Hours vs Outcomes. Are you focusing on the wrong thing?

February 22, 2022

We place an awful lot of importance on the number of hours we invest in tasks. In the classroom, at work, and on the sports field we are encouraged to “put in the time” and generally meet with undisguised disapproval when we don’t.

Our relative presence versus our peers is seen as a clear marker of how hard we’re working as well as the contribution we’re making, and if we aren’t visibly “doing” then we’re obviously not “doing” enough.

Need proof of this beyond your own experiences? Just consider the mythical 10,000 hour rule or our tendency to emphasise presenteeism at work. Like it or not, there is an ongoing assumption that hours translate directly into output. But is this actually true?

A formula for success

There is no argument that effort is crucial, and I personally ascribe to Kazuo Inamori’s formula of effort x attitude x ability = success as a quick gauge of whether something (or someone) is likely to succeed. Because let’s face it, capability and a can-do attitude are not sufficient to guarantee results, you also need to put in some hard yards.

By the same token however, simply putting in the hours isn’t going to drive quality outcomes. You need to be investing those hours in the right direction and the right activities.

Busy isn’t productive

People are always talking about how time pressured they are. How many meetings they have. How late they work. How tired and busy they are. Hours upon weeks upon months invested into their careers but to what end?

How often do you hear those same people saying how satisified they are? How incredibly fulfilled? What amazing things they have achieved?

Not that often.


Because being smashed doesn’t mean you are using your time wisely. All it means is that you’re good at saying yes to things — to meetings, to busy work, to ad hoc demands from your colleagues.

Putting the focus back on outcomes

The clear message is that we have to shift our focus away from hours to outcomes. We need to start measuring success based on results rather than how much time we’ve invested into something. Instead of throwing good hours after bad hours we need to get really clear on what’s important and measure our success against priorities. We have to take the time to identify where the twenty-percent lies and stop wasting effort on the non-value add.

Where are you investing your time?

Take a moment to reflect back on your last week. On a scale of 1 to 10 how busy was it? Did you find much time to kick back or were you continously under the pump? And what did you achieve? What were the key outcomes you delivered?

If you are reflecting back on a balanced week peppered with wins — awesome effort! Keep it up my friend.

If like the majority of us you remember being incredibly busy but can’t quite pinpoint what exactly you got over the line you might want to take a moment to consider what it is that you’re prioritising. Don’t mistake busyness for achievement.

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