I used to work construction with my father, and later with a construction company. This was back when we drove nails with a hammer. When I was really little, to make sure I could hit the nail, I would hold the hammer with two hands, choking up. This ensured solid contact, but it took me forever to drive one nail, and I would be panting and sweating like a pig.
As I got older, I learned how to use leverage to be more efficient. I held the hammer at the end, with just two or three fingers actually on the handle. I used a long, languid swing. When I got stronger, I used the same long stroke, but I changed to a longer and heavier hammer. As long as I hit the head squarely, I could drive a 16 penny nail in two to three whacks. I could do this literally for hours without becoming overly fatigued.
Anyone who has ever hit a golf ball on the sweet spot, shot a basketball from long range, or thrown a baseball with velocity, understands that relaxation, technique, and leverage – properly coordinated - generate power. They also appreciate that proper coordination of these variables is more efficient. Have you ever watched professional athletes and marveled at how they “make it look easy?” That’s because they are expending much less energy than you or I would find necessary to execute the same maneuver.
When we find ourselves exhausted at work, or in our daily lives, it might be worth considering whether we are working efficiently. In education, it might mean evaluating the essential purpose of a given lesson, simplifying, or scaffolding activities so that students themselves are engaged in authentic problem-solving. It might mean establishing routines or classroom expectations early in the year so that students have ownership of their learning.
As I reflect on the times in my life when I have done something particularly well, whether it was my best lesson, most productive meeting, my best game coaching or playing, or my lowest round golfing, they all shared the characteristic of seeming “effortless.” This does not mean that no work was required, but rather, that through reflection and preparation, relaxation and good technique, the actual act of execution that given day was “easy.”