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  • Donald E. Hester

Balancing Effort and Outcome

Balancing Effort and Outcome: The Value of Planned Neglect in Achieving Success and Avoiding Burnout.

During a past TechEd conference, I found myself feeling down after receiving a low score on an exam that my Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) friends had scored significantly higher on. However, one of my friends shared a concept with me that changed my perspective - planned neglect. He explained that my score indicated I had studied enough, while they had studied too much. This concept stuck with me, and I started practicing it while working toward my Master's Degree.

I remember a particularly tough semester where I had a lot of research and papers to complete. One of my classes required weekly quizzes and discussion posts, and during one particularly stressful week, I decided to neglect that class assignment. I had already secured an A in the class, and my goal was to obtain my degree, not a 4.0 GPA. In the end, I still maintained an A in the class, and the week off helped me regain my emotional balance.

It's important to remember that the end goal is not always perfection. Rather, it is important to determine the level of effort required to achieve the desired outcome. For example, when it comes to certification exams, is the goal to score a 100% or to simply pass? It is essential to be aware of diminishing returns, such as the exponential increase in effort required to make a 1% increase from 97% to 98%.

Planned neglect can help you to maintain a healthy balance and avoid burning out. While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes neglecting certain tasks can help you to achieve your goals by reducing stress and allowing you to focus on the most critical aspects. However, planned neglect must be balanced with continuous improvement to ensure that progress is still being made toward the end goal.

It's important to be aware of the value of our time and stress levels. Perfection is not always necessary, and it's essential to determine what level of effort is required to achieve the desired outcome. Sometimes, planned neglect can help you achieve the right balance between effort and outcome, leading to greater success and happiness.

This concept can be used in business processes as well. There is a concept commonly known as the law of diminishing returns. In general, the law of diminishing returns states that as you continue to invest more resources (such as time, money, or effort) into a particular goal or project, the incremental benefit gained from each additional resource investment will decrease over time.

In the context of seeking a "100% solution", the law of diminishing returns suggests that as you approach a perfect or complete solution, the cost of achieving that last bit of improvement will be increasingly high. This is because the initial stages of a project or task often involve relatively simple and easy improvements that can be made with minimal investment. However, as the project progresses and the improvements become more refined and complex, the resources required to achieve each incremental gain become more significant.

For example, adding features to an application in its early stages of software development is relatively easy and inexpensive. However, as the application becomes more complex and feature-rich, adding new features becomes more difficult and costly. The cost of developing and maintaining an application with every possible feature and function will eventually become prohibitively expensive. The benefits gained from those additional features may not justify the cost.

In many cases, it is more practical and cost-effective to aim for a solution that is "good enough" for the majority of users or stakeholders, rather than striving for perfection. This is where the concept of the 80% solution comes into play, which I will discuss in a future post. By focusing on delivering a solution that meets the most important needs of the project or task, organizations can avoid getting bogged down in expensive and time-consuming efforts to achieve perfection, while still achieving a high degree of success.


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