Three Kinds of Effort

by Dan Walsh

How to determine what to work on – and when.

I’ve worked on so many projects over the last 10 years that I can’t keep track of them. The other day, someone on Twitter asked me about a company I started and abandoned 6 years ago and I had no idea what he was talking about. During this time I’ve run the gamut between doing everything myself and having other people do everything for me. This experience has taught me a lot about execution, growth, and how to maximize time and effort. Every single person on this planet, from presidents to panhandlers only have 24 hours in a day. It’s the great equalizer. So how do we make the most of that time? How do we get the most for our effort?

In my experience all effort breaks into three categories: effort I can’t do, effort I can do but others can do too, and effort only I can do. Fully understanding and leveraging each category can essentially add more hours to anyone’s day.

Effort I Can’t Do

This is a no brainer. If I don’t know how to do something I hire someone to do it. This person could be a mechanic to fix my car or a developer to build a website. Sure, I could probably learn how to replace a busted carburetor, but this is so far outside my sphere of knowledge that I won’t even consider it. This is division of labor at it’s purest.

Effort I Can Do, But Others Can Do Too

This is the holy grail of time leverage. This is where all the big gains come from. Unfortunately, from my experience this type of effort is also what I’m most hesitant to delegate to outside help. I am reluctant to outsource work if I know I can do it myself. It doesn’t seem worth the money. Why would I pay someone to do it for me if I can just do it myself?

There are multiple reasons.

Contractors are more reliable than I am. It took me a long time to admit this to myself, but I simply can’t do everything. Even if I have a cool idea I probably won’t do it just because I already have so much on my plate. I have the best intentions, but I simply run out of time. Hiring someone to do something for me is like insurance that it will happen.

Contractors are faster. They are specifically skilled in whatever I need them to do, which makes them more efficient than me. This speed creates momentum, which is especially important for maintaining enthusiasm for a project.

Contractors will do a better job than I will. For the same reasons they’re faster than me, their final product will also be of higher quality.

Delegating effort and execution to outside help frees up my time to innovate, make decisions, or otherwise do the work that only I can do.

Effort Only I Can Do

I like to think a lot of the work I do can only be performed by me. This isn’t true. A lot of people could do the work I do, but sometimes I lie to myself to feel important – to feel necessary. I don’t lie on purpose. It’s sort of a trap into which I accidentally fall. Fortunately I can always climb out by revisiting my goals and taking stock of the tasks that need to be completed. If I’m honest with myself, most of these tasks will reveal themselves as worth delegating.

At the beginning of a project, my time is usually about 10% decision making and 90% execution. This is a poorly leveraged setup because all progress is dependent upon the limited time I have to execute. But I need to do everything at the beginning because that’s how I develop a fundamental understanding for the process. As my understanding grows I can delegate execution to others or create automated systems to handle the tasks. Eventually my time will become 90% decision making and 10% execution, and that final 10% will be the effort required to delegate.

Unfortunately, the effort only I can do is difficult to list because it is uncommon by nature. This is why only I can do it. If it were common then others would be skilled at it and I could delegate. Usually this type of effort can be described as strategic, innovative, or creative.

Conclusions

This post sort of reads like a bunch of reasons to hire contractors, but really it’s about understanding when and how to best spend a limited resource: time. This understanding is how people like Richard Branson or Sam Walton can create entire empires in half a lifetime. It’s how contractors become agencies and how garage-based businesses become multi-national companies.

Admitting that I can’t and shouldn’t do everything was a big realization for me. It freed up a lot of opportunity and potential for growth.