I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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thermostat

For most of the people who read this blog, saying yes is easy. The bright, driven folk who read Lifeclever do so in part because they feel overwhelmed by their workload. No slackers in this bunch”at least, few normal people would call one of us a slacker, although I’m sure we sometimes think of ourselves as lazy, unmotivated, and so on.

What if I told you I was trying to lose weight by exercise alone? What if I told you I got up at dawn every morning to run eight miles before my morning coffee? And what if I told you this while tearing into my second hamburger, complaining about how hard it is for my body to lose weight.

“It’s my metabolism!”

But it’s not my metabolism, you’d say. It’s the fact that I eat too much. Right?

Same thing applies to productivity.

Productivity As Dynamic Equilibrium

Remember those diagrams from Earth Science that demonstrated “dynamic equilibrium”? Here’s one. If you feel overwhelmed by your workload, your personal dynamic equilibrium—your work “thermostat”—is set too high.

That’s why you can work twice as hard Monday, and before you can take a breath you’re saying yes to another project and digging yourself back into your hole.

Once you get accustomed to feeling overwhelmed all the time, you will unconsciously seek that sinking sensation when it goes away. If your task list gets a little smaller, you’ll think of new tasks. Complete a project, and you’ll add two.

Even though you come home every night bemoaning your workload, promising yourself that you’ll commit to fewer things in the future, when someone sends you an email asking if you could design their site, or write them some copy, or just help them setup a WordPress install, you fire off an affirmative without a second thought.

Build a Dam

I carry around my shorties in one of these gorgeous Levenger items. One side has a small plastic window for ID. Recently, I put a card in there that reads:

SAY NO TO NEW PROJECTS

There are only so many mantras you can stick in your own face at a time, and I figured this was the highest priority.

The next day, I was on the phone with someone at the office while idly toying with the card. That person offered me the opportunity to participate in an exciting project. Something with lots of potential for learning and growth. I found myself saying yes even as my eyes were directly resting on a card that read

SAY NO TO NEW PROJECTS

Luckily, I snapped out of my trance and took it back before things went any further. And in retrospect I’m incredibly glad. What was I thinking?

Shut the Door in Opportunity’s Stupid Ugly Face

Sure, there will be some projects you can’t refuse, either because your job depends on them or because they truly represent once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. But in both cases, if the new project is really that extraordinary, ask yourself which of your current projects you’d be willing to postpone or cancel to make room.

Also, this is not to say you should say no forever. You just need to find a new equilibrium.

After a few months of religiously saying no whenever possible, you will find yourself with more and more breathing room. Eventually, you’ll realize you’ve gone too far, that you actually have an hour of free time each night to spend as you please. Congratulations! From that point forward, maintain dynamic equilibrium by adding projects and tasks only as you complete others.

Be vigilant and you may find yourself feeling rested, alert, and simply whelmed. You might even spend less time reading LifeClever. Don’t worry about Chanpory and me, though. There will always be masochists out there willing to overcommit themselves.

Photo by midnightcomm

11 Comments

  • ttiahava

    gravatarMar 13, 2008
    7:09 am

    […]Even though you come home every night bemoaning your workload, promising yourself that you’ll commit to fewer things in the future, when someone sends you an email asking if you could design their site, or write them some copy, or just help them setup a WordPress install, you fire off an affirmative without a second thought.[…]

  • simon

    gravatarMar 13, 2008
    7:10 am

    […]Be vigilant and you may find yourself feeling rested, alert, and simply whelmed. You might even spend less time reading LifeClever. Don’t worry about Chanpory and me, though. There will always be masochists out there willing to overcommit themselves.[…]

  • ovysimon

    gravatarMar 13, 2008
    7:12 am

    […]What if I told you I was trying to lose weight by exercise alone? What if I told you I got up at dawn every morning to run eight miles before my morning coffee? And what if I told you this while tearing into my second hamburger, complaining about how hard it is for my body to lose weight.

    –œIt’s my metabolism!–

    But it’s not my metabolism, you’d say. It’s the fact that I eat too much. Right?

    Same thing applies to productivity.[…]

  • LoveandSalt

    gravatarMar 13, 2008
    7:53 am

    This is excellent! Sometimes what we are doing “hurts too much to stop.” The meat of this wonderful post for me, comes when you really bring it down to the actual choice: which of your projects are you going to abandon in order to pursue this new one? Sometimes you really will decide to dump one project to start a new one, and sometimes it’s even a good idea. But not that often. We all need to rediscover the artful joy of: Breathing Room! Thank you for this. Cynthia

  • Craig Harper – Motivational Speaker

    gravatarMar 13, 2008
    10:16 pm

    Saying no to new projects is extremely important.

    As someone who’s started and completed lots of projects over the years I’ve found that if you don’t prioritise your time on one or two projects then you just end up doing lots of projects really badly and becoming very frustrated.

    Sit down, get some clarity, draft your plan and don’t get distracted. Craig

  • Aman Chaudhary

    gravatarMar 17, 2008
    10:24 pm

    Wow… This is so me. :-/

    Love the diagram!

  • larry

    gravatarMay 2, 2008
    11:34 am

    Man, sometimes I see dollar signs and say YES!!! to what are supposed to be exciting little projects and ever time I fall victim to scope creep, the money runs out and I’m stuck with another project to support. I gotta say no.

  • Andrea

    gravatarJun 19, 2008
    5:34 am

    I have problem with my weight and iam going to the gym 5 times a week and still nothing change on my body do u think is any problem with my metabolism.

  • izmir cuisine

    gravatarJul 30, 2008
    2:17 pm

    –œIt’s my metabolism!–

    But it’s not my metabolism, you’d say. It’s the fact that I eat too much. Right?

    That’s not right… all the researches show that… some just born lucky… they can eat what ever they want, when ever they want but for sure this is not a guarantee to be healty… just thin…

  • c

    gravatarSep 15, 2008
    12:17 am

    I have tried so many diet programs without success and nearly gave up, and then I bought and tried Fat Loss for Idiots. It is a no-nonsense approach that really worked for me!

  • Andrew

    gravatarSep 15, 2008
    10:13 am

    Lay off the burgers and have a veggie or fruit shake instead.

    You’ll have more energy and it’s obviously better for you.

    This alone will make you more productive as you’ll be able to focus much better throughout the day as your body is not trying to purge out the ‘grease’ crap.