Units of Effort

Note to future self…

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about how much effort it will take me to accomplish a goal.

I assume that if someone (or multiple people) have done something before, then I should also be able to do that if I put in a commensurate amount of effort. Of course, I don’t think about everything and there are a lot of things that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish regardless of how much effort I put into them. Now putting that aside, I think that I’ve started to think about goals in terms of units of efforts. The next step of course is to figure out how to get really good at calibrating/calculating how much effort something will take.

Seems straightforward but as you might have guessed it isn’t. Otherwise we would have figured it out on our own. As humans we tend to fall prey the planning fallacy and other similar biases. So what can we do about it?

  1. Find comparables: I’ve tried to find people that have accomplished what I want to accomplish and I’ve tried to understand the timeline to getting to their current state. This means trying to understand not only how much time it took them to get to where they’re but also trying to understand what the different stages of the process looked like and what key moments marked a transition for them
  2. Sample & Extrapolate: this one is tricky and probably inaccurate because effort is rarely deployed linearly. However, I’ve when I’ve trie to pick up a new skill after 1-2 months I’ve asked myself how far could I go in 12 months if I keep putting this amount of effort. Would it be worth it?

In terms of next steps I would like to see if think about different units to measure effort. There’s obviously time but intuitively it feels that there should be something else like amount of focus dedicated to just one activity. An interesting proxy for units of effort might be average # of failed attempts per day/week/month. That should encourage us to actually learn from our mistakes as opposed to just spending time doing something. It’s obviously not perfect but definitely an interesting possibility.

Are Units of Effort the inverse of Units of Utility?

This is an interesting idea that occurred to me as I was started to write this note. In economics, one of the first thing you learn about as a student is this notion of units of utility. Utility can be generally interpreted as the value you derive from a good or service. This value might have some interesting properties including diminishing returns, Pareto distribution, etc. Now could effort be interpreted as the cost incurred to enjoy a good or service. Would it also have special properties like utility. For example, most of your effort will go to 1-2 activities (Pareto), the amount of effort require over time decreases (diminishing returns, etc). This is a fairly ethereal conversation but an interesting one nonetheless. Will keep thinking about it.

That’s it. Now back to work…