Break your limits

GTD, Productivity — By on September 30, 2010 12:35 pm

We’re often advised to know our limits. We shouldn’t over-reach or over-step the mark, but instead operate comfortably within our capabilities. Then we know we’ll deliver and we won’t embarrass ourselves with failure.

The problem is this leads to entropy. Unless we push ourselves, how do we even know what our limits are? In weight-training, athletes are taught to lift heavier and heavier amounts in small increments. The muscles go beyond their breaking point, tear and are stronger when they reform. The same is true in other aspects of our lives. A pattern of over-stepping our limits by a small amount will lead to an increase in performance.

This means the next project should be just a bit more complex than the last. The next speaking engagement to a slightly larger audience. The next sales target, a bit steeper. The new budget, a bit bigger than the last. The team should have a few extra members.

This stretches our capacity to deliver. But in order to achieve the improvement, we need a period of recovery. Time to rebuild the muscle. And the project mustn’t be significantly harder than the last, otherwise like the weight-lifter attempting an extra 20kg, you won’t get the right result.

As managers, it’s our duty to stretch our team members, then to allow them time to recover. Constant pressure actually weakens capabilities. Equally, tasks which are inside the comfort zone don’t provide the means for challenge and growth. It’s a fine balancing act. People don’t tend to like being stretched, but at the same time can become too comfortable and start to underperform.

If you want to improve your performance – know your limits – then break them.

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