It seemed simple. Get all the things done on my to-do list. No problem.

My list seemed doable, because I was only saying “yes” to doable things. Meet with a co-worker to put together a report. Take dinner to a sick friend. Create a ten-slide presentation. Pick up my mother-in-law’s mail. Write a blog post. Do laundry (or at least the underwear).

There was one problem. On Sunday night it seemed so easy, but by Tuesday night I was stressed. Every single Tuesday night I wondered how I could get everything done. It seemed impossible.

Then came my “ah-ha” moment. A colleague said, “Capacity is capacity. We’ve got a finite amount of time and energy to get work done each day, week or month.” What I realized is that every task I do fills my capacity cup – whether it seems easy (laundry) or requires me to think on multiple levels (slide presentation).

Thinking about capacity took me back to Food Science 101. Our assignment: Fill a one-cup measuring cup with all-purpose flour.

  • Sift flour directly into cup = 90 grams.
  • Sift flour and spoon into cup= 114 grams.
  • Pour unsifted flour into cup = 132 grams.
  • Sift flour and tap cup while filling = 146 grams.
  • Sift flour and pack with a spoon = 150 grams.

Even if you are not a food scientist or even a cook, you probably know that most cooking (and definitely baking) requires some level of precision to get the right result. Too little flour results in a sunken, soggy cake. Too much flour makes for a tough cake.

There is a “sweet spot” of measurement that will yield the right result – a cake with great texture, flavor and appearance. (As it turns out, it’s 114 grams of flour per cup, in case you are dying to know.)

So what does this have to do with my over-stocked to-do list? When I try to cram 150 grams of flour (tasks) into my cup (life), I’m stressed and cranky and things don’t turn out right.

It doesn’t matter if I’m cramming in low-capacity, easy stuff or high-capacity, challenging stuff. Capacity is capacity, and too much is too much.

Take a look at your to-do list. Are you wasting capacity trying to knock out lots of mundane tasks, and finding that you don’t have energy left for the truly vital stuff? What’s your sweet spot of capacity, and how can you plan so that you bring energy, productivity, creativity and satisfaction to all aspects of your life?

I’m happy to report that Tuesday nights are much more fun now. My family says that with a cup that’s optimally full, I’m no longer (so) grouchy. Plus, they have clean underwear. And I might even have some excess capacity this week and put that flour to use in a cake!

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