From productivity to capacity

In today’s culture, productivity is highly valued above all else. We believe that the more we accomplish at work, the better. Many of us constantly feel guilty about tasks we think we don’t have enough time for.

When we add family commitments, exercise, and leisure activities to the mix, we find ourselves saying, “It’s too much right now,” and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and talking about how busy we are becomes a way to protect ourselves from getting more do more than our energy is sufficient for.

But this obsession with productivity does more harm than good. Maybe it’s time to start prioritizing our capacity over our productivity.

The difference between productivity and capacity

Productivity is the amount of work we can do in a given time frame, while capacity includes the energy, attention and time we have to give. It is important to shift our focus from how much we can do to how well we can do it. Working as if we are at maximum capacity all the time is like running an engine at full throttle continuously – it does not end well.

The consequences of neglecting capacity

If we do not allocate enough capacity in our lives, we are more likely to become irritable, forgetful and exhausted. As a leader, it is critical to recognize when we are operating at low capacity and take steps to either reduce the amount of work we have undertaken within a given time frame or increase our capacity.

Being intentional with our time

This means being intentional about where we spend our time. Too often we go on autopilot, simply following what we are led to do. We need to pause and reflect on whether what we are doing is right for us at that moment.

Increase capacity?

To increase our capacity, we need both energy and time.

When we have plenty of energy but limited time, we experience stress-capacity. This is often the state most people find themselves in in our corporate environments: one hundred percent on, one hundred percent of the time, but still not high capacity.

On the other hand, when we run out of time and energy, we have reduced capacity. This is a condition many have experienced and this is where burnout lurks.

Waste of capacity occurs when we have plenty of time but lack energy. When we get sick from stress or need time off, our work capacity is greatly reduced.

But when we have both time and energy, we not only have high capacity, but we also possess adaptability – the ability to take advantage of opportunities and cope with unexpected circumstances.

As leaders, we should strive to cultivate high capacity and thus adaptability in ourselves and our teams. This gives us space and time to think, recharge and take advantage of changed circumstances.

Practical strategies to increase capacity:

Create a 15% buffer: Allocate an extra hour per day or half a day per week to build in a buffer for unexpected tasks or relaxation.

Reflection Time: Schedule a daily one-hour meeting with yourself to create space to think and breathe.

Clear your mind: Start each day by writing down all your thoughts. It takes about five minutes in the morning to empty your mind onto paper.

Focus Periods: Plan short, focused periods of similar tasks without interruptions or distractions.

25-minute meetings: Identify a clear purpose for each meeting and optimize the number of participants to reduce meeting times and maximize efficiency.


Embrace capacity for success

The more aware we become of our own work style and the amount of tasks we need to complete, the more aware we become of our capacity and the margins we have. A margin of 15 percent gives us space and additional resources to prevent burnout and take care of ourselves.

Imagine if you could focus more on fewer tasks. Would you then be able to complete a significant project?