High-performance cars have a special mode called launch control. When launch control is turned on, the car takes over the details of accelerating from a standstill (usually at the start of a race or timed trial, but sometimes when you just want to feel the G-force pushing you back into your seat). The brakes, accelerator, and clutch are all controlled automatically to ensure that the car launches with the maximum possible acceleration under the conditions.
Many cars limit the number of times you can use launch control, requiring a cool-down period between launches and/or limiting the number of launches you can make over the lifetime of the vehicle. That kind of performance takes its toll on the car. Even Teslas with their simplified drivetrain will pull back so you don’t cause permanent damage to the car.
High-performance individuals like you and me have a launch mode, too. When we’re starting a project or a goal, we start off strong. We lay out a plan, identify a bunch of next actions, and schedule milestones. We want to go from zero (where we’re starting) to sixty (goal achieved) as fast as possible.
Like a high-performance car, we, too, need a cooling down period after we launch to preserve our performance. Otherwise, that kind of performance takes its toll on us. If we push ourselves too hard, it can damage our capacity to get work done.
Sometimes, I think the worst thing that can happen to me is to have an incredibly productive day.
I’ll buckle down and focus and everything clicks and I get so much done my head spins. I will honestly ask myself what’s the matter with me the rest of the time. Why can’t I always be like that? I would get so much done!
And then I hit what Michael Hyatt calls the messy middle. It’s no longer enough to be excited about how much I’m getting done. I get tired. I ease off the gas, a combination of blasé (high productivity is the new normal) and letting down my guard (“Hey… this productivity stuff is easy!”). And I start coasting to a stop.
Part of the problem, for me, at least, is that I never make the switch from launch control to cruise control. During the launch, I’m pushing as hard as I can so I can accelerate and get up to speed. But I can’t push like that forever, and I shouldn’t. Once I get going, I need to switch over to the cruise phase. My foot is on the gas, but I’m in a different gear. My focus needs to be on maintaining the momentum that I’ve built up, not pushing as hard as I was. That’s a transition I’ve found I have problems with. From talking with many of you, it’s a common problem.
The next time you’re launching, keep a few things in mind:
- You need to change gears. Low gears are for producing torque, so you can accelerate quickly. The higher gears are so you can efficiently maintain your speed. As you go up and down hills, go around corners, and respond to other traffic, you’ll need to change gears (up and down).
- You need to ease up a bit to change gears. I drive a Mustang with an automatic transmission. I don’t control the clutch, but I still need to come off the accelerator a bit to let the car change gears under certain circumstances (like when coming up to freeway speed after the ramp meter turns green). Our reasons for easing up are more mental than mechanical: we need to adjust our routine, and that takes thought and planning.
- You can’t accelerate as quickly under load. Before you take on something new, remember that you’re now doing more than you were. You can’t accelerate as quickly on the next one. When you finish a goal, then you can think about downshifting and picking up speed on something else.
When you’re first starting out, it’s completely appropriate to punch it. Slam your foot down and get going! The only thing holding you back should be the laws of physics.
Once you’re going, ease up. That kind of acceleration isn’t sustainable. Pace yourself, let the engine cool when it needs to, and you won’t lose traction.