From an early age, I had a preference for barely hitting the quality bar. In school I would pay attention to the math behind grades, to ensure that I didn’t mistakenly put in more effort than was necessary. When I wrote papers, I would spend the least possible time. As tests approached, I would tailor my studying to ensure that I passed a class, rather than excelled.
Rarely do we brag about barely passing. Straight A student is a title you wear proudly. Passed with the least possible effort is not something you would usually put on a shirt. Although now that I think about it, perhaps this website needs some merchandise.
As people finish school and are hired into their first positions, many of these high achievers continue their habits they learned in school. They attempt to get an A grade on everything they do, because excellence is their mental target.
Time and Quality
There’s a well known aphorism which says that you can have two of fast, good, or cheap. You want a new kitchen remodel? It can be fast and cheap, which means it has poor quality. It can be good and fast, which means it costs more than your house originally cost. It can be good and cheap, which I suppose means you’re doing it slowly by yourself.
In general, fast and cheap are referring to the cost going into producing something. When you’re referring to something you’re doing on your own with your brain, the only input is time. How long you spend on it is the cost.
Quality is the measurement of the time it takes to do the work. The higher the quality, the longer it takes.
When you’re referring to your work effort, the aphorism should be that you can only have one thing. Good or Fast. You can have high quality, or you can spend less time.
How much work is there?
When I was younger and in school, I remember asking my dad how much work he had left to do. He laughed, and said that he had an infinite amount of work. I didn’t understand. I said I knew there must be a lot, but I wanted to understand how much “a lot” was to an adult. He said there really was no end to his work. He just decided each day to stop working, and continue the next day.
When I first graduated from college, I still had a limited amount of work. I would run out of things the company asked from me, and I would not have anything left to do with my time.
This ended as I grew more experienced. I understood the goals of my team and company, understood how to generate new ideas which would add value, and my available work became unlimited. The limit to my ability to contribute is how much time I’m willing to invest.
How do you choose between Quality and Time?
Lets make a few assumptions. You want to accomplish great things at work. You want your startup to succeed. You want your promotion. You also do not want to invest every waking hour of your day at work. Your time is limited.