Diminishing Returns

More effort doesn’t always mean more results.

In Jiu-Jitsu culture we always talk about “porrada” and working hard, but sometimes the more important question is: when is it time to quit?

“Quitting” has an unfortunate connotation in our culture. We’re taught that hard work is the key to success, and we sometimes champion “hustle” to the point of fetishization. But when it comes to actually achieving results, working harder isn’t always the answer. Sometimes our best bet is to cut our losses and move on.

To maximize the value of your time, you need to understand diminishing returns. You’re probably already familiar with the concept, but here’s a quick definition:

More effort doesn’t always mean more results.

In other words, just because you work twice as hard doesn’t mean you’ll get twice as far. Many endeavors are just too complex for that kind of simple math. In the workplace, it’s been known for some time that productivity tapers off as the shift gets longer.

An image of a diminishing returns drop-off.  Taken from Mark Manson.

Diminishing returns. Illustration from this article by Mark Manson.

In Jiu-Jitsu, we experience diminishing returns all the time. We feel obligated to watch and absorb every instructional, study every competition clip, attend every class, pay for every seminar…the list goes on.

We always feel the pressure to do more, especially when we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. But sometimes we don’t need more, we need different.

Now don’t get me wrong: working hard is usually a good thing. In fact, it’s extraordinarily difficult to succeed at anything unless you’re willing to put in the work. But hard work alone isn’t going to give you a competitive advantage. At the professional level, everyone is working hard – and you can’t just “out-hustle” everyone, because one of the few things we’ve got in common is that we all get only 24 hours each day.

That’s why we need to focus less on working hard and more on working smart. And one of the best ways to work smart is to understand diminishing returns.

So in all walks of life, we need to constantly be asking ourselves: is what I’m doing right now the best use of my time? Or could I get better returns by focusing on something else?

Asking these questions isn’t a one-off exercise; it’s something we should be constantly doing, because something that was a good investment a year ago may not be a good investment any further.


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