This article originally appeared in my column at Inc.
I was recently reading Titan, the biography of John D. Rockefeller, and came across this quote from the iconic oil man:
“It is remarkable how much we all could do if we avoid hustling, and go along at an even pace and keep from attempting too much.”
Now, to be clear, Rockefeller certainly did not heed his own advice early in his career. That said, there is much truth in what he said. When you are in a state of perpetual hustle you may find yourself growing increasingly efficient at doing decreasingly effective things. You think you’re making progress, but in reality you’re simply running in place.
Hustle drives you, but rhythm sustains you
You are not a machine. If you don’t care for your mind and your body, sooner or later, something is going to give. You have to build infrastructure into your life to support your ambition, which means taking time to think, cultivating relationships that help you see the world in new ways, and managing your energy so that you are able to perform at critical moments throughout your day. However, when you are in a state of perpetual hustle you may miss opportunities to shine because you are simply stretched too thin. (I offered more thoughts about building rhythm in The Accidental Creative.)
Hustle yields incremental results, rhythm facilitates intuitive leaps
Think about what it’s like to run really fast on a strange and imperfect surface. You are constantly watching a few feet in front of you to ensure that you don’t trip up and hurt yourself. When you’re moving at breakneck speed, you rarely have the opportunity to look up and consider where you’re going.
On the other hand, if your pace is punctuated by rhythmic breaks you are able to consider the bigger picture and make intuitive connections that you might otherwise miss. Simply taking a bit of time each day to meditate, block out distractions and consider big problems you’re trying to solve, or feed your mind with inspiring stimuli can help you make more progress in less time than if you were in a full-out productivity sprint.
Hustle wears you down, rhythm builds muscles and capacity
If you’ve ever been involved in strength training, you know that it’s important to take a rest day between each day of exercise. This is because your muscles need time to recover from the wear and tear you’ve done to them. Without that rest day, you won’t see results from your exercise, which means that you’ll spend a lot more effort for much less gain.
Similarly, punctuating your “hustle time” with breaks allows you to recover from the work and also to reflect on what did and didn’t go well. When you pause to consider what is giving you the most “bang for your buck”, you can adapt your approach and yield greater results.
Yes, work hard. Of course you need to put your full effort into whatever you’re doing at any given time. However, be careful not to fall into the hustle trap. You might find you’re only sprinting on a treadmill rather than making true progress.