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What’s the benefit to bother ratio? And how can we apply it to our professional and personal lives?



This week I spent time visiting my brother Glen and his family in country NSW. While we were out driving from paddock to paddock, doing business as usual and drought related tasks, he told me about his favourite saying from university, “What’s the benefit to bother ratio?”


For him and his university mates it was all about figuring out whether the extra effort requested was worth the extra marks on offer. Just quietly, I suspect it was mostly about how they could rationalise their study time so they could head to the pub as soon as possible.


But it got me thinking.

How much do we do in our lives without considering the benefit to bother ratio?

In our work lives, how often do we just move through the jobs we have to do without questioning the outcome? In the corporate world you hear people talking about outputs versus outcomes all the time...simply a business way of saying, make sure you’re actually doing something useful rather than just doing the job and looking like you have something to show for it at the end of the day.


One of my team members once had a go at me for overuse of one of my favourite sayings, “so what?” I can see how in some situations that may sound a little abrupt, but it is essentially the same concept my brother and his friends were talking about with the “benefit to bother ratio.” When I ask, “so what?” I’m asking what does the piece of work you are doing or have done mean for the intended audience? Will it be useful? Most importantly, will it be worth your time to complete?


It’s not about not bothering. Quite the contrary. It’s about pausing to think about what you’re doing and why. And, in this day and age where we are bombarded with information, inside and outside of work, that pause may just save you valuable time and brain energy.

So how about the benefit to bother ratio in our personal lives?

When applying the benefit to bother ratio to my life outside work it makes me think about that dreaded phrase “life admin”. I know we all have a lot going on but when it comes to doing the washing or getting the best insurance deal, or whatever you have on your life admin list, what would happen if you stopped and looked at each aspect with a benefit to bother lens?


In my home life, I can immediately think of an example where a little more bother would carry much more benefit and vice versa. I think I could spend less time worrying about the cleanliness of my house and put more focus on what I cook for dinner.


A quick and easy meal is often what I feel like after a long day of work; no bother to cook but also minimal benefit in terms of fuelling my body and mind. However, if I spent a bit more time cooking fresh ingredients that are not only good for me but that I also enjoy eating - a little more bother, considerably more benefit.

What if, then, we applied the benefit to bother ratio to our relationships?

Who are you currently spending a lot of emotional time and energy on in terms of maintaining a relationship? Think about your partner, your parents, your children, wider family, friends and colleagues.


When you look at the effort you put in, what benefits are you getting back? There are so many articles written about identifying toxic relationships but are you aware of subtle imbalances with people in your life? Do you make conscious choices based on your relationship benefit to bother ratio.


It could be as simple as asking someone to come to your house for dinner if you’ve had a big week rather than traveling across town to a restaurant. Before automatically saying yes to something, just let the benefit to bother ratio quickly flash through your mind.

Hopefully it's not just me but did you ever notice that when talking about our relationships, we often focus on where the other party's actions are somehow lacking when perhaps we are actually the ones who aren’t bothering for whatever reason.


Are there relationships where you aren’t realising the benefit and where, if you looked at it honestly, maybe you aren’t putting in the work? Or perhaps the work that you're putting in isn’t what the other person values as a benefit?


Thinking about the benefit to bother ratio doesn’t need to be a complicated scientific exercise you undertake in every moment of your life. With some things you may need to put a great deal of thought into it. But mostly, I think we would all benefit (pun intended) from just pausing to think about whatever we are doing or about to do in that context a little more. I know I will be.


Thanks Glen, those hours I spent sitting next to you in the water truck were well worth the bother.

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