“The body wants to do the easiest thing possible,” my yoga instructor said to the class a couple of weeks ago. His remark reminded me of my first college class, Economics 101, when the professor began our semester with the words, “Economics is the science of getting the most output for the least input.”
We all want to take the “easy way out,” whether it be in physical endeavors like stretching and strength building, or whether it be our use of resources such as time and money. We want to expend the least physical and mental effort we can and get the greatest result.
Other adages related to resource management include
- Anything worth doing is worth doing well, implying that we should work until we have done the best we can.
- The perfect is the enemy of the good, meaning that we should do “enough,” but not strive for perfection.
So which philosophy is the best to adopt, whether at work or in other aspects of our life? Do we strive to overcome our instinctive quest to do things in the easiest way possible, to settle for “good enough”? Do we do enough to get by, but not worry about doing our best? Or do we put out all the effort we can, hoping that the extra effort will pay off?
The answer, of course, is that it depends.
I’ve written before that “systematic neglect” is a valid decision-making philosophy. As I learned from Robert Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, part of a leader’s responsibility is to decide what not to do, which tasks to ignore. However, we are responsible for the consequences of our neglect.
During my career, there were times when I decided that it was in my best interest to expend extra effort and put out a stellar work product. But there certainly were other times when I put a project on the back burner long enough for it to go away entirely.
And there were times when I was caught with a project undone when it bubbled into crisis mode.
I wished I could tell ahead of time which tasks would become unnecessary and which would become catastrophes. Unfortunately, making good judgments on these issues takes a lot of experience, and even then, it is an inexact science prone to failure.
Still, most of us figure out a balance between doing everything and keeping our sanity. At work, figuring out our own personal balance is part of learning who we are and where we fit in the organization.
It is critical to figure out our balance to be successful, whether we are an individual contributor, a manager, or a CEO. We learn to think about which projects have short-term impacts and which have long-term criticality.
We also learn that the balance changes constantly, as our job changes and as the organization’s needs change.
Whether to take the easy way out is ultimately a decision we make every day. In yoga class, in our careers, in our families.
Think about a time when you took the easy way out—did it work?