This week, a new planner arrived in our house, for my husband. It’s called the Monk Manual, and it’s part planner, part spiritual journal, part training. (Also, just very cool!) One of the reasons we got it for him to try is because it doesn’t just have regular planner stuff…it also encourages you to think through your weekly theme, to reflect at the end of each day on your victories and your challenges…and to have a day set aside to test your own limits. To push hard and see how you do.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, especially this early in the year, when topics of productivity and efficiency and quarterly or yearly goals are talked about everywhere. And I’ll admit it. Often when I see things on how to be “more productive and efficient,” my hackles rise. Because I like to think I’m very productive. I like to think I’m constantly finding ways to be more efficient. And when I share what I’ve accomplished each week with my accountability partner, my P&P group, and my Write Here, Write Now Facebook group, the responses are always the same, and they always go something like this: “Wow, you amaze me. How do you get so much done?”

But there’s always room for improvement, and I know that. I know that because I’ve always thought I was good at managing my time well, and yet when I look back at where I was a decade ago, I see how far I’ve come.

What’s more, I hear so many creatives talking about the challenges of making time and space for their creativity, and I hear familiar refrains over and over. Refrains I myself have chanted time and again. There’s just not enough time

Sometimes, it’s simply true. Sometimes, we manage everything perfectly well, but there’s just no more space. I know that feeling. I have days and weeks and even months where I know I’m using my minutes and hours wisely, but there still aren’t enough of them to do all the things on the list.

And yet…just as often, or even more often, we are simply content to stay within our limits. But what happens if we reach father? If we stretch? If we push?

I mean, the short answer is that the limits change places, of course. Much like physical exercise, we can push ourselves a little harder and a little harder, and we get stronger, faster, more flexible. The same is true in our work, our creativity, and our general goals.

Last Friday, my husband had an “establish your limits” day in his planner, and at the end of the day, he said, “You know, I really think I did it. I really think I pushed to my limits.” It was a challenge he set for himself, and one that left him feeling accomplished, even though he didn’t actually check off all the boxes of things he wanted to get done. He still knew he’d done a great job at what he did work on, and he hadn’t wasted time or energy. He established his natural limit for where he is at this point in his life.

Now that he knows that benchmark, he’ll strive to hit it regularly. Maybe not every day (because let’s face it, we all have off days!), but most days. It will become the norm. His routine. His standard.

And then he’ll add one more thing. Stretch a little farther. Work a little faster, perhaps. Tackle something that had seemed too big.

There are a lot of ways to stretch our limits. If stamina is our issue, we work a little longer, just by a few minutes. If we work the “right” number of hours but aren’t accomplishing what we want to in them, then maybe we focus on speed instead and try to find ways to make that hour-long task only take 50 minutes. Then 45. Then, maybe 30. If it’s the quality that needs work, then it may be wise to set aside time for learning and practicing.

The important thing, I truly believe, is that we reach. Higher, farther, wider, longer. Strain your muscles–your physical ones, your emotional ones, your spiritual ones, your mental ones. Don’t be content to stagnate where you are, even if you’re in a happy place. Try something new. Learn something more. Chase that dream you’ve always thought was beyond you.

What limits do you need to test and stretch this year?

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