WFH, self-sustainability and P/PC balance

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As we enter an extended WFH (Work From Home) period of time, I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of self-sustainability. Self-sustainability, a sense of confidence in leading an effective life completely by myself, relies on something called P/PC balance. In this article, I share some learning about these concepts from the past month of my WFH experience.

When I first started working from home over a month ago, I pledged to continue to be productive despite the shift of pattern in norm of work. At first, I felt more productive than before. There were many factors of WFH that grants me more focus time: commute time was reduced to zero, meeting-less hours was easier to find, and even the need to change and pack could be removed. Devoting all these saved time into my work, I could feel I was getting more done.

Then one weekday morning, about two weeks later, I woke up dreading getting out of bed. I wasn’t sick; rather, I felt like I had a list of things I’d rather do than work: read a book, go for a run, meet up with good friends, take an online course. It was a dire feeling: I knew I can get a lot of things done at work, but I could also feel my passion and energy were draining. If this WFH situation were to extend itself for another month or two, I felt like I would break down. I needed a stronger sense of self-sustainability.

Eventually I got out of bed, carried on a normal day (‘normal’ in this new norm), and finished a day of productive work. However, I ended that workday earlier, spent some time reading and exercising. Next day, I woke up feeling great: rather than a machine that produces non-stop, I felt more like a human living effectiveness and expanding his potential. Since then, I have deliberately chosen to do activities like these ones every day. As a result, I now feel I can confidently say that I can continue to WFH for another few months and enjoy it. With just a few simple things, the sense of self-sustainability came back into my life.

I attribute this feeling of sustainability to “P/PC balance”, a concept introduced in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. P stands for Production of desired results, while PC stands for Production Capability, the ability or asset that produces. I find this balance particularly important during this extended WFH period, as it has become too easy to get caught in the P, and ignore the PC. Normally, we are compelled by external circumstances to maintain our PC. For example, a lot of people listen to podcasts in commutes (maybe in order to avoid the feeling of wasting time); if you walk or bike to work, you are investing in exercising; when you finish a day’s work and come home, you feel more invited to grab a book, instead of continue to work from your home office. Those circumstances, once external, must now be administered by ourselves.

When WFH first began, I certainly ignored investing in my Production Capability, devoting all the time I save from confining myself at home, and then some, to work. The result was a brief period of hyper-productivity, followed soon by a sense of emptiness and lack of purpose, because when I turn myself into a machine of production, I run the very real risk of burning out without driving towards my professional and personal growth.

On the other hand, I’m also not advocating for spending all the time investing in yourself, and not do your work. Something called work ethics strikes through that option for us, but moreover, that’s also ignoring the P/PC balance, just to the completely opposite extreme. P/PC balance requires Production as well. After all, Production is why we care about Production Capability — why would you take very good care of your golden egg-laying goose, only to never let it lay eggs? But also importantly, Production is the way to validate any progress we make when investing into our Production Capability, and continuously measure and course-correct our constant evolution of it.

In summary, I believe we need self-sustainability more than ever during WFH time, and the way to achieve it is by consciously controlling our P/PC balance.  As we get forced to be less inter-dependent and more independent, investing in P/PC capability deliberately will play a key role in supplying this much-needed self-sustainable way of work and life.