Do only as much today as you can recover from before tomorrow
That phrase has haunted me since finishing Effortless by Greg McKeown. If you read that and think, 'Ha, that sounds like weakness', then you are an idiot. I say that with conviction because I myself was an idiot.
I am the kind of person who works too much. I will slog away at things long past diminishing returns because something in the back of my mind says slowing down is going backwards. For most of my early twenties, I was young enough to get away with it too. Energy drinks and excessive calories kept me going long past my body telling me to stop. This year I turn thirty, and I don't bounce back quite as quickly. If I am going to dedicate myself to something for the next decade, I need to be planning on the scale of decades. Burning out in the first year isn't going to get me there.
When I think about exercise, this message is pretty obvious. If I want to run every day or lift weights multiple times a week, then going too hard works against me. My body hurts, I risk injury, and ultimately I fall short of where I want to be. Through this analogy, it's a little easier to think how the same might apply to work. I am not advocating against long hours, deep focus or doing hard things—quite the opposite. I realise that the path to being prolific happens over a decade or more, and in the same way that I can't run for 24 hours once a year to achieve fitness, I can't burn the candle at both ends and expect success.
Effortless had an impact on me because knowing the important things to work on is only step one. Finding a way to work on those things for the rest of my life is just as difficult and ongoing a task as choosing them. The book encourages not waiting for the finish line to enjoy things. That working on hard things can and should be fun. There is no prize for being a moody asshole that spends all his time working.
Anyone who has spent enough time around 'Hustle Culture' and had that bubble pop will probably find this all too familiar. Twitter and Linkedin are plagued with people projecting the idea of working themselves to the bone to outwork everyone else and be successful. I probably bought into this for longer than I should have. In the same way that Instagram is full of doctored photos, these posts are a fantasy. They work because it feels within reach. "If I spend more hours on this, I will win". You won't.
Effortless is a wake-up call. The "How-To Guide" for McKeown's previous book Essentialism. It provides a quick, easy to digest and hard to forget. It's the path to a life of doing the right things and doing them with joy.