When I find myself saying the same thing multiple times, it's time to write it up in an article.
Recently, in my coaching sessions primarily with EA clients, I’ve found myself giving the same advice multiple times – cut down on what you’re doing, spend time on yourself, and try to be unproductive for short periods of time.
The problem is that people want to work at their maximum capacity in order to be the most impactful. And that is the productivity fallacy. So let’s take a look at what happens when you are constantly working at full capacity.
To start with, I'm going to use the analogy of a computer since most of us are pretty familiar with the basic mechanics of how it works. When a computer is going slowly, there are a few basic troubleshooting steps:
- Check your computer’s resources
Your computer only has a limited amount of resources to apply to the tasks set to it. When it exceeds hardware limitations, it will not be able to perform the required functions. Even worse, when it’s exceeding its resource availability (running at >80%) for an extended period of time, it can have unintended and negative consequences such as shortened lifespan, slower performance, and software errors.
I don’t think anyone would argue with that – that’s pretty much basic knowledge.
So let’s apply that to you and productivity:
We only have a limited amount of energy. You can definitely argue that it’s a design flaw with humans. When we exceed that amount of energy without replenishing it properly, you start running at “max capacity”. When you’re running at max capacity (being highly productive and efficient with your time without the restorative components to balance it), there are 3 big problems you’ll encounter:
- You’re at a much greater risk of burnout, getting sick, and harming your long-term ability to be impactful. The stress on your system has damaging consequences for both your physical and mental health, and they’re not easy to recover from.
- Humans aren’t built to do too much at once. If you take too much on, it will likely take necessary energy away from the things that matter most.
- You’re much more likely to make mistakes. Mistakes can often be prevented by having the presence, calm, and headspace to focus properly. When you have too much going on, mistakes should be expected. You’re also less likely to be able to come up with creative solutions since our creativity flows much more when we’re not in a stressed state.
2. Close unnecessary applications
If your computer is running too many applications, it slows everything else down. So you have to make a choice – which are the ones that are critical to have running, and which ones can you live without, are consuming too many resources, or you didn’t even realize were consuming resources?
Applying that back to you, take an honest look at the activities that consume your resources. Which ones are critical to keep going? Which ones are less essential? Letting go of something isn’t a failure – it’s redirecting your resources to excel in your top priorities. Sometimes it helps to use a “monitoring program” like time tracking to see where your time and energy is going.
3. Optimize your settings
Sometimes there are some applications that you need, but they consume a lot of resources. So the next recommended step is to optimize your settings. Sometimes it’s deleting the backlog, or changing the refresh rate, or having it not run in the background, or run at lower intensity. There are lots of potential solutions, and they differ based on your unique set of programs, available resources, and objectives.
In your life, there may be some things that are high-resource consuming. But they don’t need to be that way. How can you adjust these things to consume less resources? It may require setting boundaries with friends and family, installing a time blocking app, or learning to delegate, or striving to meet a lower bar in a certain program or task. How can you accomplish the same goal, or close to it, with fewer resources? Try switching up some of your “settings” to see which ones help create more resource availability. It might require adding new “applications” that are more efficient – like task management systems and calendar scheduling tools so that you can free up some literal memory.
4. Restart your computer
I really don’t understand the technicality of why restarting your device works to solve problems, but it does (yes, I did look it up, so no need to explain it – I just personally don’t understand the mechanics of how computers work; I just use them!). Things just go wrong sometimes and a good reset fixes it and refreshes everything.
For you – get some sleep. Take a vacation. Get away from everything and “turn yourself off”. You’ll wake up / come back rejuvenated, replenished, and ready with lots of resources to do your best work. That is MUCH more impactful than working during that same period of time.
I’m assuming that most of the people reading this at least appreciate the value of long-termism. If you want to be a true long-termist, you want to think about how you can make yourself the most impactful over the long term, not just over the short term period. That means taking care of yourself, saying no to things, not overextending yourself, and making sure you always have that extra 20% capacity built into your schedule. Yes, there will be short times when you'll need to extend yourself, but make sure that they stay short. Otherwise, you run the danger of being more impactful in the short term, but less impactful in the long term. I know it feels very counterintuitive, but it's really important to keep in mind as you optimize your life to be as high-impact as you can.