September 15, 2022

Wasting valuable energy that should be dedicated to your primary action


Since nobody wants to work too hard or too long to achieve success, becoming prolific is all about mastering the economy of effort.

Arranging your work to coincide with your energy style. That way you can spend as little energy as possible to get your work done.

It sounds counterintuitive. You would assume that a high volume of output could only come from a high level of effort.

But that’s rarely the case. Once you discover your key points of leverage, you see that most exertion is a waste of time. You can actually get everything done just as well, and just as quickly, with a fraction of the work.

I’m reminded of a mantra from my yoga studio. Instructors used to reminded us:

Breathe, don’t blow, when doing postures.

Because blowing, making those short, harsh, dramatic breaths seems like the strategy for powering through challenging poses that make your muscles tremble and burn.

However, it’s not sustainable. It’s too much effort. You’ll burn your lungs out.

The secret is to actually do slow, smooth, calm, unremarkable breaths. Subtly nudging yourself to towards exertion, rather than huffing and puffing and blowing the house in.

Initially it feels like you’re not working that hard, but only because you’re working smart. That’s how you do a ninety minute class in hundred degree heat without collapsing into a puddle of your own sweat. You master the economy of effort.

Seinfeld talks about this principle in regards to the mental exertion of writing. He once commented that the mind is infinite in wisdom, the brain is a stupid little dog that is easy to train. You just have to confine it.

His advice makes a convincing argument for the power of constraints. Leveraging restricting convictions to get better outcomes in the economy of effort.

One of my favorite constraints is giving myself an executional runway. This is my defined area to prepare for takeoff in the early stages of a task or project. It’s done wonders to increase my productivity and also lower my stress level.

Particularly in corporate environments. In each of my jobs at various startups and marketing agencies, I’ve always built a template inventory for my work. Whether it was writing a creative brief, making a pitch deck, filming and editing videos, giving a whiteboard presentation or doing a client interview, it all started with a template.

A structure that liberated my brain from the pressure of having to start from scratch each time.

Even if it was a simple sticky note, blank document or spreadsheet, it was still a constraint that helped me compartmentalize everything I needed to do. This freed up my mind to direct all of its creative energies exclusively into making each piece of work as great as possible.

Now, that didn’t mean every project had to perfectly adhere to all the components on the template, but it went a long way to get the ball rolling in an easy and simple and relaxing way. Complications would always show up later, but for now, it was all about the executional runway.

Think of it like a pilot’s preflight checklist:

Control lock, removed. Ignition switch, off. Flaps, down. Fuel quantity indicator, check. Taser under the seat to zap annoying kids who want a tour of the cockpit, charged.

That’s the economy of effort. It works in yoga, it works in comedy, and it works in aviation.

Without giving yourself that kind of runway first, you lock yourself into a sequence of last minute decision making processes that are exhaustive, stressful and waste valuable energy that should be dedicated to your primary action.

How you using your mind to train your brain? What constraints help you get better outcomes?

Remember, most effort is a waste of time. The discrepancy between the labor intensity of your input and the dollar amount of your output is not what you think it is.

Figure out where the leverage is for your own process, and you won’t have to work too hard or too long to achieve success.

How could you get everything done just as well, and just as quickly, with significantly less effort?