Is the Extra Mile a Waste of Time?

time management extra mileWe grow up hearing that we don’t get far in life without going the extra mile. That going above and beyond the call of duty is the way to be noticed, get ahead, and stand out, but is it really the best use of our time? This week I read an article called “Nobody Cares How Awesome You Are at Your Job” that made me re-think the assumption that exceeding expectations is always best. Here is what I discovered…

My Initial Reaction

In this article, the author cites a study in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal that found people are disappointed when expectations aren’t met, but aren’t necessarily impressed when they are exceeded. The researcher makes a comparison to Amazon shipping- that if you order something with 4 day shipping and it arrives in 5, you’re upset, but if it arrives in 3, you aren’t impressed.

At first I was angry with this article. I thought the take-away message was that we should all strive for mediocrity, never try hard, and skate by on doing the least amount of work possible. But then I thought more about it.

Re-thinking Mediocrity

Since when is fulfilling a promise mediocre? Since when is doing exactly what you say you’re going to do not good enough? Perhaps it’s this kind of “above and beyond” thinking that creates an unrealistic super hero mentality. That we are all capable of doing absolutely everything, and if we don’t, we’re letting people down. Perhaps it’s wonderful that we aren’t overly impressed with over-delivered promises, because simply fulfilling an expectation should be good enough.

This super hero mentality also causes us to let some people down while we’re trying to overly impress others. We only have so much energy and so much time in the day, so if you’re spending more time than you should on one task, you’re probably not putting the necessary time into your other obligations. The people you’re letting down don’t really care that you over-delivered to someone else. Perhaps it’s best to make sure all of your obligations are met before trying to exceed any of them.

It Still Has a Place

Finally, I do believe that there is still a place for the extra mile. I like to go above and beyond for my friends when I know they aren’t expecting it, or when I’m particularly passionate about a project. However, when the “extra mile” becomes something we expect of ourselves all the time, it isn’t really an “extra” anymore. You’ve just made the journey longer.

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