“Quit writing when your hand hurts” is a metaphor that expresses the idea to quit when you’re ahead, know when to give up, know when it is time to throw in the towel, etc. In the often competitive environment in which I live and work, it is difficult to stop working; there is always more to be done. However, because my job requires extreme concentration, a clear mind, and never ending creativity, there is little to be gained by pushing myself to extremes. Because all of my clients are attorneys with personalities vastly different from mine, as a social psychologist, they often expect me to work late at night, all weekend, and early in the morning to help them on tasks they have postponed until the last minute. I am meticulously organized and punctual, and rarely in my life have I waited until the last minute to do anything. When I am faced with a situation in which a client wants me to work well past the point when I am comfortable, I explain that, if I am to be of any help to them whatsoever, I need to rest, regroup, and reconvene at another time. Just as I have to stop writing with a pen on paper when my hand hurts, I also have to stop whatever work I am doing when it becomes obvious that my work quality will diminish with every passing minute. Effective work techniques, like many things in life, vary on an individual basis.
Determining when one is about to “hit a wall” is important to avoid personal crashes, of any sort. Knowing your limits is something that is harder for some people to learn than others. But it is important to know when not to press on, when you will suffer from diminishing returns or performance and learning how to just say “enough,” for now. Despite caffeine or energy drinks, everyone has limits. And attempting to go beyond them is non productive, or dangerous. And, just as it is for individuals to know their own limits, managers must recognize and accept each employee’s limits and allow them to recharge their human systems.