Why Work Efficiency Should be Judged on Output not Time

The current system of measuring, and judging, the efficiency of most office-based work is wrong. By requiring staff to be in the office for a specific number of hours each day, and even going as far as limiting them to a specific window of time within the day to fulfill this requirement, the emphasis is on being at work longer rather than achieving better results. Focusing on time-based judgment of work is not productive. It does not allow people to work when they produce their best results, it assumes every person takes the same amount of time to do their job, and it fosters a negative psychology and atmosphere at work.

The solution is simple: the efficiency of our work needs to be judged on output, not time.

Why judging work based on time is wrong

There are many inherent problems with organising work to be solely a time-based operation. Most of these I am applying to a “standard” office-based job. There are examples in society where certain industries and organisations have deviated from the time-based assessment, but for most of the world, the norm is still to judge workers by how long they spend at work, not how much they achieve. Here are some problems with that kind of thinking:

People work better at different times

I’m a morning person which means that I am most productive in the wee hours of the morning, normally when no-one else is around and I can focus on my tasks without distraction. If I could start work early (say 6am) then I would be much more productive in my time at work. I would get at least two hours of ultra-productive work while everyone else was at home sleeping, and my overall output would improve drastically.

I’ve actually proven this in a previous job where flexible start times were allowed. It was so good for me that I was achieving more in those first few hours than I was previously doing in an entire day. By the time the rest of my team had arrived, made their coffee, and were ready to start work, I had knocked off all my critical tasks and I could attend the boring meetings without getting too frustrated.

Flexible work arrangements can go the other way too. Someone else might prefer to start at midday and work on into the evening. Maybe they are young and like to go out partying most nights, or maybe they just prefer being up a night. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, but if these people are forced into turning up to work early just to fulfill a silly time schedule then they will never bring their A-game.

Why not let people start work when it suits them? At least that way you’d be getting the best out of each employee.

Every person does not need the same time for their job

Why is it that every person in the office needs the exact same time to perform their job? Is everyone actually just robots that work at the exact same speed all day?

Even workers doing the same jobs with the same levels of responsibility within the same company can perform at very different speeds and skills. Instead of giving these workers a default amount of time to work, why not judge them based on their achievements and the quality of their work?

Judging based on output is a more accurate measure of efficiency. If you have a situation where two employees perform the same role but at different speeds then forcing them to work the same hours actually has a negative impact on the overall work environment. The more skilled, and thus more productive person will eventually reduce their output to match the lowest common denominator because there is no incentive for them to excel.

There is no incentive to excel

When everybody has to be at work for the same amount of time it creates the attitude that everyone just needs to do the bare minimum to get by. If a worker knows that they could complete a task early and then spend the rest of the day doing something they find interesting (like researching new technology to apply at work, or coming up with innovative ideas to improve their results, or even given the afternoon off) then they are likely to work harder and produce better results.

But instead of rewarding employees like this we tend to “punish” them. When someone finishes their work early the norm is to give them another (boring) task to ensure that they are working (or at least sitting at work) for the expected number of hours. The result is that the normally productive and efficient worker becomes less motivated to work harder and less motivated to produce high quality output.

When a person realizes that no matter what they do (work harder, work faster, or call in sick and go to the beach) their workload does not deviate from the expected number of hours at work then they have no motivation to produce high quality work. Because they are being judged on a time-based scale they will appropriately perform their work on the same scale. If they are given a week to do a task then you can assume that they will nearly always take a full week to do it. Even if you gave them a month to do the same task they would only finish it just before the deadline.

The employee who realises they are judged on time realises they can exploit the work environment to their favour.

It is easy for employees to exploit time-based work

At some point, all employees in a time-based environment will exploit the system. Some will do it purposefully and others will not even be aware they are doing it, but I guarantee that everyone will eventually do it.

Exploiting the time-based work environment is easy. You can continually over-estimate the time it takes to do work, you go out for “meetings” which are really just you catching up with friends, you spend half your time having coffees with colleagues, you have a long lunch because your boss is busy and wont notice, you call in sick on important days so other people get stuck with the tough work, and so on.

In a time-based work environment the employee is judged just on the amount of time between when they arrive and when they leave. In this environment there are many, many, many ways for the worker to exploit the system so that they are doing the least possible work in their allocated time. The sad part about this exploitation is that sometimes a great worker can head down this path simply because they realise that no matter how well they do their job or how much extra effort they put in, they still have to sit in that chair for the exact same time every day.


This essay could go on and on. There are many more examples of why judging work on a time-basis is wrong but these are just subsets, or combinations, of all the above points. The idea is always the same: the more a worker is judged solely on the time they spend at work, the less productive and efficient they become.

I’m speaking in generalisations here and there are always exceptions. For example, it is obviously better for an NFL team to keep playing for the entire match and not just score 40 points in the first half and then go home. But for most of society, and predominately those office workers that are bound to the desk and chair all week, this is not the case. An environment where the focus is to just work for a specific number of hours is negative and ultimately flawed. It creates the wrong attitude towards work and it fosters a culture of inefficiencies and time-wasters.

How do you judge your employees?

How to be Impressive

I was at a social event recently that was filled with what I would consider to be highly intelligent people, and I was amazed to see a slightly disturbing pattern emerge. What I saw was that many of these well educated people were so hung up on impressing others that they had forgotten how to just be social and have a good time. It was as if life had become one big competition to these people and that in the brief two hour window in which they met it was a "measuring contest" as to who had been more successful and impressive in their lives so far. Pretty sad huh? But the real sadness was that none of them were really all that impressive. Sure they were all university educated and well employed in successful and respected companies, but they were not actually impressive. Why? Because it was obvious that they were too caught up in making their lives sound impressive rather than just actually being impressive.

And so it struck me - people who spend their time worrying about impressing others end up living the least impressive lives.

Impress Yourself, Not Others

If you are trying to impress others then you're doing it wrong.

What other people think of you does not matter at the best times, and particularly so when thinking about how impressive your life is. In order to be a person who impresses others you actually need to stop caring about impressing others.

People that expend their mental energy trying to impress others are projecting thoughts, ideas, and examples from their life that they think are impressive. The biggest flaw with this thinking is that everyone does not think the same. What is impressive for one person may be dull and boring for another.

If a 20 year old man told you how he was excited because he had walked to shops earlier that day you might not be too impressed. In fact you might think that he was a little lazy (or crazy). But what if that man had been in a wheelchair for the majority of his life? What if he had been told that he would never walk again? Would you be impressed now?

Of course you would! And that is a perfect example of why the measurement of your life has nothing to do with others. To that fictional man the act of walking is impressive and that is all that matters. The fact that most other people can do that easily is not the point. His actions are only judged from the perspective of his own reality.

And the same rules apply in your life. Your opinions of your life are what matter most. No one else in this world has the exact same knowledge and experience as you. That means that no one else is positioned as well as you to make a judgment on your life. Only you can determine if your life is impressive.

Stop trying to impress others and start trying to impress yourself.

How to be Impressive

Taking everything I've said into consideration it should be obvious that you do not become impressive simply by trying to be so. You become impressive by living a happy and purposeful life.

And here is how to do just that...

Follow your passion

If there is one thing that is universally impressive it is when someone breaks away from the traditional pursuits of our society to chase their dream. Stories of people quitting their mundane jobs to do what excites and motivates them are naturally inspiring. We love to hear these stories because they remind us that it is actually possible to live our dreams.

Compare the difference in the following scenario. Imagine meeting some new people at a party and the conversation takes the standard "what do you do?" path. The first person is a hard-working office drone in some well known accounting/law/consulting firm, earning a decent living. The second person is barely getting by but is running their own business, writing a novel, and training to become a WWF wrestler. It's pretty obvious which person is more interesting and which person's story would be more inspiring isn't it?

So don't base your life around what you believe others will think is impressive. That "successful" office job is actually not that impressive when compared to the endless possibilities that are available if you only decided to follow your dreams instead. :)

Be humble and never brag

Nobody likes a bragger. If you go into a conversation with aim of bragging and trying to sound impressive then the chances are that you'll just annoy everyone.

What people respond to better is someone who is quietly confident and does not need to talk about themselves or be validated by others. This personality trait is very impressive.

Consider me as an example. I believe what I have achieved in life so far is impressive, at least from my perspective. I'm respected and highly sought after in my career, I am the founder of a software development company, I write articles that touch over 4,000 unique visitors a month, and I actively participate and advise in multiple private equity projects.

But I don't start off telling that to anyone when I first meet them. I generally tell them a very small subset, just glossing over the details, and only if they show enough interest do I go into detail. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and place for self-promotion but that time is rarely in purely social situations.

If you do impressive things in your life then you should give others the chance to discover this for themselves. They will respect you much more if you are humble about your achievements.

Be positive

It is amazing how contagious and inspiring a positive attitude can be. If you exhibit a happy and positive attitude towards everything in life then people will find it very hard not to be impressed. Even the most negatively minded person will feel the impact of a positive attitude. Just make sure you're not doing the in-your-face-happy-clappy-my-attitude-is-better-than-yours positive attitude. Nobody likes that.

But seriously, your attitude defines everything in your life, and if you are projecting a strong and positive attitude then you will attract like-minded people.

Imagine the situation where two people are doing the same job and one describes it as "just a boring job that pays the bills" and another describes it as "an amazing job working with great people and getting to learn lots of new skills and processes". Which person would gain your attention?

If you have a positive attitude, even if the face of negativity, then you will always come across as an impressive individual.

Do not worry about what others think

This is the final ingredient to being impressive - stop worrying about what others think.

If you are following all the above steps AND you simply do not care about what others think of you then I guarantee that people will be impressed by you.

When you operate in this mode you give off an aura of passion, motivation, productivity, happiness, and success, which are all highly impressive traits.

That's it. That's how to be impressive. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start being impressive today!

Why 16 Threads Is Not "Work"

A few times recently I have written about my goal to quit work and devote my time to things I actually enjoy. I have talked about how I plan to sustain this lifestyle through several income streams, one of which is my software development business - 16 Threads. Some people have contacted me saying that if I spend my time running my own business then I have not quit work at all, and that I am probably working even harder to get the business running. But I don't consider running my own company to be a job. It's not "work" as most people know it because we see things differently at 16 Threads.

Our Business, Our Choices

The majority of the 16 Threads business is self-driven. We do some work for clients (if we are interested in a project then we will take it on) but otherwise we spend our time following our passion and creating software that we want to use.

Our aim is for everyone to enjoy the work they do at 16 Threads. If someone has an idea, a pet project, or a vision then they are encouraged to follow that. Or if a project comes in but no-one is interested in it then we will happily pass on it.

Sure, like any business money is important, but we feel that the money will take care of itself because when people love what they do they produce high quality products, making them easier to sell.

Fun in the Sun

We're all about fun at 16 Threads. We have fun at work, we have fun with our clients, and we have fun amongst ourselves. We want everyday to be fun because we believe that work doesn't have always have to be serious (or seriously depressing).

We never let fun get in the way of a project but we make sure not to take ourselves too seriously. After all, life is supposed to be enjoyable and that includes work.


We measure performance on output not time. Measuring time is important for tracking how to improve (we're even building some software to help us with this) but the performance on an individual is not linked to the number of hours they spend at the office.

Everyone gets their work done but they do it at times that are best suited to their own lives. If someone prefers working at night they can. Or if we finish a project early we might find ourselves road-tripping to the beach (or pub) instead of sitting in front of our computers all day.

As long as the work gets done (and meets our very high standards) then we're flexible about all the other details.

Having fun and spending time with my close friends, whilst working on projects I love, that fit around my personal life…I don't think that sounds like "work" at all. :)

Something Had To Give

My apologies for the lack of activity on this site for the past week or so. Believe me when I say I was very disappointed for this to happen - I felt that I was getting into a groove, traffic was building, and my writing was improving with every post. Sadly though, I realised that I had too much on my plate (self inflicted) and that I needed to take a break from a few things. It saddened me that this site was one of the things that had to fall by the way side for a few weeks but it was a decision made on purely economic reasons.

Put simply, I had taken on too many projects and I needed to prioritise them. I chose to do this based on the expected reward:effort ratio each project provided.

Expected Reward vs Effort

I have mentioned before that this site is not exactly a good business proposition in terms of the amount of time and effort it requires and the financial return it brings in. The main purpose of this site is to help people, not make money, but when I am planning on quitting my job in 2012, money is an important issue.

Recently my software development company, 16 Threads, has been gaining momentum which is great news. We've already secured a contract to produce an iPad application for a local government department and we've got several other clients interested in our services,  as well as some in-house products in the works.

The future of 16 Threads is looking very positive, which is great because it is an integral part of how I plan to make money when I quit in 2012. But of course this increased work means that I have less time for my hobbies, like writing articles here. You win some, you lose some.

In reality this site has brought in less than $10 for an estimated 300 hours of effort. That's under 4c per hour.

On the other hand my work for 16 Threads is going to yield me a reward thousands of times higher for a similar level of effort. No contest.

In an ideal world I would love for the majority of my time to be spent working in the self help and personal development industry but until that becomes viable in terms of providing an income for me I will persist with it as just a hobby.

The Future

I don't foresee any drastic things over the next few months (apart from my wedding) that will prevent me from writing articles here so you will continue to see me posting useful articles. I'm not going to go away, but I might just have to scale back my efforts until things settle down.

The good news is that once I establish a few money earning sources for 2012 and quit my job then I will have a massive influx of time and I plan to spend a significant portion of that here, writing articles and helping people.

So stay with me…I've got plenty left to write. :)