Martin Rue

I build things on the internet.

On Always Doing Your Best

We're told as kids "always do your best". This advice isn't bad in principle, and there certainly are times when you need to put in your best effort, or put out your best work.

But always? That clearly isn't good advice.

As squishy, brain-carrying flesh bags we simply cannot operate at 100% consistently. If we insist on doing so, we inevitably fail and the consequences can be severe — from fatigue and burnout to losing the will altogether.

The advice I've always followed is something like "do your best when it counts". Not everything requires your best effort.

In the end it boils down to seeing your effort — or more specifically your energy — as a limited resource and considering its use according to your goals and priorities.

Something that's not too important? Don't spend all your energy on doing the best possible version of it.

Something that's short-lived? Perhaps putting out a "good enough" is the right call here, and using the remaining focus and energy on more important things.

There are other factors, too. How you'll be judged by those seeing your effort or work, and whether their opinion or influence can affect you. Not to mention the timeless challenge for the artist of wanting to push their craft as well as complete the work.

Before you unconditionally commit to your best, consider these factors and make a choice that selects for the ideal tradeoffs. Your energy is not unlimited.

In the gym we have the concept of RPE and RIR. Rate of Perceived Exertion is a score from 1-10, scored after a set. An RPE of 10 means you exerted yourself maximally and left 0 Reps In Reserve at the end. An RPE of 7 is a choice to leave 3 in the tank, allowing you to go again.

Picture the scene: a sweaty, veiny dude wearing shorts far too tight for him flicks himself backwards into a bench press and hits 5 reps, grunting loudly enough to penetrate your noise-cancelling headphones in the 5th.

He gets up, red faced and elated, and exclaims "RPE 9!" He left 1 in the tank, but pretty much maximally exerted himself. He won't be doing much more of that in the session.

RPE doesn't just make sense in the gym. I apply it to my life in general. If I RPE 10 on a few things that don't matter, I have 0 RIR for the rest of the day. I did my best, but on the wrong things.

Another thing to consider is that your work often isn't judged only by you, and in contexts where that matters (to your boss, to the market, etc) you should consider whether the estimation of your effort is what everyone else is seeing.

When deciding that a certain thing does not call for your best, but perhaps an "above average", the challenge is knowing whether your output really is above average. Illusory Superiority is a cognitive bias in which people overestimate their ability in relation to the same abilities in others.

Sometimes both your best and your above average require more than you think, when properly assessing your own capabilities in relation to others'. Be aware of the superiority bias, or you'll be off by some factor and that could really matter.

That said, it doesn't change the fact that you should pay attention to your energy and not waste it on always, unconditionally doing your best as a virtue.

Consistency matters much more than badly-timed big swings that take you out of the game. Play it smart and stay in the game.

Don't always do you best so you can do your best when it counts.