Measure return after making the thought-out effort

By JJ Rosen March 5, 2023
Return on Effort

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

I took a deep breath before I stepped on the scale.  We were a month into the pandemic, and I was certain I wouldn’t like what I saw.

Yep, it was bad news.

Between my gym being closed and my newfound quarantine snacking hobby it had only taken me four short weeks to gain 10 pounds.  At the rate I was going, I would easily double my weight by the time the pandemic ended if I wasn’t careful.

My pre-pandemic exercise routine consisted of playing squash a few times a week and doing some light weight lifting every other day. Both activities were easy to commit to because they were fun.

But now, with gyms closed and pandemic blues permeating through our house, staying in shape had suddenly become more difficult.  My exercise activities that I had been doing for years were no more. And, there was no telling how long it would take before they would come back. Getting motivated to do anything but Zoom calls and Netflix felt out of reach.

I had lost the “eye of the tiger” and I knew the longer I waited to find a new work-out activity the harder it would be to get it back.  Getting back in shape was going to take some serious effort.

So, for the first time in years I had to find a new quarantine friendly form of exercise if I were to have any chance of dropping the pandemic pounds I had so quickly gained.  What would it be?

I decided that in order to get up off the couch I needed to take a cue from something we do at our company. I needed maximize my “return on effort.”

In the business world there are many popular metrics that measure how well a company is performing.  Common indicators like “ROI” (return on investment), “ROA” (return on assets), and “ROE” (return on equity) help managers track their efficiency. These are well known and easy to calculate, and very valuable in assessing a company’s performance.

Return on effort however, while not as well-known and harder to assess, can be just as important.

Different companies quantify “effort” and “return” in different ways.  For our company we decided to focus on the length of time a project takes versus the tangible impact it would have on our business.

For example, we found that the effort needed to produce our company podcast was well worth it because it had had a measurable impact on both our sales and company culture.  We spent hours deciding on the format, the name, the opening music, and finding guests. But the effort had a high return, generating new leads and providing our team with a new creative outlet that they enjoyed being a part of.

The key I have found is to consider return on effort proactively.  Just like on the financial side where getting “the most bang for the buck” is the goal, when it comes to time, we aim for getting “the most bang for the effort.”

The cool thing about the return on effort measurement is that unlike traditional performance indicators like ROI and such, return on effort can be applied to your life outside of work.

So, in my quest to get back in shape, I researched what exercise would have the greatest return (calories burned) for the least effort (time spent.)  Unfortunately, just like in business, it was tough to find any exercise that was low effort and high return.

After considering my options, I concluded that running was my best bet.  High effort, but the highest return in terms of calories burned per hour.

I don’t love running, but as I am lumbering along, I take comfort knowing that the work will pay off. It took about two months, but eventually I was back down to my pre-pandemic weight.

Whether it’s business or personal, aiming for a high return on effort is worth, well, the effort.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville custom software development firm and IT support company. Visit for more info.

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