Full Out at 70%
I admit it; I am a workaholic... a recovering workaholic, that is.

I worked for 15 years in what many people call Workaholic Central: The Silicon Valley.

I wanted to be the best at what I did. At Apple Computer I wore the “Changing the World One Person at a Time” T-Shirt proudly. No matter what we did, we could do it better, faster, easier, cheaper — more incredible.

We were never satisfied.

There weren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week. I was seeking peak performance by pushing my limits and then some.

The result? We created some great things and some not-so-great things, and I also managed to burn myself out — twice. It was not a pretty sight for my coworkers, my family or myself.

So, my strategy for “peak” performance worked only for a short amount of time, it wasn’t very efficient, and it ended up causing more harm than good in the long-term.

A few years later, I was sitting in a seminar by the preeminent Chilean biologist Dr. Humberto Maturana. During the seminar, he made a statement that went something like this: “After 50 years of studying living systems, I’ve learned to perform at 70% capacity maximum, no more.”

I was thrown aback. My immediate reaction was to wait for a punch line; he had to be joking, but no, he was serious.

He then continued, stating his three main reasons why to work at “only” 70%.

First: Life is anything but predictable. By experience, we know that sooner or later a breakdown will occur. Things rarely go as we expect. At that moment, if one is performing (going about work, home, hobbies... life) at 100%, there is no time/space to deal with the breakdown. That breakdown, defined as an unwanted interruption of what we are doing, will cause an‐ other breakdown; so now we have two breakdowns for the price of one.

Second: In the same way that life is unpredictable, sometimes the interruption is a positive one. We might find a great new opportunity in front of us, something with more benefits than what we currently have. Again, if we are going at 100%, we will find ourselves without the capacity to take advantage of this opportunity. One of two things will happen: either we take on this new opportunity and cause breakdowns in our other tasks, or we will have to let the opportunity pass by.

Third: Probably the most impactful consequence of performing at 100% is that we never have time to reflect, and hence never really learn. When we are performing at 100%, the only thing that might happen is that we be‐ come better at what we are doing in the way we are doing it. We are caught in this habit of doing things without reflection.

The result is whatever we are doing becomes monotonous and even boring after time, be it work, family, play or anything else.

So now I find myself reflecting about this way to approach “peak” performance. It makes sense when I think about it, but I know that it’s not my common sense to operate at “only” 70%. Moreover, our way of working and living struggles to accommodate this mindset, but hey! I will give it a shot. I will start planning and performing my life with the outlook of giving it 70%. It’s better than burning out, and quite possibly I may have some space to have a more peaceful and effective life.

A year later.

I’ve been practicing going full out at 70% for a bit over a year now. This is what I have seen and started to learn so far:

  • It is difficult to measure what is 70%.
  • The breakdowns or opportunities that were mentioned above come very quickly and before I know it, I am at 90 to 100%.
  • The most difficult part is returning back to 70%.
  • I am a recovering 100% person. My body and head continue to “feel” the urge to be going at a 100% all the time. My body physically wants another shot of adrenaline and my thoughts tell me, “I should be doing more,” or “I am not doing enough.”
  • I come to realized that I am actually not a recovering workaholic.

Allow me to authentically introduce myself: Hi! My name is Gabriel, and I am a recovering inefficient performer.

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Gabriel Acostalopez
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