I’m going to try something a little different this month. Throughout February I’m going to do a multi-part series on managing your capacity. Capaci-what, you ask? We’ll get to what it is in a minute.
First, I just want to say that while I may at times write like I know what I’m talking about and I’m handing down sage advice and wisdom, the truth is that I’m preaching to myself here. Every now and then I figure something out, but then I turn around and forget it, or forget to apply it to how I do life. So my hope is that by sharing this stuff with you, dear reader, I’ll do a better job of remembering it for myself. But don’t for a minute be under the illusion that I’ve got it all together, because HA HA! Nope.
Anyway. So what do I mean by capacity?
What is Capacity?
For a long time — way, way too long — I thought being more productive and effectively adulting was all about learning how to manage my time. I tried out so many different time management systems — none of which actually worked — and constantly beat myself up for not being able to manage my time better so that I could get more done in a day. I really believed that if I could just be more organized about how I spent my time, that I could cram my plate full day after day after day and be some kind of superhero at getting stuff done.
It’s only been in the last year or so — this has been a gradual realization; I can’t cite a specific “A-ha!” moment — that I realized that I can be the best person ever at scheduling my time but that won’t make me able to be more productive. Because time isn’t the problem. The problem is that the time in which I have to get things done each day is not a uniform number of hours and minutes that I can neatly block out on a grid. Rather, the time I actually have each day is subject to things like my energy levels and my ability to think clearly and focus.
These things make up your capacity for productivity. And these things are not fixed. They fluctuate from day to day, even throughout the day, and they don’t always line up with each other. Sometimes I have more energy than I do focus. Sometimes — more rarely — I have more focus than I do physical energy. And your capacity can increase or decrease based on a number of factors, including how much stress you’re under, how much sleep you get, how you eat, etc.
This might not be anything new for you. But for me it was a revelation that completely changed how I do life from day to day.
Know Your Plate
We’ll get to the how next week. But first, it’s important to know — to really be honest with yourself about — your capacity.
I recently read this Proverbs 31 devotional that touched on this concept and compared capacity to a set of plates. You’re probably familiar with the idea of a “full plate” to refer to a full (or, more likely, overloaded) schedule. But typically when someone says their plate is full, we imagine a standard dinner plate. However, as this post pointed out, not everyone is blessed with a dinner-plate-sized capacity for productivity. Some people only have a salad plate. Some people only have a saucer or a dessert plate. And some fortunate souls are blessed with a big ol’ turkey platter.
And the thing is, the size of your plate can change. If I’m not taking good care of myself by eating healthy and avoiding gluten and dairy, I get foggy and lethargic and my capacity shrinks to salad-plate size. But if I consistently practice good self-care I tend to have more of a dinner plate. However, I still have the occasional bad day where my plate shrinks, and when that happens I’ve learned that I just need to cut myself some slack. Instead of trying to force a dinner-plate-sized load to fit on my salad plate, usually I just do what’s absolutely needed that day and give myself some rest so that hopefully my plate size will expand back to normal.
So know the size of your plate, and don’t compare it to other people’s plates. If they have a bigger plate it will just tempt you to feel bad about the small size of your plate. And if it turns out your plate is bigger than theirs? Then remember to give them grace. Don’t be one of those people who looks at someone struggling to manage an overloaded salad plate and think that they should be able to do as much as you do in a day.
Next week we’ll talk more about managing capacity instead of managing time. But for now I want to hear your thoughts. Is this a new concept for you? What size is your typical plate, and how often does that fluctuate? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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