Is there slack in my rope?

Here’s something that is sometimes hard to remember:

Maximal is not optimal.

Imagine, if you will, a highway.

Really picture the flow of cars down this highway…

Fast ones, slow ones, tractor trailer trucks, sedans…

All speeding along.

If we’re checking out this highway in the early afternoon, we might see a smattering of cars.

Not too many, everyone moving at their own pace, perfectly content.

This highway is not at capacity.

We are not maximizing the number of cars on the highway, despite how happy everyone is.

Now, imagine we come back and check out this highway in the middle of rush hour.

A very different picture:

Cars stuck in gridlock, beeping and honking, crawling along.

No one’s particularly happy. In fact, scowls are the order of the day.

In this case, we are maximizing the number of cars on the highway…

But we still aren’t at optimal capacity, because no one’s going anywhere.

In both instances, the highway’s throughput – the rate at which cars get to where they want to go – is lower than it should be.

In the early afternoon, throughput is down because the number of cars is too low.

During rush hour, the number of cars is way up – but throughput is still down, due to congestion.


Maximal is not optimal.

Let’s put this another way:

Any system that is operating at maximum capacity is not operating at it’s best.

This is a hard one to swallow.

Imagine your calendar.

Let’s say I want to optimize your productivity – help you get as much done as you can within the allotted time.

One approach might be to maximize the amount of tasks you do.

I could fill up every available moment of your schedule. Every single white space on your calendar, filled up.

By doing so, I’m guaranteeing you will complete the most tasks possible…


Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you care at all about quality of life), this is not the case.

Because as the week goes on, you will become more and more burnt out…

More and more tired…

More and more stressed…

And your productivity will decline.

Pretty soon, you’ll be lucky if you’re staying upright at your desk, much less getting anything done.

Maximal is not optimal.

Adding any more tasks to your schedule results in diminishing returns – a reduction of throughput.

So, very often, when I work with people who want to improve their productivity, I achieve almost immediate results by…

Taking things off their calendar.

Just like the highway has the optimal throughput by finding the sweet spot between more cars and less cars…

We find the sweet spot in our work by balancing more with less, and work with rest.

One final metaphor:

Imagine you are climbing a mountain.

It’s steep. You’re miles up.

Everywhere around you is wind, and jagged rocks, and ice, and death.

You scan for the next hand hold; you can feel the strain in your forearm.

Your muscles are tiring. They’re screaming as the lactic acid builds, and builds, your entire bodyweight balanced on a few tiny fingertips…

But you see noting.

No hold.

No crevice.

A dead end.

And at that very moment of realization, you feel your fingertips slip away…

And the mountain begins to recede into the sky.

You are falling.

Certainly to your death, were it not for…

The rope.

The rope you tied around your waist.

Ask yourself now, as you fall…

Ask yourself the only question that matters:

Is there slack in my rope?

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