I've been thinking about sustainable performance a lot lately.
After you over-work yourself and burn out a couple times, or see core areas of your life get neglected, eventually you wise up and start thinking about sustainability.
But it's always been very, very hard to define. What's "sustainable"? You can keep doing it without things going wrong?
Well, okay, but that's not particularly insightful.
Some people will say it's about having a balance, but I certainly know people who have lives that are out of balance -- but sustainably so, and they enjoy it that way.
Health? Sure, that's a huge part of it, but not the only part.
Tonight I maybe nailed down a definition.
"The trajectory I'm on, I can stay on and my life will keep getting better."
It's still not quite right, but it gets at a big part of it -- trajectory.
If your trajectory ever spirals off a cliff, what you're doing isn't sustainable. This is the classic business that, as it grows, it demands more of the owner's time. So you get golden-handcuffed to your business while losing recovery, relaxation, leisure, time with family and friends, hobbies, learning, reading, fitness, etc, etc, etc.
It takes some perspective to understand trajectory, because often, things are quite bad once you realize they're bad. The signs that the trajectory is no good is like a single cloud faintly on the horizon which announces the gathering storm.
Look at the trajectory. The cost of the same level of success should be going down.
Discretionary choice over how you spend your time should be going up.
Mental and physical wellness should be going up.
Knowledge should be going fun.
Fun should be going up.
If any of these aren't true -- or look they won't be true as more time passes and you go further down the spiral -- it's time to reflect. When a single cloud is on the horizon, there's still 10,000 options of what to do to stay warm and dry.
The past couple of posts are really valuable to me & of course I think it's phenomenal. I printed this one out to make plenty of notes and then apply it. Visualizing your path as a trajectory is quite powerful in and of itself. I'm still grasping the part about the variables that should be going up & the cloud on the horizon but it looks like they are directly proportional. When there's a cloud life is generally plumetting and if life is plumetting, a cloud awaits. Being proactive is an excellent solution. Sincere thanks.
Have been thinking about this a lot in the last couple of days, and ironically came to a conclusion similar to yours.
In particular, I was wondering how best to work most "efficiently" over the weeks/months. A great day is ok, but great days are usually followed by crashes. As a novelist, it's tempting to indulge in being "artistic" and have bouts of amazing writing days followed by days of being mentally exhausted.
Sadly, in creative work, there are very few methods to increase average productivity in terms of something tangible eg word count. Quality can go up, but that involves more than just writing. In addition, I don't want my day to be about only writing and editing non-stop. If I can fit in some exercise and down-time, I feel much better ("higher quality of life".) So I'd recently come to the conclusion that good weeks would be about balanced days.
Unfortunately, I've also just decided to start working in a different genre with a different pen name. And yes, some of the initial costs are lower this time round than when I first started, but costs are much higher than that of continuing writing in my current genre. Short term costs will rise, income will drop slightly (ouch) - but I tell myself I'm doing this because the new genre is much more sustainable over the long run. Fingers crossed it works out that way.
I find this really comes down to making sure you put in the time where it's needed. It's really easy to keep spinning your wheels on the day to day work when you don't take the time to take a step back and look at the big picture.
There's certain projects I work on that require almost no upkeep, and every added hour I can put into them increases their total monthly income. However they don't pay the bills quite yet, the clients do. Even worse the client problems are always urgent or have deadlines, where these projects don't so they get pushed down the ladder even though in the longterm, they have the potential to be much more lucrative. So I'll often end up closing out a day and realizing all I did was maintain. I didn't grow.
My fix for this has been to set time caps on anything that doesn't increase efficiency or income. Occasionally it takes me a couple of business days to get back to my clients now, but ultimately I end up putting in more time on the things that grow the bottom line, rather than sustaining it.
good post. i read this though, and while wonderful if was always true, thought may be a little idealistic as a constant:
[with sustainable trajectory] - "the cost of the same level of success should be going down."
ime, if you're involved in a scalable business in a competitve market, the best you can hope for is for the cost to stay the same, punctuated by moments of the above. this process is essentially the definition of the business cycle.
Hmm. Yes and no.
It's a really good point. Certainly it applies to very large enterprises dealing in commodities. But shouldn't it be at least a little concerning if your enterprise isn't gigantic and the costs aren't going down over time? At levels of revenue that aren't massive, there should be some opportunities for greater efficiencies, creativity, innovation, additional products and services, lower hassle and headache, or something, right?
Good comment. Thought provoking.
"Certainly it applies to very large enterprises dealing in commodities. But shouldn't it be at least a little concerning if your enterprise isn't gigantic and the costs aren't going down over time?"
i really wanted to make the point of referencing scalable businesses, i don't think it necesarily applies to niche markets. but regardless of size, when you participate in a large scalable market, there will be fierce competition and dependency on the greater economic cycle (recession/expansion) which creates immense pressure on the costs of just maintaining a flat-line trajectory (ie, cost of same level of success is constant). my concern as a small business owner in this case is less with my costs not going down, vs my margin and market share vs the competition. if i can maintain competitive numbers during lean times (running to stay in place), i get to participate nicely during expansionary cycles.
"At levels of revenue that aren't massive, there should be some opportunities for greater efficiencies, creativity, innovation, additional products and services, lower hassle and headache, or something, right?"
yes, of course, but if your competition is doing the same, and the business cycle is contracting, then regardless of the level of work in executing all those greater efficiencies, you may still be faced with a downward or flat-line trajectory. revenue doesn't have to be massive. a relatively easy example to grasp this would be a small real estate firm in 2007 vs 2009, even if that firm ran twice as hard and made twice the efficiency enhancements, it would have been difficult for them to see upward trajectory. in this case, staying alive would have been considered a win.
"If I had to live my current situation every day for the rest of my life, would I still do things the same way?"
I bet most people would spend more time on exercise, friends&family, long-term investments, etc.
> "If I had to live my current situation every day for the rest of my life, would I still do things the same way?"
Very useful acid test question here. Cheers.
Yeah, call it the Groundhog Day test.
You really should compile a list of diagnostics that people can use. They can be a powerful tool for getting the subconscious mind to spill valuable/actionable info.
Another one: "what things don't I deserve right now?" <-- This is a very revealing question, since it actually tells you things you SHOULD experience.
Today I'd like to introduce you to Venkat Rao. He writes Ribbonfarm, and he's mastered the difficult challenge of writing smart, novel, entertaining, eloquent, controversial, and accessible content - at the same time. Most people can't do this.
Venkat wrote an excellent reply on Quora to the question, "Is it hard to build, market and maintain a web app that makes at least $1000 a month?" Quora's TOS actually allows you to republish things in full with attribution (and some other requirements), and I thought this would be an excellent introduction to Venkat for you.
This whole reply is brilliant. He's got the orders of magnitude on money, time, and requirements basically dead-on. Extraordinarily impressive read here -
"Is it hard to build, market and maintain a web app that makes at least $1000 a month?"
This is a very interesting question, and the responses are very revealing. It is instantly clear who knows what they are talking about.
I used to dislike to work. I saw how most people lived their lives, slogging through work that they hated, and I was determined not to fall into that trap. I made the mistake of generalizing, lumping all work together in the same bucket.
Since then, things have changed. In terms of monumental personal life changes, becoming a hard worker is the most recent one I've undergone. About a year ago, for reasons I touched on in this post, I decided that it was imperative for me to become a hard worker. I didn't do it because I had suddenly fallen in love with work, but rather because I had began to feel as though I was behind. And believe me, it wasn't love at first sight.
To fall in love with hard work, you must understand why it's necessary. When I was young I was told that sugar was bad, but I never understood exactly why it was bad, so I kept eating it. Only when I learned how it chemically affected my body did I finally give it up. The same is true of work-- if you don't know why you have to work hard and love it, you'll probably never actually do it.
Work is your gift to the world. That sounds corny, but it's true. And believe me, you owe the world a gift or two. Think of all of the various things that millions of people around the world have done for you to enjoy the life you have. They made up languages, invented stuff, procreated at the exact right times to create your ancestry, and managed to not kill each other in the process. We're lucky to be here, and the high standard of living we all enjoy now is only because of those who came before us. Some, like Einstein, had huge impact, but even people you don't notice, like the janitors, are making your life better.