One of the things I notice when working with new clients, is that they often feel that one of the aims of coaching is to enable them to do more. I can fully understand that. I think we all have more things that we’d like to be do than we really have time and energy for.
We’d all like to have just a little more capacity.
The difficulty with this is that there really is a hard upper limit to our capacity. No matter how much sleep we miss, how many time-saving devices we employ, how efficient we are, there are still only ever 24 hours in each day.
If we focus primarily on increasing our capacity, not only do we have the law of diminishing returns to deal with, we also have a genuine ceiling to how far we can succeed. It seems to me that the aim to constantly increase our capacity can be something of a poisoned chalice.
I like to use the analogy of carrying a large pack on your back. Everything that you commit to has to be carried inside that pack. Once the pack is full, you can’t add anything else without removing something first.
One of the reasons I like this analogy is that it highlights one of the pitfalls of trying to work close to your capacity. Carrying a full pack around all day sounds tiring, and it is. Carrying the mental weight of a fully-packed day, knowing that there’s little room for change or spontaneity, is tiring.
Every minor bump in the road can threaten to unbalance you.
Working at or close to capacity means that we find it difficult to adjust and adapt. This is true whether we’re thinking about time, physical, mental or emotional energy, finance or any other resource.
One of the hardest steps for clients new to coaching is to stop trying to always do more and I understand that. It’s easy to be confident when your pack is full. You know that you’re working hard and you can point to your full schedule as evidence. It’s really difficult to refuse an opportunity or challenge that you know you could fit in in order to keep some capacity spare for the unexpected.
We worry that we’re slacking. We have that dreaded fear of missing out. We wonder whether we’re really doing enough.
I recommend that my clients try to keep their usual routine at or around 80% of their capacity. You wouldn’t ask a racehorse to gallop full speed everywhere you wanted it to go. Working at our full capacity isn’t sustainable for any of us. There will undoubtedly be times when something unexpected will happen and you’ll need to ramp things up to cope.
These short term bursts can be adrenaline-filled and invigorating. The feeling of rising to meet a challenge can be a fantastic place to be for a while, provided you’re not already drained from months or years of carrying that heavy sack.
Working within your capacity applies to small aspects of your life as well as to the major ones. It can be something as simple as making sure that your morning routine has enough spare time in it that you can still achieve everything that’s important to you even if you oversleep by 45 minutes (as I did just a few weeks ago). If I’d booked my day to capacity, sleeping through my alarm could have been catastrophic. As it was, I had the extra time and energy to still meditate, run and write in my journal.
Most importantly of all, keeping spare capacity means that you can adapt to take advantage of the sudden, unexpected joys of life.