measure output, not time: full-time versus full-focus

let’s be honest: time management fails knowledge workers (i wrote about a piece of this over here. anyone who has worked a desk job is keenly aware of this. it shows up in all sorts of ways. dragging out or procrastinating on simple tasks and being overworked despite a clearly defined set of deliverables are just two examples.

the 40-hour work week, which was advocated for by labor activists on behalf of workers who were working 70 hour weeks, but also a little bit from henry ford, made (more) sense in an industrial era. when you and your organization produce widgets at a certain rate productivity can absolutely be measured in time. 100 widgets (cars, bikes, planes, stamps, pencils, whatever) per hour times the number of hours is your output. it makes sense in that context that, if you’re being paid on output, that measuring time is an appropriate proxy.

however, the outputs of knowledge work are totally different. first of all, the what that is being produced has totally changed. knowledge workers produce so many different things that it’s nearly impossible to imagine comparing them all with a single metric (output per unit time). additionally, how those outputs are produced varying wildly. not only do they vary from job to job, but sometimes within a single person’s role in a single organization, producing the first “thing” can take a week, the second can take a year, and the third could take two days.

there are a ton of other reasons why counting time fails in a world of knowledge work, but for now, i’ll let that be.

what i really want to be thinking about is how to shift into a new frame.

for the past few months, ross and i have been tossing around terminology like ‘full-focus’ versus full-time. full-focus, although imperfect, implies more directly that your production is aimed towards a single job (or task or whatever). it then doesn’t matter how long it takes you to produce what it is you produce. as long as you get it done when it needs to be done, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes.

there’s more to this thinking, but, as hemingway used to say, “Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.” my ten minutes for today (15) is up!