Why capacity is the new black


While there’s no question that mental health and wellbeing training is improving and benefiting many, are we focusing on the wrong things?
Man sitting at desk with laptop computer and stretching arms above his head
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Resilience and mental health training is big business. The  US armed forces spends approximately US$792.8 million a year on mental health programs, including resiliency training.

Whilst some claim there is a $4 return on every $1 invested in resilience training, others say the benefits are inconclusive.  While there’s no question that mental health and wellbeing training is improving and benefiting many, are we focusing on the wrong things?

I was at a meeting recently – an in-person live meeting (still rare in 2022) – and I noticed a behavioural pattern as people got cups of tea or coffee and moved around the room. Those who had filled their cup to the brim had to concentrate hard to avoid spilling any before they reached the meeting table.

Those who had filled to around 85% capacity were easily able to return to the table without spilling anything.

They were also able to multitask by chatting with others. One even waved her cup and saucer around as she gestured. She did not spill a drop!

Seems obvious really, doesn’t it? But I’m not so sure we think about this when it comes to our minds and our work.

When you operate at 100% capacity, it doesn’t take much to send things off the rails (spill the tea), or it takes much longer for things to happen. This could be because your diary is so full, people can’t get hold of you.

Are you at max capacity?

Let’s face it. S#!& happens! My dad always had a “rainy day” approach to life. He was always early, always had a bit of extra cash squirreled away, and worried only about things he could control or influence.

It’s like when you are running late, it seems every traffic light is against you. When you have built in ample time, the traffic parts like the Red Sea.

If you are like many leaders I know, you need to find space in your life so you are able to respond effectively to unexpected challenges.

Think about your eight-hour workday. (You might think I’m dreaming but stay with me on this.) Your eight hours are your total capacity. If you plan to use all those working hours, you aren’t leaving yourself any margin.

What do you need a margin for? Think about the last time you put your head down to dedicate yourself to getting something done. How many times were you interrupted? How much longer did it take to complete what you needed to do? How often do we truly do eight hours of solid work in an eight-hour time frame?

That’s why we need a margin. If we plan to operate at 85% capacity, we would be doing just under seven hours’ work in an eight-hour day. Then, if something unexpected comes up (and it will) we can handle it.

Donna McGeorge is a best-selling author and global authority on productivity. Her book series, It’s About Time covers meetings, structing your day, and doing more with less. Find out more about Donna at Donna McGeorge: Speaker, Author, Facilitator, Coach