“Time is money.”
– Benjamin Franklin, from the book Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One from 1748.
You’ve heard the expression tossed around so much it’s almost become a truism.
Time is not money.
While consulting at a company I noticed there were some employees who felt that demands were set too high. The amount of time alloted to finish a project was 3 weeks and there was no way they could make it unless they cut some corners. Most of the work could be done by computer but about 5-10% involved old-school manual research in books, papers and lists.
The problem was that they did it the same way as they’ve always done and nobody had bothered to ask one simple question: “Why?”.
It turned out after a meeting with the CEO and accountants that the time they would spend during these 3 weeks running numbers was more or less wasted.
The time spent during these 3 weeks on solving problems only changed the calculated outcome by roughly 0,003%. Would they have spent another week it would have changed not by 0,004% but by 0,0033%.
How is that? If you are 5% more thorough, wouldn’t it mean you are 5% more accurate? Well, in most cases: No.
Perfection whether it’s in music, business, sports or knitting is by nature asymptotic.
The graph above shows your progress as you learn or develop a skill, craft, product or service. If you’re interested in learning more about this phenomena I recommend you read or listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive” or Seth Godin’s “Linchpin”. This is also somewhat related to Zeno’s paradox where you’re always half of the half of the half ad nauseam way to the goal and you never reach it (see Achilles & The Tortoise).
So, they had done this several times before. They were already in the expert region. And they still could not make it any better.
I spoke with the employees and explained that they didn’t need to put in all that effort, since it made so little difference in the end. The task was completed the same day, 4 days before deadline.
This company’s strive for perfection was admirable but not necessary. The realization that they’ve spent so much money and time on 0,003% hurt. Fortunately they were more optimistic about the next project.
Why is this important? They work in health. If they can focus those hours every day on helping people instead of sifting through data they’re changing the world. They’ll recoup the money in some way and it hasn’t stopped their ability to do good work. What they’ll never get back are those precious hours they could’ve spent changing the world.
This is why time is not money. You can’t go to the bank and say: “Yes, I’d like to withdraw more time please!”.
Always ask yourself why you are doing things and make sure it’s what you want to spend your time doing.
If you have a hard time getting your projects out there it might be because of wanting it to be “perfect”. Challenge yourself to ship it when it’s about 80% just to see what happens, then keep working on it until it’s 85% or 90%. The truth is that there won’t be such a big difference. People will probably not notice or in some cases may even think that the first version was better.
Get feedback from both people you trust as well as strangers.
When they stop noticing changes?
Move on, it’s done!