Newsletter #541 – The Ebb and Flow of Productivity and Creativity

Brad Feld is an entrepreneur and investor in start-up projects. He’s also a courageousEbb and flow 2 writer who (in Inc. magazine July/August 2013) describes his “serious bouts of depression,” overwhelming pressures, lagging creativity and fading productivity that can leave him exhausted and devoid of motivation. Normally energetic go-getters like Brad and a lot of our colleagues and coaching clients, thrive on hyperactivity, pushing ahead on all cylinders, rushing toward their goals. An earlier Inc. writer (Jason Fried, July/August 2011) compares this to worship at the altars of motivation, productivity, and efficiency. He describes ambitious young [and often older] entrepreneurs who constantly strive to get more done in fewer hours, jump-start their creativity, constantly pushing ahead to be on the cutting edge.

I take no pride in confessing that a lot of this describes me, including the periodic depression and energy loss. Maybe this also sounds like many of those who read these words and push others like they drive themselves. I have friends who work in the high-tech, highly-charged Silicon Valley where driven lifestyles can lead to impressive results. I know of churches, including pastors,  like this and demanding academic cultures of graduate students and their relentless professors.

But you know where this is going. The push for full capacity, stretching beyond physical and emotional limits, eventually leads to slow-downs and sometimes collapse. Some of us have more energy and the ability to push longer, but Jason Fried suggests that for everyone,  motivation, productivity and efficiency are not constants. “They come in waves. They ebb and flow, and there’s no sense fighting it. The key is to recognize a productivity surge when it comes so you can roll with it.” When it goes, you could ask what might be getting in the way, do what you can to get on track again, give yourself permission to pull back a little, and watch the motivation and productivity return.

Is this too simple? How does it describe you? Please comment so the rest of us can learn from your experience.


  1. The simplest concepts are often the most valuable!
    I have spent many years in the UK encouraging people to learn the value of taking routine ‘stop days’ during their hectic work regimes! Boy do people struggle to allow themselves the ‘indulgence’. The insights into our lives that a constructive period of ebbing provides is something we should dare not to miss!


    1. Thanks so much Tina. You are the only person who responded this week. What you describe in the UK certainly applies elsewhere – like the U.S., for example, where we seem to worship work, have only two weeks for vacations every year (unlike the people in France or Germany), and, like our friends in Japan, often see people who take pride in not taking days off even during vacation time. Not healthy – but a lot of us, me included, believe what you are advocating but tend to resist it.


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