Intensity over length

The most common response to added scope or work I’ve heard from myself or others is – “I’ll need to stay up late to get this done.” Optimizing length, it turns, out is just one way to solve the problem and is the most limited tool we have at our disposal.

It is limited because we are capped – both in the short term and the long term. Even in the short term, there’s only 24 hours in a day, we need to get stuff done outside of work and we generally aren’t productive when we’re tired. In the long term, optimizing for length doesn’t work.

Intensity, or how much we get done in a certain period of time, on the other hand, is harder to optimize for. To understand why, let’s examine a couple of truths about intensity.

We work most intensely when we have clarity on why we we’re doing what we’re doing and what we’re looking to achieve. (focus) 
For maximum intensity work, we need to focus on one thing at a time. 
Our ability to sustain intensity is inversely proportional to length.

There are times in our lives when we may sustain long periods of high intensity work because we’re consumed by a mission. But, more often than not, the biggest challenge with intensity is that it is inversely proportional to length. We focus better when we’ve gotten sleep and time away from the problems we’re trying to solve.

The beauty about intensity is that it is a much larger multiplier on productivity than time. You can double your intensity with a bit of work – but, doubling your work day is generally not possible.

When in doubt, optimize for intensity over length.

PS: As a bonus, high levels of intensity flow from focus. Learning to work on the right things is the best productivity multiplier we have in our hands. But, solving for focus when you are still optimizing for length is a daunting jump. So, the first step is to switch tactics to focusing on intensity. Over time, we’ll inevitably move further upstream.