Anyone who knows me knows - I love science. There is something fascinating about seeking to understand the world around me, and knowing how things work. When I was at school, I loved Chemistry most of all. It was fascinating - add a little bit of this and a little bit of that and get something totally different that in most cases was way more than the sum of the parts. As an adult - I am still fascinated by Chemistry and this process of chemical reactions - every time I whip up a cake or a loaf of bread. And it is Chemistry that inspired today’s blog post, as I think about a concept I learned back when I was learning about chemical reactions - the rate limiting step. According to Wikipedia, the overall rate of a reaction is often approximately determined by the slowest step, known as the rate limiting step (or rate determining step). This means that no matter how quickly the other components are able to react, the thing step that determines the progress of the reaction is the slowest.
And this is something that I always think about as I journey through life. It is easy to believe that my rate of progress in any project will be determined by the amount of effort that I put in, by the places where I hustle and strive the most, and the action steps that I take. However, I find that it is often determined much further down the chain - by the things that I pay the least attention to. To give one example - often my rate limiting step is something as simple as sleep! Sometimes I make the point to get up super early and sacrifice sleep so that I can be more productive - but then I find that tasks which might otherwise take me 20 minutes take way over an hour, and are not done quite as well. There are other times that my rate limiter is another aspect of my health, my hydration etc. When I think that I don’t have time to stop and take care of myself, I discover that is the very thing that is hindering my progress. Other examples can be our spiritual relationship, our interpersonal relationships, eating healthy, or cleaning the kitchen before we start our meal prep. And my favourite one - reading all the instructions before baking a new recipe! I saw it in so many places, and it was a powerful lesson for me. It taught me to consider the importance of all aspects of my life - no matter what I was working on - and not to neglect the seemingly unrelated relationships with others or myself in favour of the outcome.
Aside from our personal lives, I have also seen it play out in business. In a large hospital the rate limiting step could be how clean it is kept! You may have the best doctors and surgeons in the world, but if your cleaners or scrub nurses go on strike then you will find it very hard to do your job. Or in your online business - you may be a content creating wizard, but without proper bookeeping or accounting, or a decent marketing plan, you may find that your content is falling on deaf ears, or your services are underutilized. Even when running an organization - it can be the little things - those things that we want to neglect - that can keep our projects from going ahead. Disgruntled employees who do not feel seen or heard, the small tasks that seem unimportant, and even our own self care and relationships as I mentioned in the examples I gave above.
For me - once I began to observe this, I started to look into my own life, to see what changes I could make so that I could make achieve my goals! Drinking more water and getting more sleep. Making time for my relationships. Automating my self care at work (this will be a subject of a later post - but for example - pre-booking my vacations and time off instead of waiting until I am wiped out to try to squeeze time in). And having fun!! My biggest rate limiting step is taking life too seriously. This stifles my curiosity, and my joy, and honestly - it is when I am curious that I can find creative solutions to my problems, and great blog topics!
A friend told me a story once of two woodcutters both chopping down a tree. One spent the entire day cutting, while the other one seemed to stop every hour for several minutes. At the end of the day, the one who had taken the breaks had actually achieved more than the one who had been cutting constantly all day. When asked how he achieved it, when he had taken so many breaks he said “I was sharpening my axe”. I always found that story a perfect summary of this idea. Sometimes if we aren’t making the progress we think we should be making, we need to ask ourselves what is our rate limiting step - perhaps getting more sleep, having fun with our friends, or sharpening our axe before preparing to tackle a big project (or a big onion - sharpen your knives people!!!). I would love to know what you think your rate limiting step is in the comments below!
And as always I bring you big love from a small island
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PS Above is an example of my favourite type of chemistry - lemon meringue tarts that I made a few months ago!