Why I Dislike Time-based Tasks

Effort-based tasks are the way to go.

I really dislike goals and tasks that have time as their sole or primary metric. Here are a few examples:

  • Run on the treadmill for 30 minutes.
  • Work from 9 to 5.
  • Do homework for two hours.

What do all of these tasks have in common? They don't end until some amount of time has passed, rather than ending based on a more useful metric.

The problem with a time-based metric is that time is uncontrollable and independent of effort. I vastly prefer effort-based goals. Total effort is correlated to time because, given more time, it is generally possible to provide more total effort. However, I could pass a great amount of time without expending any effort, so measuring time alone is not enough and is not meaningful.

A possible result of basing tasks on time is that one is more concerned about reaching the end of the time allotted to the task rather than completing a real, useful goal. I don't want to be at work from 9-5 because I am forced to be; I really just want to get my work done. The exact time period is less important.

I suggest using effort-based metrics to stay motivated and get things done. Here are the above examples revised to be based on effort:

  • Run 3 miles on the treadmill.
  • Accomplish X task at work today.
  • Finish Y assignment this evening.

Note that the last two tasks still have time bounds, but the goal is not primarily time-based.

Not all tasks are necessarly suited to be measured by effort, and it is possible that some may be better suited to being time-based. Many tasks must also be bounded by time, because one does need to move on to other things eventually (at least temporarily), even if the task at hand is not yet complete. I have found that effort-based measurement can lead to working on one thing for too long if one starts to completely disregard time. It is still important to stick to some kind of schedule.

To summarize, focus on getting something done rather than just doing something for an arbitrary amount of time.