So there is this ongoing debate on how long one and how hard one actually needs to work to succeed in one’s corporate life. Is it a time based thing – 8 hours, 12 hours, 16 hours, 18 hours or is it intent-based or is it effort-based, or from a tangential view, is it output-based?
Let’s take cooking for an example – suppose you are creating a new recipe and you think it would take four hours to cook. When will it be considered a success – if you managed to finish the recipe before time in three hours, in exactly four hours or if you took double the time? Or will it just matter how the dish tastes at the end of it, irrespective of the time that went into its making?
Let’s take another task, in a manufacturing setup. I need to produce 200 bottle caps to fit the 200 bottles that will be coming to me as a part of the assembly line. It is a sequential task where I need to wait for my turn to execute my part of the process. Can I afford to do it sooner or later than expected or will it happen just in time? Maybe I can draw in more efficiencies that raise the bar for the entire process but can I manage to just amp up my speed and call it done?
A third example is when a young student is preparing for the JEE or CAT exams. If the person is studying Math and practising differentiation-integration problems in the former or solving some questions using mental math tricks in the latter case, what is the right amount of time that needs to be devoted to these tasks? Can we say that I have solved a hundred problems and I am now going to ace my examination or can I call it quits at five hundred – what is the magic number?
The reason for citing the three situations above was to understand there is no common answer to the question stated at the start of this conversation.
In the first case, it is an output-based task and I can consider myself done once the food is ready and ‘edible’ – irrespective of the time invested in it.
In the second one, it is a time-based task and cannot be hurried just at my end, come what may. Success will be defined as the end product that comes out, in the time that was set out for it.
In the studying example, practice makes one perfect. Actually, practice makes us better every time we practice as ‘perfection is elusive’, and there truly can be no end to it.
The short and long of it is, when we are learning something new, time is never a barometer. When we are performing a repetitive or a ‘lower order’ task, time may be of essence based on past performance. When we are working as a part of the knowledge workforce, we cannot be bound by time. It could be four hours a day on one and 20 hours on another – it just needs to get done.
In my opinion, it is an output based metric for most of us in the workforce and defining success is never completely objective. Cribbing about it or blaming someone else (read: the employer) is easy, but doesn’t really solve the problem. There is no right or wrong and each of us has to choose what we are signing up for.