Dealing with an Infinite Workload.
I’m not sure which essay I wrote on this before. Recently, I watched a lecture by Jordan Peterson. He discussed the importance of hard work and strategies to avoid burnout. He particularly mentioned the concept of infinite workload for lawyers, but I believe it applies to most knowledge workers and top professionals.
Many struggle to comprehend this, but I not only understand it, but I also live with it daily. It takes a specific psychological strength to keep going when there is no end. No matter how much I accomplish daily, there is always more to do. Every document I finish, every email I send, and every response I make, leads to more work. The faster I finish tasks, the more work I generate.
But this is not all bad, you typically get into situations when you are a trusted person that people know you can get the work done. And I would always prefer to have more work on my plate than have nothing at all because I do think that there’s a strong correlation between work, responsibility, and meaning. It is all interlinked.
When people need something from you, they are expressing their trust and reliance. They are also showing that you are important to them. Feeling important is a priority for most people, even if they won’t admit it. If you observe closely, you will see that most people are striving to impress society.
This isn’t bad as long as it’s not overdone. It’s about finding the right balance between taking responsibility for creating purpose in your life and learning to say no so you can have a life. It’s about striking a balance between our evolutionary need for recognition from others and not making a complete mess of our lives.
From a practical standpoint of you, dealing with an infinite workload is quite interesting. This is because there is no effective system to deal with it. It doesn’t matter how much you delegate, it doesn’t matter how much you prioritize, and it doesn’t matter how efficient you become — you will never complete your work.
But that doesn’t mean that we should give up.
It just means that we need to get used to having an extensive list of things we haven’t done and are not going to do in a reasonable timeframe. Then, you have to deal with the consequences.
Something will slip — that is guaranteed. The question is, what will you let slip, and what will you do on time at a high quality? So instead of aiming for perfection, we aim for the least-worst outcome.
You would imagine that this gives you a reputation as someone who is unreliable because things constantly slip. I don’t think that is the case, people appreciate when other people are busy and indemand and will often be patient.
Other things can wait; they will get done in time if they get done at all. There is an idea here that is self-serving, how do you choose what you’re going to do? Well, you focus on doing the things that will advance your agenda as far and as quickly as possible – that’s it!
This is, in some ways, a little Machiavellian, but that doesn’t mean you have to mistreat people. Or play office politics. You just prioritize what will have the most impact on your own career or projects.
I no longer strive to accomplish my entire to-do list. Instead, I prioritize and aim to complete a few key tasks each day. As long as I’m making progress, I’m satisfied. I play long-term games with long-term people, to paraphrase Naval — so the exact pace and position I’m in don’t matter as much.
I don’t focus on short-term projects. My current position reflects the work I did five years ago. My current efforts will shape my future in five years.
Compounding is powerful. To create something amazing, it is essential to choose the right tasks each day. Small improvements and efforts, day after day, will add up to something remarkable.
But it is also important to remember that you need to take breaks. Work can be an essential component of life there are plenty of other things to consider too. One still needs to balance health, relationships, mindfulness, travel, and any other hobbies and external goals that you have.
In some ways, being prolific can help you achieve these goals outside of work.
This is because you can equal the output of an average person with a fraction of the effort if you’re already highly efficient and prolific. If you can do 40 hours worth of work in 20 hours, somebody will pay you twice the hourly rate.