The law of diminishing returns sounds like something from a lesson in economics, which it is. However, it can also be applied to our individual productivity, as well as many other areas of our lives, and is worth keeping in mind both at work and at home.
According to the Collins Dictionary, diminishing returns “is a situation in which the increase in production, profits or benefits resulting from something is less than the money or energy that is invested.”
We’ve all been there, starting out on a piece of work with vigour, only for it to take longer than we anticipate; our output getting slower and slower as our energy depletes, whilst our frustration at ourselves for not getting the job finished increases by equal measure. But carry on we do. Our satisfaction on completing the task then tainted by a lingering feeling that we should have been more efficient.
It’s an interesting concept as it can be applied to many areas of our lives. Food, for example. We all need it to live and be healthy but, once we eat a certain amount each day, any extra will cause us to gain weight. Over time a daily weight gain will be detrimental to our health and lives. With exercise and many hobbies, at the beginning we notice we improve quickly but this level of improvement slows down over time until we need to invest more time and effort to notice a smaller rate of improvement. As we all have a finite amount of time available, this extra time must be found at a cost to something else; perhaps family time, other leisure pursuits or socialising.
How you might apply the Law of Diminishing Returns
Working longer hours doesn’t mean achieving more – humans are not machines and need recovery time. We can’t work more and keep our level and quality of output the same. When you realise your productivity is waning you could try stepping away and taking a break, swapping to a task requiring different skills, asking for help or, if it’s an option, delegating part of the task.
If you have perfectionist traits, monitor them – sometimes things need to be 100% but, on other occasions, 95% might be good enough. The time and effort spent on that extra 5% may not increase the work’s value and would be better spent by calling a halt and moving onto something else.
Develop a wide skill base – not all will agree with this one, but you can put the law of diminishing returns to work by learning a new skill relatively quickly. Once you find you are at the stage of applying more and more effort for little or no improvement, move on and become competent at something else. It’s a case of horses for courses, some prefer to persist and try to become an expert but for others, experiencing and being able to offer basic competency in a wide range of areas will help personal growth and increase wellbeing.
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