Andrew Carroll recently shared an old post on capacity in which he wrote the following:
Capacity. You hear the term in business a lot:
“We are making mistakes because we are above capacity”
“We are having cash flow issues because we are below capacity"
“We are investing in building out our capacity so we can grow”
The secret is capacity is a myth. The only really limit to your business’ capacity is the limit of your ability to think, dream, and work.
Capacity is far from a myth. Individuals, teams and businesses alike have limits. We all do, even you. Regardless of the context, not acknowledging and not respecting these limits will be just as harmful to your effectiveness as succumbing to them.
Ignoring capacity leads us to take on more than we can manage. It leads us to burn ourselves out. And when working with a team, it often leads us to push others beyond what is reasonable.
Capacity is a Friend
Not only is capacity a reality, it can be a tool. Sure, we can push through and “expand capacity” by working ourselves to death in the service of achieving a potentially unreasonable goal—it might even work out once or twice—but continually ignoring capacity will negatively impact relationships, health and, more than likely, sanity.
Capacity, when used correctly, can be a guide. It can force us to consider all of our various goals against available time and resources. When used as a filter, it helps us to make better choices. We just have to make sure we see things clearly.
A Clear Sense Of Capacity
The true myth isn’t that capacity doesn’t exist. It’s that there are two versions: what we believe our capacity to be and what capacity actually is. What we refer to as our capacity is often a combination of realities and challenges. It balances the (likely) excessive number of goals we’ve taken on with a (typically) flawed approach to accomplishing these goals. It traditionally only factors in some of our ambitions, rather than forcing us to consider a holistic view of our goals.
You have to discover where you currently stand in order to move past the myth. Don’t ignore it, consider it. Pretending capacity doesn’t exist will only lead you astray. Learn your limits, then consider ways to improve in order to push against them.
So how do you know? How can you tell perceived capacity from true capacity? Start by understanding your current capacity, regardless of its truth. Then begin to push against what you believe to be possible. Unless you’ve consciously tested the limits of your capacity, unless you’ve taken the time to learn how you go about doing your best work, and unless your team has a process that allows for effective collaboration, it’s unlikely you’re there.
You also have to be careful as the desire to push can be a double-edged sword. There’s pushing beyond what you believe to be possible and then there’s pushing beyond what’s reasonable.
Working vs. Wanting To Expand Capacity
Capacity is a myth. If you think you can’t or won’t, it is not because you don’t have the capacity. It’s because you don’t want it bad enough to stretch beyond your current capacity.
In case it isn’t clear, the point of this piece isn’t to say you can’t push beyond what you believe to be possible in service of achieving your goals. In fact–regardless if it is personal or professional–if what you are doing is even remotely ambitious, you’ll likely have to push against your current limitations.
When it comes to stretching, Andrew has a point: What we believe to be our capacity, almost always isn’t. But ignoring the fact that capacity itself is indeed a reality . . . well . . . it might help you push through some barriers in the short run, but ultimately it will cause you to break.
Understand your current capacity. Then continually question it to see just how far you can push your boundries. Just be sure to understand that, at some point, even the best of us have our limits. And respecting those limits can do just as much to help you to push past them.