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Okay, stick with me. This might sound like an odd one, but it’s valuable nonetheless.
Diminishing returns: This is a term often used in economics to refer to the point at which the level of profits (or benefits) gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.
What does this have to do with your career? Surprisingly, a lot.
It’s important to understand this concept because it applies to many different things in the professional world. When you reach the point of diminishing returns (or, preferably, before you get there), you need to stop what you’re doing and re-evaluate.
To illustrate, I’ll cite 4 specific examples.
1. Decision-Making & Analysis Paralysis
One of the most common reasons people come to me for career coaching services has to do with decision making. They aren’t happy with their current career path and they need help figuring out what to do next. That process is something I am truly passionate about helping professionals navigate. However, all too often, I see people reach the point of diminishing returns.
This happens when you’ve explored, analyzed, researched and pondered the questions before you for so long, you’ve actually stopped learning anything new. You’ve worked yourself into a state of analysis paralysis, where you’re more comfortable THINKING about doing something different than you are actually DOING something different.
At that point, you need to take a leap of faith and make a decision—any decision—and, more importantly, you need to take action. You need to try something new and see where it takes you. You can always change your mind. Even if you fail, you’ll have reached a new place from which to begin your process again. But inaction kills your momentum and breeds fear.
Man, I love a good vent-session. You know what I mean, right? The kind of conversation you have with a trusted ally where you can just let all of your frustrations out. The kind of conversation where you can complain and whine and bask in your own negativity.
These conversations have their place—even in the work world. Venting with a supportive friend can help release tension and build camaraderie. We all love the common experience of shared misery. But again, there’s a point of diminishing returns.
When you over-vent, it’s actually makes things worse, not better. It can escalate your feelings of frustration, anxiety and fear. It can actually taint you psychologically so your more susceptible to seeing the bad in everything that happens. (This is called Confirmation Bias and it’s a thing.)
Don’t allow yourself to hit that point. Vent to the degree that it’s helpful, but stop quickly. It’s hard to know where that point is but it generally comes fast.
3. Goal Setting
A few years ago, I participated in a goal setting challenge that asked participants to set 101 goals to complete in 1001 days. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But, lo and behold, 5 years later, I had only accomplished a small handful of goals. Why? Because goal setting has a point of diminishing returns.
When you try to take on too much, your focus gets spread too thin. You don’t know where to put your attention.
If everything is important, nothing is important.
I knew this, and I fell into the trap anyway! I got overly eager to achieve. But any goal worth achieving takes time, energy and commitment. These are limited resources. We can’t give everything we’ve got to everything all at once. We have to be picky. We have to prioritize. We have to give ourselves the space to really invest in the process.
Need help setting goals? Grab my Guide to Goal Setting & Goal Getting here >>
For those of you planning ahead and making new year’s resolutions, take these words to heart. Every year I struggle with this. I have serious ambitions at the start of every new year. I want to accomplish SO much. And yet, I have to use restraint. I have to remember that a year is only 365 days. Goodness knows I’d love to spend every waking hour working on my personal and professional goals, but it’s just not the reality of life. There are daily functions that need to take place—basic things that simply keep the wheels turning. I have to create an achievable vision of success. Otherwise, I’m setting myself up for disaster.
And this brings me to my final example…
4. Future Tripping
Thinking about the future, in general, has a point of diminishing returns. I am a huge believer in the power of Future Focus—I talk about it a lot in my book, The Proactive Professional. After all, how can we proactively do the right things today to set ourselves up for success tomorrow if we’re not taking the time to think about the future?
But the future is anyone’s guess. No matter how carefully you plan and prepare, you’ll never be able to predict what will happen. The best we can do is to make intelligent guesses. And we should do that. But spending too long and thinking too hard about what lies ahead is a sure-fire path for creating fear and uncertainty.
These things I’ve discussed are all valuable tools for career success—to a point. They are all useful but that doesn’t mean we should indulge in them endlessly.
Your job is to recognize when the point of diminishing returns is approaching and stop before you get there. Certainly, it’s hard to do, but it’s darn near impossible if you don’t understand this concept. Armed with knowledge, you’re already ahead of the game.
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