I’ve been struggling to think of a term for a concept that’s been on my mind recently, and have settled on the term “Cumulative Benefit Task” – unless there is already a term for these or a better one let me know.
Basically, it’s anything (as you would already know) that has an initial set of effort or inertia, but once done, rewards will be reaped continuously from then on over time. These aren’t tasks that you get the full benefit from immediately. It may be that each regular “reward” for this initial effort is quite small, but its value increases more and more over time the longer that benefit is available. The net effect being that cumulative benefit tasks are always the most valuable the earlier you set them up.
The concept is also based on the fact that work projects, and life are finite in time. So if you set these things up late in the process, the benefit you get from them will be much less. The idea being, do the initial effort now to set yourself up for stress/problem free and continual cumulative benefit from then on to get maximum advantage.
The chart below also reflects the initial effort cost which may potentially be substantial (although most the time not so bad once you actually get around to doing it), so the earlier it is done, the sooner it will be “paid off” and made worth it in the long run. Put another way, if you are going to put it off for too long due to being “too busy”, it might almost not be worth doing at all if done later.
Let me give some seemingly random and simple examples just to give the idea:
Work Life / Tech
- Continuous Integration / Development Tools
- Initial Effort: Potentially fairly involved setup of build process, build server and various automation of deployment / development tasks.
- Cumulative Benefit: Much faster and robust development process for the rest of the lifetime project – there is little point putting this off to the end.
- Development Process
- Initial Effort: Setup of the agile process early.
- Cumulative Benefit: Advantages of agile software development project for the entire project duration – this is also self improving so the longer it self improves the better.
- Daily Workflow
- Initial Effort: Decide on how best to structure your emails, calendar, tasks and categories within Outlook for example.
- Cumulative Benefit: Day to day workflow is set early and run in an efficient manner and run on auto-pilot from then on.
- Initial Effort: Getting licenses for software tools and physical kit that increase productivity (extra monitor? wireless headset? comfortable chair? fast PC?).
- Cumulative Benefit: Productivity gains have the biggest impact the longer they are in place.
- Habits / Fitness / Diet / Routine
- Initial Effort: Time spent setting up good habits, routine, diet and fitness plan.
- Cumulative Benefit: Once this is setup, you can continue your busy life knowing that the underlying good habits that have become common nature are keeping you on track and healthy.
- Initial Effort: Time spent investigating financial investments.
- Cumulative Benefit: The earlier this is done of course the better - put the money to work, as opposed to earning negative interest behind inflation. This is one example where you could also have exponential benefit, not just a cumulative benefit when compounding interest is involved for example. This might also be buying a house.
- Buying a car / bike
- Initial Effort: Time for research, dealing with car sales people and initial cost.
- Cumulative Benefit: The longer you have the car or bike the more opportunities you have to take advantage of this.
- Setup at home
- Initial Effort: Investigating and buying of a sound system, filing cabinet, digital picture frame, bread maker, seeding a garden etc.
- Cumulative Benefit: Every day you can take advantage of things around the home that you spent time setting up in the beginning.
These were just random examples, but I propose that these types of things should be placed into the high importance category of our to do lists (maybe even tagged as a Cumulative Benefit task), and set as a high priority in life as opposed to putting these off longer than they need to.
Lets get to it!
Update: @JasonGlover highlighted me to the following xkcd sketch which also relates in many ways :)