When optimizing, the goal is always to maximize the output for a specific investment of inputs. Those inputs are typically things like money, time, effort, materials, space, etc. We want to get more bang for our buck, results for time put in, etc.
No optimization problem operates in a vacuum though. There are always constraints – limits that keep the equation from scaling linearly forever.
These might be hard constraints that stop you in your tracks. Perhaps the constraint is the number of available outputs. If you’ve already trained enough to win a race, you can’t double-win it.
Or perhaps they are soft constraints. that create strange non-linear scale, either in a positive or negative manner. Perhaps the first 100 units of output can be achieved at a ratio of 1:1 input to output, but the next 100 require 3:2 input to output. This means that over time you have diminishing returns. In fact, in reality, this is almost always how it works.
I’ve been thinking about constraints a lot lately. I am hitting my limits.
I’m trying to do a lot these days. It often feels like time is the limiting factor. I have pretty well prioritized what I do, but even so I have a ton I want to accomplish. Most days I wake up and immediately start working or taking care of babies, the day is essentially non-stop (mostly pre-booked on my calendar) until I go to bed. When I go for a run, it is often at 8 or 9 PM since that is the first open slot I have. It certainly feels like I need more time.
That is of course a fallacy. In fact I have just as much time as I’ve ever had. Every single day I’ve been alive I’ve have completed 24 hours of activities (daylight savings and cross-timezone travel non-withstanding).
The limiting factor must be energy then. I could get a lot more done if I could operate at 100% output all of the time. Most of my 24 hours I’m operating at a lower % than that. Shoot, I’m sleeping for 25% of the day. If I didn’t require sleep every night but could instead operate at 100% capacity during that time, I could get much more done. Energy is the culprit – kilojoules (kJ) per day (or calories for you non-metric folk). We often hear about counting calories in terms on losing weight, but I mean this more in the sense of how a car burns fuel. A car will keep driving as long as you keep pumping that sweet petroleum energy into it. That is all I need, more calories in, and I can keep operating at high output.
Of course not. The limit here is something else. It doesn’t scale that way. Eventually I break down – and by me I mean my body, specifically my mind and my immune system. When I ask too much of my input systems, I get sick. I either get a physical sickness, like a cold, and have to slow it down for a bit (usually in bed). Or I get a mental sickness, like burnout and have to slow it down for a bit (preferably on a beach).
But the great thing about the body is it adapts. It can be stretched and it can be optimized. Most people do this without thinking about it in such upfront terms. They just do more and more over time and eventually adapt. Like a person that enjoys running and eventually runs a marathon without ever starting an official training plan, they ease their way into it.
Of course without training properly the chance of injury increases. Some people don’t properly train for a marathon and injure themselves. Some people do the same with trying to get more done. They think they’ve found a secret but in reality they are building up debt in some system that eventually collapses – be it high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, emotional breakdown, etc.
That is why we follow a training plan, why we research, why we measure ourselves over time to make sure we aren’t breaking down as we build up. We get a coach and setup feedback loops. We improve how we improve ourselves.
In 2016 I am thinking about health. Physical and mental health will be two of the topics I spend time exploring. From the writing above I think you can gather that my ideas of heath are currently pretty utilitarian and somewhat nontraditional. This year I will be exploring those ideas a bit more.