Skip to main content

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

How many kilometres can your car go on a tank of gas?

Most of us who own a car and depend on it to get from point A to B pay attention to this factor. Why? We know that if we don’t, we can put ourselves at risk. Not paying attention to how much gas we have before going onto an isolated back road in the middle of winter when it’s minus 35 C and running out of gas may lead to death.

We all know that every car’s gas tank has a clearly defined capacity. Wishing we had more gas won’t work when our warning light begins to flash. We know that if we want to keep moving we must stop and get more gas.

In much the same way, we all have finite capacity.


Whether we know this or accept this fact, we only have so many hours in a day and so much energy. Like a car, we have a finite capacity before we need to refuel. Because we’re all different, this capacity can vary.

Some of us ignore this reality and push ourselves without any fear or concern for what could happen. Humans don’t run out of gas per se, but pushing beyond our limits increases our risk of breaking.

How we break can vary. We could become so fatigued that we make a mistake. We could burn out. Our body could break down. On the extreme end, we could drop dead from a heart attack.

What’s interesting is that many of us know the risk, but until we experience the consequences first hand, we continue to push ourselves.


Our daily responsibilities at work and at home can influence how much energy we need to be able to get through each day. The risk with accepting this logic is we can end up feeling trapped in a routine that pushes us to our limit.

Before we can better manage our capacity, it’s helpful to pause and be clear about it. We need to sleep and eat, but those who are pushing hard may attempt to get by with as little sleep and attention to quality of nutrition as possible.

Our capacity to be present allows us to focus and enjoy what we’re doing versus living in a constant state of checking off boxes.

At the end of each day, only we know how much we’re surviving or living. All we can influence is what we have direct control over. To better manage our capacity begins with an honest self-reflection on current capacity. If we’re straining ourselves, it’s up to us to figure out our options to gear down so we can reduce our risk for burnout or breaking down.


Capacity management is about learning to set realistic expectations for ourselves.

  • Complete your capacity inventory: Defining your human capacity can be subjective. For example, what percentage of your total energy do you believe you use each day? If you say you burn 50 per cent, then likely you’re not concerned about your capacity. However, if you’re burning 95 per cent, you don’t have much room for error. Now write out all the things you do each day that are have-to-dos and want-to-dos. Pay attention to these two lists. One thing that often burns people’s capacity is the feeling of lots of have-to-dos. Often, want-to-dos can be so rewarding they almost charge our batteries.
  • Challenge have-to-dos: Sometimes we have things we believe we have to do that are self-imposed. If you have a report that takes time every day but you’re unsure who uses it or why it’s being done, you can discuss its value with your manager to determine whether it really needs to be done daily. By challenging some of what we believe are have-to-dos, we may learn that sometimes we’re doing things on autopilot. By slowing down and asking questions, we may help our circumstances and provide more capacity.
  • Daily monitoring and reflection: By simply evaluating our capacity at the end of each day and reflecting on what we can control, question, stop and perhaps even start, we put ourselves in a position to be mindful. By focusing in the moment on what we can control versus running hard every day on autopilot, we can make decisions that move us from just surviving the day to living it.

The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2019 at this link.

You can find other stories like these at

Download our e-books: Inch by Inch, Make Life a Cinch; Little Steps to Big Change; Staying Afloat.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct