The Scientific Difference Between Force and Pressure and What This Means for How You Should Work

Why pressure is more important than force in your work

Wang Yip
Wang Yip
May 13 · 4 min read
Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Back in high school, I was learning about force and pressure in physics. Some of you may not remember your high school physics (I didn’t because I had to look it up) so here’s a quick recap: force is an interaction with an object, that if unopposed, will change the motion of an object. For example, you can apply force to a soccer ball by kicking it and it will roll. Or you can apply force to a door and it will push or pull open. Pressure, on the other hand, is the amount of force applied over a certain area. The one thing I remember from the textbook was the difference between force and pressure.

You can apply the same amount of force to a thumbtack and a pencil, say on a piece of paper, and one item will go through the paper (the thumbtack) and the other item will not go through (the pencil). The difference is the amount of pressure being applied. On the thumbtack, you are applying a greater amount of pressure because the area over which the force is being applied (i.e., the tip of the thumbtack) is smaller than the tip of the pencil.

Enough of the science lesson, what you’re wondering is how this applies to you and your work.

Think of force like your energy. Your energy, much like force in physics, can be made up of different formulas (or functions of your lifestyle). For example, your energy is an indirect function of:

  • The amount of sleep and rest you had
  • Your diet
  • The amount of activity in your lifestyle
  • Your interest and passion for the activity you want to do
  • Whether there is an incentive or punishment
  • Your environment

I am sure there are more things, but you get the picture. Getting more sleep, eating healthy food, and leading an active lifestyle will give you more energy. If you are, for example, taking out the weeds in your garden because your neighbours have complained to you, it’s hot outside, and you haven’t hydrated for a few hours, you will have less energy.

If you want more energy to do your greatest work, think of the variables and inputs that directly or indirectly increase your energy.

  • Have you been sleeping well lately?
  • Are you eating foods that give you energy rather than take it away?
  • Have you been exercising?
  • Have you been working on things that interest you and give you a sense of flow?

Say you’re leading a healthy lifestyle. You are working on things that you are passionate about. You get a full night’s rest every day. Except you don’t feel you’re getting enough things done.

The scientific definition of pressure is force divided by area. And in this case, the area, as it applies to your life, is the number of things you are working on. If force is your energy, and the area is the number of things you are working on, then pressure is the amount of energy you have for each work item you have (a.k.a. how much you can get done).

If you feel you need to get more done (or that you haven’t done enough), but you think you have maxed out your energy (i.e., force) through optimizations in your lifestyle, instead review the things you are spending your energy on (i.e., the area) and reduce the number of things you are working on. Reducing the area means increasing the pressure and therefore, increasing the amount of energy you have to get things done.

Recently, I read Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller’s new book Win at Work Succeed at Life and came away with several ideas for creating more ‘work-life balance’ in my life.

In short, they are:

  • Schedule the important things in your life: self-care, personal and family relationships, and then work. When you schedule it into your calendar, you are saying to yourself that the rest of your life needs to be scheduled around these important things.
  • Introduce and embrace constraints: one thing I learned from the book was that 6 hour days are optimal for knowledge workers. Past 6 hours and you get diminishing returns on your work. So why not work hard for 6 hours (mind you, this requires significant discipline and focus) and then use the remaining 2 hours to think or plan?
  • Rest is the foundation for good work: Flip the notion that you work and then rest at the end of the day. Rest instead is something that you do at the start of your day so that you can do important work.
  • 80/20 your work (from The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch): identify the 20% of things you do that bring 80% of your results. Spend more time on the 20%. Delegate, eliminate, or defer the 80% of things that only bring 20% of your results.

If force is your energy, and the area is the number of things you are working on, pressure is how much you can get done. To increase how much you can get done (increase the pressure), you can either increase your energy (increase the force), or you can decrease the number of things you work on (decrease the area).

Work Today

A publication about work life, remote work, productivity and the labor market

Wang Yip

Written by

Wang Yip

Author of Essential Habits. Inspiring others to live better and happier lives through better habits, work and career advice, and mindset changes. www.wangyip.ca

Work Today

Work Today collects stories and insights on work life, productivity and the transformation of modern work.

Wang Yip

Written by

Wang Yip

Author of Essential Habits. Inspiring others to live better and happier lives through better habits, work and career advice, and mindset changes. www.wangyip.ca

Work Today

Work Today collects stories and insights on work life, productivity and the transformation of modern work.

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