How Productivity Contributes to Global Warming and Debt

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET
  • Mark Silver Author, consultant, healer. Heads up team at Heart of Business, Inc.

I've heard that there are approximately 20 million people in the US who have what is called a 'personal-sized' business. And that number is expected to go to 32 million within the next decade.

That's a lot of people solo in business. And if you're in that position, as I am, then you know how much there is to do on your plate.

In fact, why would you even read this, when you could be getting something done instead?

Yet the problem isn't productivity. The truth is, we're already incredibly productive. On your laziest, slackest days (well, maybe not your absolutely laziest) if you live anywhere in the so-called 'developed' world, you are still party to the most 'productive' society ever.

And it's our doom.

First, beat up on your best helpers.

There was an edge to my voice as I asked my wife and business partner the question: "And so why haven't you finished what you promised to do?"

I meant it to come out nicer, more reasonable. But, it didn't.

This is so often where we land, kerthunk, in business: are you getting it done, or aren't you? In the western world we think it's a good thing. Even if we complain about it, or hold spiritual values that say otherwise, I find that my clients (and me... ) orient around this question.

Are you being productive enough?

And did you realize that your desire for productivity is contributing to global warming, debt, and business struggle?

The problem isn't productivity... it's capacity.

What is 'capacity'?

Capacity is, simply put, the quantity something can contain. How much water a glass holds (oh, about eight ounces), how many people can fit around a Passover table (24! What? Aunt Joan brought six cousins with her? No problem!)...

How many things can you get done in a day, week, year?

The idea of abundance is very alluring! There's plenty to go around, there's plenty for everyone, there's no reason you can't do it/have it all.

Unfortunately, this runs smack into a very troubling spiritual teaching.

The physical world is a limited place.

There is an unlimited amount of love, mercy, and peace available. There is, however, a limited amount of fresh water, fossil fuels, and arable land for growing food. There is an unlimited amount of creativity and connection. There is, despite our best efforts, a limited number of seats at the table (we'll have to find an extra table for those six cousins...)

In the Sufi take on the creation story, Source is described as 'veiling' itself, in order to create the physical world. The physical, 3D, dirt and grass reality we live in is distanced from Source, because otherwise we'd all be dissolved into Oneness, with no individuality discernible at all.

The things that are unlimited are the things that are less 'distant' from Source, and thus are without physical form: love, compassion, mercy, creativity, etc...

Surrender to the fact that you have limited capacity.

One of the first small business groups I ever facilitated, before Heart of Business even existed, was a six-week "Success" group. Every week, people would write down their goals and tasks for the next week. And every week we'd come back to find that everyone, everyone, without fail was leaving about 50% unfinished.

The issue wasn't productivity: the issue was capacity. They were all overestimating their capacity by about 100% -- they thought they could do twice as much as they actually could.

It's this inability to judge our capacity that leads to debt: you spend more than you have. It also leads to global warming, which is a kind of debt, in that we are spending more energy than we have the capacity to produce sustainably. And the interest is piling up in the atmosphere.

It also leads to business struggle -- trying to do more than you really can, means you end up exhausted, cranky, and feeling like a failure. Your clients get your worst work, and you can't sustain what you're doing.

This was a profound insight for me, when I realized that what was making my life so crowded was also what was maxing our credit cards at the time, and was also contributing to the ravaging of the planet.

Just accepting one's true capacity is a big step towards the healing of our families, our communities, and the world. And yet, and yet...

Is that it? Give up on your ambitions and your goals? Play small? No. But getting real about your capacity is a critical first step to bringing your ambitions and goals within reach.

Keys to Business Capacity

• Get honest.

How many times in the last days, weeks, or months have you said: "I meant to get it done... why isn't it done yet?" That's a clue that you are way overestimating your capacity.

It's okay. Take a deep breath, be gentle with yourself, and realize you haven't done anything wrong. You're caught up in a culture that makes it routine to overestimate capacity and live on credit.

Admit to yourself: "I'm way over capacity. It's literally impossible to do all of this."

• Clear cut.

Clear cutting is a miserable thing to do to a forest, but it's fine thing to do to with a to-do list.

This is the challenge: make a list of everything you are trying to get done in the next week, and erase half. Yes, a full half. Do it right now. Get a piece of paper, do a brain dump of the 12-25 things on your plate.

Now, cross off half of them. I know it's rough, but it's going to happen anyway. Better that you choose, rather than you simply run out of time.

• Notice what's really important.

There are some things that are more urgent, and some things that aren't. There are some items that help you feel alive and well, and some that don't.

When you realize what your capacity really is, it becomes easier to say "no" to things that just don't fit, and "yes" to the things that are important in your business and your life.

There's tons of other things that go here: having the right tools (like a larger computer monitor, or the right pruning sheers in the garden), having an office that is set up efficiently, getting regular exercise, etc.

That's all good stuff, but the foundation of it all, I've discovered, is to really face the reality of your capacity. As you settle into the truth of what's possible in this finite world of ours, I bet you'll discover a lot more of the limitless abundance of love and peace and compassion in your heart.

And with more of that love, we'll have more time and capacity to make this world a much more wonderful place. And to allow the spaciousness for your business to truly thrive.

Mark Silver helps people in small business who want to make a difference in the world, and need to make a profit. He's the author of five books and programs, publishes a weekly article for personal-sized businesses Business Heart, and has been named as a master teacher in his Sufi spiritual lineage.