said, “If that’s really easy for you, that is your gift, and you should be charging the most for that.”

Priya Parker on the Dare to Lead podcast

The penny dropped. I’d been holding an assumption, unwittingly, that I should perceive the effort as difficult for my work to be praiseworthy, to be valuable and valued by others. I had apparently established a construct where time and perceived effort yield value. And of course, this is often true. My gains in running are dependent on consistent training (time). Major parts of my work—ideating, conceptualizing, writing, editing, integrating all the elements—also require time and often feelings of struggle. Frankly sometimes the challenge motivative me.

But I also need to understand and internalize that the level of difficulty itself doesn’t determine the value of an output. I emphasize the “my” because I was applying this model to my own work but not to that of others. I might marvel at the ease if we were talking about someone else’s work, but I would never discount the value of the work that was (or at least seemed to me) effortless. What I consider easy might be daunting to someone else, and vice versa. Value is not defined by the effort but the outcome.

Ease is a gift. Embrace it. Put it to use in the world.


June 1, 2021

The latest The Growth Equation newsletter included a short blog post by Steve Magness on the illusion of ease. He writes, “… this illusion of ease… makes us forget about all the work it takes to make that illusion come true.”

Although Magness is referring to external judgements of others’ efforts (and particularly of apparent effort to achieve objectively incredible feats), I think this may have some relevance to our internal narratives as well. What’s easy to us today was not necessarily easy for us months or years ago. We grow our skills through training and experience. When we first attempt or complete a new achievement, we are likely keenly aware of how hard it is. But our perception of effort may change as more time passes and as we do the thing again and again. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have imagined running 13 miles on mountain trails or comfortably delivering seminars, but now mountain miles are my usual long run and public speaking is a regular part of my professional life. On good days, there is a sense of ease, but it’s taken a lot of practice to get there.

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