The Intensity Tradeoff

Impossible Intense

There’s two ways to do almost anything impossible.

Quick and hard.

Slow and easy(er).

But no matter which way you choose, almost all results come down to this formula.

Intensity Allotted x Time Allocated = Results Realized

In everything I’ve done, I’ve found this formula to be bulletproof. You can lower the intensity of your work, but it’s going to take more time. Conversely, you can raise your intensity and often accomplish things much quicker than you previously thought. The tradeoff becomes between what you’re willing to dedicate more of to something – your time or your focus.

My buddy Patrick told me once, there’s no reason to take 2 years to do what can be done in 8 weeks. I tend to agree. The faster arrival time, is often worth the increased intensity required in my experience, but your results may vary. Both approaches work, but it’s often a matter of what you want to do and how you want to do it.

Quick, requires more energy, focus, and determination. There’s less compromises available and it’s often more intense – but it works and you can often get to where you want to go faster.

Easy, takes more time, and requires less focus, but it may take you a while to arrive at your destination – if you arrive there at all.

Both approaches work – the problem arises when you want things both quick AND easy. There’s no really a shortcut – the shortcut is to work hard, work smart, and work fast. The short cut is to turn up the intensity.

That’s the intensity tradeoff.

What will you choose? 

There’s still time to RSVP to our Impossible Meetup in PDX this Monday. See you there!

Susan Lacke, my cohort in Impossible TRI, rocking her women’s tank top while posing with her runyon-esque face and looking quite intense. While I’m not sure how I feel about her tribute to me, but she did bike 500 miles, run 20+ and wrestle a grizzly bear with her bare hands just after wearing this. After that, she can make whatever face she wants. Don’t have your gear yet? Grab an impossible shirts and/or tanks, take a photo doing something a little more impossible than posing like me, send it in and we’ll put you in the gallery.

susan lacke impossible


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  1. says

    Hey Joel,

    In general, I would agree that putting more of your heart into something will bring about greater and faster results.

    HOWEVER, there is probably a just as strong argument toward the benefits of slowing down and enjoying the process.

    We live in a world where everyone has to have a smart phone so they can be the first to “like” someone’s comment on FB or “learn a foreign language in 3 months” or do something faster, smarter, cheaper, etc…

    Are we humans just a machine focused on output and achieving “results” or is there more to this life?


    • says

      I’ve been thinking about the same thing.
      If you go fast, you’ll reach that beautiful feeling of success sooner and you’re horizons will expand to new and exciting opportunities.

      If you go slow, you can really enjoy the ride and relax along the path. You’re horizons may not expand as quickly, but neither will your life be consumed.

      The answer, I think: Choose one thing to conquer with all you’ve got. Plow forward on that thing at breakneck speed.

      While your doing that, pursue the rest of your goals slowly and without stress.

      What do you think?

  2. says

    I’ve always been impartial to the speedier route. Not because there are shortcuts but because I’ve always found the faster you can get to your destination – the more you can go beyond it.

    If you take 2 years to learn a skill, that skill may be worthless since there has been new things to take its place. For example, if I took 2 years to learn coding but then here comes HTML5, well, the process starts over. It would have been better to go all intensive to knock it down and then use the time and knowledge to expand than to just keep with the curve.

  3. says

    Anything worth accomplishing is NEVER easy. I find that relentless consistency is the key to achieving greatness – especially when it comes to the human body.

    I think the real challenge is knowing when to apply quick or when to apply easy. Often interchangeably more relevant and effective.

    Keep crushing brother.


  4. says

    I am amazed by how much we can accomplish as humans when we are truly focused on a goal. This is why I think that age is irrelevant.

    Some people have let the years slowly slip on by and done very little. While others have truly taken advantage of their time on this lovely earth.

    It isn’t about age it is about experience. And as you point out, the increase in intensity and focus takes it to the next level.

    I think the challenge is staying focused and committed to long terms goals. Anyone can stay focused for a few weeks but as time goes on people start falling off the map. The difference maker goes beyond sheer will. I wonder what is it?

  5. says

    Your post made me think of interval training and the value of short all-out bursts followed by rest and recovery. I think the same value can be derived in much of life, particularly if we add a third R: Reflection.

  6. says

    Love that post Joel. I think we need both ways in different phases of our passionate living journey. We need to work slow and easy during the phase where we juggle between our passion business and a day job.

    Once your passion grows and starts to be profitably promising, then you can quit your job and start working quick and hard to make your passion take off.

    What do you think?

  7. Lore says

    I think that you need a balance of both. One intense thing at a time, and then it can become something less intense that you do because you enjoy it instead of pushing towards goals as fiercely. While I am committed to finishing infinite jest ( David foster Wallace) in the next month or so. This week I’m getting my motorcycle license. So practice comes before reading. I guess I’m still looking for those few things that I really become inspired and passionate about. And then I’d throw myself in full tilt. But until then, I’m exploring various activities, lifestyles, careers, and pursuits, in hopes of becomimg more well rounded by the time I find that field I can’t get enough of. I think all environments are worthy and can lend credence to Your “life’s work” burnout is the scariest thing about full force. Flightyness is the awful thing about slow projects. I live a bit on the fast side. So I’ve been developing my patience by finding pursuits I am comfortable pursuing over longer time periods. Eh. Maybe I’m just an aspiring renaissance man… =)

  8. Rita says

    I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this post since I read it yesterday. I woke up thinking about it. Okay. So intensity vs enjoying the process. I get the concept of “show me what you’re doing and I’ll show you what you’re committed to”. Well, if I am simply saying I want xyz, but it’s not happening, then I’m not doing what I know to do. It’s time to push. So for the rest of July, I’m going to do it this way. Your way. And I’ll report back. And I’m nervous and panicked and freaking out because I know it’s going to take something…something I’ve never given before..but I’m in.

    stay tuned…

  9. Rita says

    I’m also just gonna go ahead and say it since no one else has – THAT IS A DAMN FINE photo of you Joel!


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