Like water, work can be life-giving. But it can also flow all over and flood our other life domains. We need boundaries to contain it. When we allow it to travel unrestricted, we’re not accomplishing more. We’re actually bringing something less than our best to both the office and home. We’re scattered and depleted instead of being productive and fulfilled.
The solution? Create constraints around your workday, workweek, and weekend. According to the cult of overwork—and culture at large—constraints stifle us. But I believe the opposite is true: constraints liberate and empower us to achieve more. These are three ways I’ve found constraints actually work in our favor:
- Constraints enable focus. If you set a hard stop to your workday, you’ll have to stay focused and avoid pointless activity. You won’t have the luxury of getting distracted or wasting time on fake work. Constraints will help you make efficient use of your time at work and encourage greater focus.
- Constraints foster creativity. It’s tempting to imitate what others have done, especially if you admire their work. But you only have the skillset and talent that you have. Therefore, you have to work within those constraints. Embracing your limitations can drive creativity by forcing you to dig deeper into the possibilities within your capabilities.
- Constraints drive productivity. The cult of overwork doesn’t distinguish between low- and high-leverage work. It wants us to do a bit of everything—and everything never ends. Being productive, though, means moving away from doing everything and working more hours and instead being intentional about the kind of work you do within the hours you already have. Identifying the tasks you love and are skilled at, and eliminating, automating, or delegating the rest, ensures you’ll get more done. It encourages more and better planning and exchanges nonessential activity for what’s truly essential.
Embracing constraints prompts us to explore new and inventive ways of approaching our work, solving problems, completing projects, and much more. Instead of working against us or limiting us, constraints work in our favor. The limitations that already naturally exist, or the ones we implement, liberate us to do our best and, most importantly, to be at our best.
What constraints can you embrace or implement to help you be more focused, creative, and productive?