How to balance between not trying hard enough and trying too hard

There is a fine line between not trying hard enough and trying too hard.

At times, I feel I am not doing my best. There is a feeling of alarm, followed by a sudden jerk into action. My guilt induces me to work extra hard, to make up for what has been lost. In my eagerness, it is very hard to notice when I slip from working sub-optimally to burning myself out.

The whole episode hardly ever leads to any increase in output and certainly no increase in my sense of happiness and well being. On most such occasions, I manage to stress myself out while achieving lower than normal results. So much for all the fuss!

I have been observing and working on this attitude for some time, and have gained some level of control on it. Here are some realizations I have had and some tips that have helped me find more balance in my efforts.

Productivity and the spring recoil phenomenon. When I trained in Tai Chi and San Shao, my teacher, Grandmaster William C C Chen, told us to totally let go of all tension before an attack. This is known as the yin state, in which your muscles are relaxed and you sort of pull into yourself. Then, you lash out with your strike, like a spring that was coiled and now let loose. At the point of contact, when your blow meets the opponents body, you are hard as rock. This is the yang state. You deliver a lethal blow and then recoil back into yin.

If you are tense all throughout a fight, your muscles will be too tight to deliver any effective blows. You have to be relaxed, to be able to hit hard. The greater the ‘let go’, the more powerful the blow.

When I relate this to other activities in life, the principle holds equally good. To be able to do something well and effectively, you have to go into the yin state first. Our results are only as good as the relaxation we have before our work. Relax often and relax well.

Parkinson’s Law. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

If you work all the time, your work is going to take up all the time. Say, you work in your office for 10 hours daily. At the beginning of a day, you receive 2 tasks that require 2 hours each. Ideally, you should be done in 4 hours but, in all probability, you are going to take the whole day finishing these tasks. Your mind knows there is a lot of time and sees no benefit in hurrying.

Decide how much time you need to do something and then give yourself exactly that much time.

Variations in weeks and days. Another thing to notice is that you usually would not work the same all throughout a given day or during a given week. In a day, you would have certain hours that you work the best(for me, that time is during the morning). In a week, you would work certain days better than the rest(for me, it’s Monday through Wednesday).

Instead of fighting this, or feeling guilty for not working as much regularly, you can accept what is and work with it. Accept that there are certain hours of the day, certain days of the week when you work best. Keep your most important tasks for these times. When you plan and estimate time for your tasks and projects, keep this productivity cycle in mind.

The relation between Inner Connection and balance. There has been one constant and accurate indicator of the shift in balance for me, it has been the level of my connection with my Inner Self. Whenever I loose balance, it is always preceded by a shift in my focus from enjoying what I am doing… to the negative feeling of time lost, opportunities missed, trying to make up for what is lost.

I have observed that consciously maintaining a connection with my Inner Self ensures optimal results for my efforts. If you can do this, this alone is sufficient to ensure both best results and happiness.

Keep a tab on how you feel about what you are doing. If you have to make a lot of effort to get yourself to work, if you cannot get much done even when work is urgent, if you constantly experience negative feelings of boredom, fear, helplessness etc, it is time to regain connection with the Inner Self.

Try to enjoy your work and stay enthusuastic about it. This can be done in 2 ways – reconnect with what you found exciting about this work in the first place, and second, if you never enjoyed this work, or have come to understand you are not meant for it, then find what you feel enthusiastic about and pursue it.

Of course you will not be able to enjoy your work all the time, but it is the ideal to aspire for. An aircraft is off track 90% of time of its flight, but still reaches its destination. Why?.. because it focuses on the final goal. Focus on the goal of enjoying your work… even if you are not on track, you will stay close to it.


These days, I put the most focus on connection with my Inner Self. I have found that when I can manage this, the rest of the things automatically fall in place. If you are going to take away just one tip from this article, let it be a good connection with your self. Just make sure you enjoy your work and good results will follow. :)

Image credit: Michelle Meiklejohn


  • September 20, 2011 - 4:32 am | Permalink

    Yes! Relaxation is critical. In the last 6 months I have made major improvements in my work ethic. I will explore this yin state asap. Does starting relaxed make it more obvious when something excites you? Perhaps being relaxed and open is the key to finding what it is you like to do. Interesting.

    • Rahul
      September 20, 2011 - 10:46 am | Permalink

      Hi Josh,
      Its been my experience that starting relaxed makes a pronounced difference in whatever I do, even the things I am not very excited about.
      Being relaxed and open, is being receptive. In this state, you hear the voice of your Inner Self more clearly. It is easier to realize what is close to your heart.
      Stay relaxed and receptive. I wish you more answers.. :)

  • Ashish B Lal
    September 26, 2011 - 10:51 am | Permalink

    Hi Rahul,
    Grt words by you..u have transformed into a motivator….

    • Rahul
      September 26, 2011 - 11:05 am | Permalink

      Hi Ashish,
      I am glad you stopped by and like the post. I just do what gives me happiness – I try to give some pointers and make people think.
      It is for people to read the pointers and derive their own conclusions and motivations from it.
      Best wishes. :)

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