The Law Of Diminishing Returns

Categories Big Thinking, Blog

I’ve seen a lot of ‘rah, rah, just try harder’ cheerleading type posts on the internet lately.

Erin The Cheerleader From Barrhead!
Creative Commons License photo credit: † Jimmy MacDonald †

Sometimes ‘just try harder’ is rocking advice: it’s just what you need to hear on the days when a boot up the arse is helpful.

Now, I’m all for working hard and doing your thing and being stubborn and persistent, even when things are tough.

But sometimes ‘work harder and keep going’ is actively harmful.

This is because of The Law Of Diminishing Returns.

You already know what The Law Of Diminishing Returns is. You’ve been there, you’ve done that and the t-shirt is mouldering unwashed at the bottom of your laundry basket.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when the energy you’re expanding far outweighs any benefits you will receive.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you’re too tired, hungry or burnt-out to work but you keep going anyway. You do bad work that will need to be redone later but hey, at least you were in the office showing your face so no one can accuse you of ‘slacking’.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you hit your email button on your phone just one more time before bed. The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you endlessly rehearse a conversation that you know you’ll never have because the other person refuses to hear you. The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you read that same page five times but don’t take in a single word.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is this conversation from When Harry Met Sally:

Marie: The point is, he just spent $120 on a new nightgown for his wife. I don’t think he’s ever gonna leave her.
Sally: No one thinks he’s ever gonna leave her.
Marie: You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns happens in offices & workplaces all over the world every single day. It happens to me after about 3 hours of working, when I hit my internal limit. Now what I should do at this point is take a break and go do something else or rest.

If I don’t switch gears, I invariably start going round and round in endless internet circles like a dog chasing its tail. Mine goes email; Twitter: Pinterest; RSS feed; Twitter; Ravelry; Facebook – rinse & repeat until I get cross with myself or my eyes fall out, whichever happens first. You’ll have your own version.

Sometimes what you should be doing is not ‘trying harder’ or ‘being more magnificent’ but resting. Or thinking. Or playing with your kids. Or sleeping. Or reading. Or watching TV with your sweetie. Or even – whisper it if you dare – quitting completely because you’re trying hard at the wrong thing.

By all means, be magnificent if magnificent is where you are right now. If you are magnificent, I will applaud you and tell my friends.

But no one can be magnificent constantly. It’s just not possible. So if your well is empty, you need to bloody stop. There is no more water there. So you need to either find another water source or sit down and wait for some rain.

I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

16 thoughts on “The Law Of Diminishing Returns

  1. yes! I am at a need to bloody stop point myself, so I am filling the well by stopping by the blogs I love, of course what I should really do is take a nap. Thanks for saying this out loud.


  2. Thanks so much for posting this, Kirsty – this message has been coming at me from all angles lately and I think your post may have just made it sink in. My 'sweetie' is currently jumping up and down next to me shouting, 'you see? You see'. I think it's time to give up and crawl back under the duvet.

    Take care of yourself & sorry to hear about your website trouble – hope it gets fixed soon!
    Eli :-)


  3. This is how I'm feeling at the moment, and during the past week I've decided to slow down and not push so hard. I too, often find myself in a hideous circle of internet slavery where I achieve nothing and exhaust myself with endless 'checking up.' So thanks for posting this; it's a wonderful and timely reminder to just calm down a little bit :)


  4. Yep. Too many Creatives get this part wrong. Rest is a crucial part of any creative process. If you don't build rest and regeneration time into your practice, eventually you run out of creative magic.

    I have a whole theory that this is EXACTLY how creative blocks and stagnation are formed.

    Here's to more "down time"!


  5. sometimes
    it is just too easy
    to get snared into a spiral
    of wasted possibility
    due to the pressure
    of modern living
    been there
    and yet now
    in the process
    of digging myself
    an escape route

    new to your blog



  6. Good advice! I always end up feeling guilty when I stop work for whatever reason, but sometimes having a rest is the best option.


  7. Taking regular breaks is an absolute necessity. It has taken me many years to learn that I can only be productive for a couple hours at a time. After that, I need a break and then to change activities. If I'd been painting, I switch to writing. Or gardening. Or reading.


  8. I also think so that now a day there are a lot of posts such type like try hard or else and I am really upset to see the contributions of the people.May be we should be more careful to uploading anythings and hope everyone will follow this advice.Thanks a lot for this post of you.


  9. That is genuinely helpful to know the diminishing law. I would like to ask if it would be Okay if I mentioned some of that on the related blogs. I hope you have no offense.


  10. I have come across this blog and found here and impressive article, it's really a true thing when we are doing some special work and we have to stop it without any specific reason or forcefully so we feel very guilty. I want to say thanks for sharing you thoughts with us.


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