Maximum Effort Transforms

“The child teaches us that work is not a virtue, not an effort that man is forced to make; it is not the need to earn a livelihood. Work is man’s fundamental instinct. ( … ) Man is born to work. The instinct to work is his most outstanding trait.”

-Maria Montessori, Education and Peace: Chapter 12 – First Lecture

Converging deadlines + huge amount of work = cold sweat.

Ever had huge projects converge on the same day? Last week, I had three project deadlines align on the same day — Friday, October 5th. I was committed to writing 10 video scripts, 3 sales enablement documents, 3 marketing emails, 2 blog posts, 2 data sheets, 1 white paper, and 1 customer presentation.

All three projects were from long-standing clients, all three were very important to their businesses, and all three were critical to keeping a long-standing relationship alive and well.

In other words, I couldn’t de-prioritize one of them to reduce my workload.

I had six days to get everything done.

It seemed insurmountable.

But I finished on time.

By Friday night, I had worn myself out with work. But taking on that workload, using myself up, wearing myself out, taught me more than anything I’ve done in six months.

Preschool teachers know about the power of all-consuming work. Both of my kids went through Montessori schools, and Maria Montessori taught that creative work requires maximum effort, the greatest possible focus and attention. She also teaches that maximum effort changes the doer.

I think she’s right on both counts.

To do that work in six days, I had to commit all of my resources. I had no time for inconsequential tasks, no TV watching, no chores, no running errands. All day, every day, I put everything I had into work.

Have you ever done that? It’s oddly freeing. Life becomes much simpler when you have a huge task that has to be done. You’re pared down to essentials. You have a single focus. You have a clear sense of what your week will bring.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, talks about a mental state writers, surgeons, gardeners, and others experience when they’re caught up in meaningful work. The experience, which he calls flow, has these six characteristics:

  1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. merging of action and awareness
  3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. a sense of personal control over the situation or activity
  5. a distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
  6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Ever experienced flow? Many people never have a chance to achieve flow in their work. But copywriters do. I had six days of flow, and once I’d done everything, I felt like a mountain climber. I stood, tired, at the summit and surveyed a wider world.

That’s because I discovered a new sense of capability. I achieved something I’d never done before. And I learned that, despite my fears, I could embrace the impossible and finish it.

That’s the essence of personal growth.

Of course, everyone experiences personal growth — if we hadn’t, we’d be struggling with “See Spot Run” or wrestling with driving a car. Any adult has a track record of overcoming a challenge, discovering a new sense of capability, and being able to rely on it going forward.

I’m going to rely on my new ability. By doing this work, I billed more in one day than my largest corporate bonus check. Now that I know my ability, I’ve seen the future. I could do this level of work twice a month and exceed my financial goals for my business. That’s my next step — do this quantity of work twice in a month.

What about you? What’s your next step?

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Published: October 11, 2012

1 Response to “Maximum Effort Transforms”

  1. Great work, Brian! Glad you survived and prospered. ;-)

    It sounds like you experienced 6 days of total copywriting "immersion". I spent 25 years as a linguist. And hands down, the absolute BEST way to accelerate learning is by immersion. All of your senses are being bombarded at the same time. What you learn in a week takes everyone else years to acquire and master.

    The impossible is the possible yet to be done. We don't really know what we can do. We just think we do. How cool is THAT??!!!

    RNin2013October 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

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