Recently I solidified my thinking about the intensity of doing things.
Instead of optimizing for output, I optimize for sustainability.
It is not a rapid change; instead, I thought about how I want to do things and how I do it, but it wasn't named so far. Sustaining activities over a long time is more important than stretching yourself to the limit for high output. The thing is - society around us tells us differently.
Society around you tells you to push harder, do more, optimize to cram more into each hour. You see people achieving, doing things that seem not reachable, and sharing X tips for improving your productivity.
When you see such a person attain their goals while running an ultra-marathon and taking care of five kids at the same time, there might be a question in your head: Why I can't do it*?*
It is a wrong question. The good one is: Should I do it in this way?
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Even if you can wake up at 4 AM (nothing wrong with it, I know people who do it and build their daily rhythm around it), and put 14hrs or work every day, is it a way to go?
Let me share a story here: I've never been on a diet. I know people need to follow the diet for health reason, or it is a way they control their weight (I follow my friend at 50in500.com who take on his path to lose some weight), so I'm not sharing it to say diet is wrong.
For me, diet is not sustainable.
Diet means the elimination of some food or limiting your daily intake (or both). My problem with diet is that if I use it to control my weight, I need to stick to it forever and say goodbye to a particular food. It will be a never-ending on/off diet cycle. It is not sustainable in the long run.
What I do instead is:
- Trying to eat reasonably healthy and reasonably in size
- Put exercise in my daily routine to make sure I'm getting enough move to counterbalance energy from food.
- Observe the trajectory of my vitals.
Yesterday I had a pizza and a beer. I never looked how many calories it had or can I eat it. I know I will no do it every day, I had my 15k run before it, and I know my vitals are good and steady.
I optimize it for sustainability in the long run. I don't want to be stressed about something I need to do daily (food) and restrained forever, so I know I need to pace myself around the long run. So far, it works great for me with steady weight over a couple of years.
Another example is my approach to writing and publishing online. I could commit to write every day or record every day/week for my podcast and start a YouTube channel too to it. I can run it like it for a while; you can see people do it, and social media algorithms and audience rewards them with reach and attention (assuming they have something to say).
The high chance is I would drop all of it after a month or two. It isn't sustainable - at least for me (I know people do it for years). I pace myself. I do:
- One newsletter a week
- Weekly podcast alone or with a quest
- Occasional blog post (this will change into a regular one, I promise :) )
- Some social media posting.
But I pace myself here to not burn out of ideas and my will to do it to sustain those activities over a long time. Scott Hanselman talked about the same approach to deliver high-quality output over a long period in his video.
Those are examples from my private life, but I try to take the same approach for my professional life or tasks I need to do. You can work hard and do 20 or 30 things on your To-Do list daily. Then finish the work exhausted but with an "I did it" approach. Nothing wrong with pushing things and the "I did it" approach. Our brain is built to reward it. The highest rewarded skill in our professional settings is moving things towards completion.
Observe not only the output metric (how much you did or achieved) but also other "metrics":
- How do you feel physically and mentally?
- Are you keeping pace in other areas, not only achieving the work results?
- What you are sacrificing to achieve the results (there always is something), and how do you feel about it.
There is nothing wrong with being an achiever and have high output. Think if you can sustain it over a long period. Can you do it at the pace you are doing it right now for the next one or two years or five?
Pacing yourself means you might slow down or speed up and also that there will also be periods of crunch (pizza and a beer) that require you later to rest or calm a bit. Everything has a price, and if you speed up, you need to pay it later.