When he lived in Santa Monica, Derek Sivers found the perfect bike path: A 15-mile round trip along the ocean with almost zero traffic. In his afternoons, he’d get on his bike and race full speed ahead. On average, the trip took him 43 minutes to complete.
After several months of arriving with a red face, a sweaty head, and feeling completely exhausted, Derek decided to take it easy for once. He looked at the scenery. He saw some dolphins. He casually pedaled along. It took him 45 minutes.
At first, Derek couldn’t believe it, but he double-checked his numbers, and, sure enough, he achieved 96% of the result with 50% of the effort. Reflecting on the experience, he writes:
When I notice that I’m all stressed out about something or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride and try dialing back my effort by 50%. It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like half the effort.
A few years ago, my Dad and I used to do something similar: We raced home in our cars. It’s about five miles from the city to the suburbs, and we too used to speed, catch yellow traffic lights, and overtake anyone in our way.
One day, we did the math: If you go 50% over the limit on such a short trip, you’ll save about one minute. We’ve been cruising ever since.
Life is like that a lot. You go all out to be 50% faster, better, stronger, only to arrive one day early at the finish line.
It’s easy to get caught up the everyday hustle. “Let me queue in the other line.” “I can cut a corner here.” “Maybe, I can get them to approve my application faster.” Switching lanes often feels efficient in the moment but won’t make a big difference in the end.
This applies to our daily to-do lists as much as it applies to our biggest goals. If you get the report one day sooner, the company can go public one day earlier — but all that means is that its shares will trade one day extra. On a 10-year-timeline, who cares about that day? No one.
You can stay up till 2 AM and post one extra article. But in your five-year-plan of becoming a writer, does it really matter? Sometimes, it will. Most of the time, however, it won’t. But if you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t see through your five-year-plan. That part always matters.
You can race to your friend’s BBQ and honk and yell at every other driver along the way. Or, you can drive half as fast and still get there on time.
You’d arrive relaxed, happy, and in a positive state of mind. You wouldn’t be exhausted from all the stress that took so much from your mind but added so little to your outcome. This is what Derek learned from his frantic bike rides:
Half of my effort wasn’t effort at all, but just unnecessary stress that made me feel like I was doing my best.
Sometimes, doing your best means having nothing left to give. Usually, it doesn’t. More often than not, feeling completely spent is a sign that you wasted most of your energy.
Energy is precious. Conserve it. Direct it efficiently. Take pride in doing your best in a way that lets you do your best again tomorrow. Life is short. Enjoy it. Don’t burn through it too quickly. Be content with the 96%.
After all, what good are two extra minutes if you can’t use them to gaze at the sea?