"I'm not a chicken. I'm just really hesitant." -Frasier Crane
Question #88913 posted on 02/05/2017 8:54 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

How can I become a more high-output person? I am a nontraditional pre-med student, which means that I don't have the luxury of being just a student while I prepare for the MCAT/med school admissions (and I'm kicking myself for not having made this decision at a more appropriate time). I work 40 hours per week in a medical clinic, take classes online at night, volunteer, shadow, and of course attend church and do life-sustaining tasks like laundry and food-making.
Logically, I know that I am well-prepared and capable. I know that I can get through a certain amount of content in my classes during the hours after work and before bed. But for some reason, I have the hardest time maintaining motivation to follow through on days that have been especially taxing. Subconsciously, I guess I feel like I need/deserve a break. But sometimes that break turns in to two hours of lost productivity. Or sometimes if I haven't taken a break, I find myself constantly distracted by thoughts and ideas I haven't had time to dump out of my brain.
Day to day, I feel quite happy and fulfilled with this busy lifestyle, but at this point I'm concerned about my ability to push through and accomplish the goals I have set for myself.

Any suggestions from the exceptionally busy and well-studied writers? How do you balance all of the demands in your lives while staying sane and not getting burned out?

- The Happy Wednesday Pony


Dear person,

I am a PhD student, which probably qualifies me to say that I am busy (though probably not anything else). I have been counseled by professors to schedule in a decent amount of fun time. That way the fun time is planned and accounted for and I don't feel guilty about it and it will help me stay motivated. That is how the theory goes, anyway - I don't have the best self-control when it comes to keeping a schedule and I haven't been able to bring myself to try it yet because I'm afraid of losing productivity. However, it sounds like a good theory and I'm going to try this semester to make myself schedule in fun time. That's the goal. Maybe that could help you if you are in a similar state of franticness. 

Reading about your situation... it sounds like you are already a really high-output person, which reminds me of another piece of advice I was given. There's a student in my program who told me at the beginning of my first semester: "Plan on disappointing one of your professors every week - just make sure you rotate the professors so you don't disappoint the same one two weeks in a row." This was actually very helpful in helping me come to terms with the fact that I have limited temporal and emotional means. It's okay to not do a perfect job.

So, maybe try scheduling in some free time. You might even be more productive than if you don't. Also, thanks for asking this question - attempting to answer it is inspiring me to make plans to do something different.



Dear you,

I really agree with the answer Sheebs gave above. I would add that it's important to know where enough is enough. Figure out where you can be sloppy and where you can't. Often doing 10 percent better on something can take two or three times as long, which just isn't worth it, especially if you have too much to do.



Dear Hump Day,

The trick is to find the exact extent to which you can let things slide. Something that has really frustrated me, is due to an extremely busy schedule, I just can't be as good at some things as I know I could be. However, I've learned that doing my best doesn't mean somehow managing to perform at the same level in every area of my life as I could if I didn't have other constraints on my time. It means performing at the best level possible taking into account all the other things I have on my plate.

In economics, there is a non-satiation rule. It means that people would be happiest if they were able to consume infinite bundles of goods. However, that's obviously not possible, and so when economists declare a best combination of goods, it's not the theoretical best bundle ever (which would be infinite) but the best bundle that satisfies an individual's budget constraint. The same principle applies to the activities we fill out lives with. In a world without constraints, we would be able to do everything we wished. But because we do have constraints, we need to find the optimum bundle of activities that satisfy those constraints.

The point of all of this is that it's okay to not do wonderfully well at everything. In fact, it's practically impossible. Something you can do is to rank the activities that fill your life according to personal importance and then dedicate the correspondingly appropriate allocations of time to each activity. This way, while you still won't gain magical powers to accomplish more than you previously could, at least you can make sure that you're accomplishing the things that matter most.