managing self

#blogjune Day ten – do you have capacity?

You may have time for something. You can make or find time for something. But do you have capacity?

The way I now look at ‘work/life balance’ (which doesn’t exist as a constant, stable state) has evolved from mainly two things. 1. An exercise I found in the book ‘Do More Great Work’, and then the trigger, 2. Last year, as I was going through all the raw stuff with my Mum’s passing in late 2014.

What’s on your ‘plate’?

One of the first exercises in the book ‘Do More Great Work’ is about capturing a snapshot of how you see what your current work mix looks like (p. 16). You draw a circle, and then divide it into three pie slices, representing how much ‘bad work’, ‘good work’, and ‘great work’ you’re currently doing. From here, you gain some insights into your work and consider what your ideal mix would be (p. 17).

I completed this exercise. And then I re-did it with the pie slices representing my commitments. Using this lens of bad, good and great work, I was able to identify where my time and energies were going, where I could pull things back and what wasn’t giving me value for the effort and could potentially let go.

I now keep this pie in my mind and think of it as my ‘capacity’ and my ‘plate’.

Emotional work is just as taxing, if not more so than ‘thinky’ work

I have never gone through an emotional and mental experience as intense, confusing and draining as when I lost my Mum. The experience completely shattered me.

Thing is, all through last year, I had to survive. That’s all I could think about and do. Put one foot in front of the other. See out each day. Wake up the next. Also during this time, I was wrapping my head around a whole new information service context and eager for exciting new experiences such as teaching. In some ways I threw myself into work. But at the same time, I pulled back on professional stuff to the bare minimum, which was another new experience for me. I did my jobs. I joined NGAC in April. Beyond that, I didn’t do a whole lot.

I certainly had time for more. But I simply didn’t have the energy. Therefore, I didn’t have to capacity to take anything else on to my ‘plate’.

Let’s look at capacity, rather than just time.

Time is only one consideration when trying to decide whether to take something additional on our ‘plate’. Capacity is made up of:

  • time
  • energy
  • what’s already on your ‘plate’

Not all work and commitments are equal in time and the energy required of them. Just because you might have an hour or two spare between kids in bed and your bedtime, doesn’t mean you have to do professional development in that time. Yes, you technically have the time and it might be the only time, but what if you’re feeling wrecked? Would that time be used productively in that state?

Another example is I’ve recently found out how much brain power and energy is needed to do research work. I currently can’t sustain the energy over a whole, continual eight hour day. I’ve found I need shorter chunks of time over the day and week to be productive.

One commitment on, one commitment off

Take this scenario. You’re at capacity and feel you can’t take on anything else right now. But this morning you received an email with an amazing opportunity. You don’t want to pass it up. What do you do?

You need to take a hard look of what’s on your ‘plate’ to avoid overload. If you say ‘yes’ to the opportunity, what’s coming off? If you say ‘yes’, what are you saying ‘no’ to? I find thinking about capacity and what I bring on my ‘plate’ prompts some hard but necessary questions that bring perspective and make me be more strategic about what I take on.

What does your capacity look like right now?

Cover image found on Flickr by Brandi Korte with a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

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  1. “I certainly had time for more. But I simply didn’t have the energy. Therefore, I didn’t have to capacity to take anything else on to my ‘plate’.”

    This is a really enlightening statement. I talk about capacity all the time, but I’m only ever referring to time, not energy or cognitive load.

    Thank you for sharing this. I think this is a lightbulb moment for me.

    1. Just like time, we only have so much energy. 🙂 Thanks for reading, Kate.

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