The Power of Overkill

If you want to finish a 10km race, be able to run 20km.  If you want to earn $5000 per month from your business, work as hard as you would need to earn $7500.  If you want to be able to do 50 push-ups, train yourself to do 100.  The power of overkill is that it is often necessary to reach your smaller goals.

There are No Half-Efforts

If you’re working on a project, there are two modes you can operate in:

  1. 0 – 10% effort
  2. 100% effort

Notice there is no “50% effort” category. While it’s reasonable to spend half your time on a goal, it’s not reasonable to spend half your focus.  Your brain can’t split 100% focus between two projects equally.  Either one gets 100% and the other get’s 0-10%, or they both get 0-10%.

Many people (myself included) have made the mistake of tuning down a goal to make it more easier to achieve.  It’s good to set realistic goals.  But when those goals appear too easy, you’re effort often slips from the 100% mark down to the 0-10% level.  My motto is to set achievable goals, but overkill them.

Overkill Forces You to Single-Task

I’ve written previously about the importance of sticking to one goal at a time.  While this doesn’t mean you can’t have any goals simultaneously, you can only have one you focus on.  By adding overkill on top of the goal you’ve written down, you can’t split your effort between three or four projects.

Remember, you only have one 100% block of focus you can use at any given time.  So you need to decide which project will get that 100% and which will just coast.  And if you don’t make this decision consciously, then the default is to have all your projects at 0-10%.

Change is Harder Than You Think

Often reaching a goal takes far more work than you imagined.  Overkill towards a goal helps because when you get hit with a setback, you won’t give up.  If you’ve been training to run a marathon, a few rocks won’t slow you down when you run ten miles.

A few years ago I was trying to get in the habit of regular exercise.  I had failed the first three times, so on my fourth attempt I went for overkill.  I made a point of exercising for at least an hour every single day for 30 days straight.  This is overboard for what I needed, but in the end I formed the habit.  Now, over four years later I still keep the habit.

Overkill the Training, Not The Target

Don’t confuse overkill with setting unrealistic goals.  It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re facing a goal you can’t possibly reach.  When that happens, it isn’t hard to turn a 100% into a 0%.  A good rule of thumb by Zig Ziglar is that, “goals should be out of reach, but not out of sight.”  If you can’t form a believable plan to reach your goal, you’ve probably made it too high.

Where you apply the overkill is on the training.  Once you’ve decided what your target is, put in the effort that goes far beyond what is necessary.  This isn’t easy to do.  Often the level of what is necessary is already fairly high.  Without giving some margin, however, any setback will cripple your progress.

A major source of failure is putting in a reasonable effort.  Goals are achieved by unreasonable people doing far more than what is expected or necessary.

  • James

    Your grammar is killing me.

    “But when those goals appear to easy, you’re effort often slips from the 100% mark down to the 0-10% level.”

    – Fixed it. Thanks for the warning…

  • Sofi

    Hey Scott,

    I’m Sofi, from Saudi Arabia. Look like you have a lot of brilliant idea, and what make you great is you share it. I really enjoy your blog.

    I hope you can always share your brilliant idea, good luck.


  • Success Professor


    Great article. I love that you emphasize overkill on the action not on the goal setting. Very important. Thanks for these great thoughts.

  • J.D. Meier

    I’m a fan of massive action to produce results … sometimes it’s just a numbers game.

    I think I first learned about overkill when my Dad taught me that Bruce Lee would think past his target.

    There’s also something to be said about concentrated effort, or a lot of energy to squish a problem before it escalates out of control (a stitch in time saves 9).

  • James

    Scott, I love your posts, past and future.

    That one sentence, I guess only fit in your 0-10% effort range. Your fix is only half done, there is another one. 🙂

  • Scott Young


    If you see another typo, let me know. I try my best to edit my articles, but after 600 or so, I’m bound to slip up a few times. 😉


  • Sam

    If you were a Schlock Mercenary fan, you’d know rule 37: There is no ‘overkill’. There is only ‘open fire’ and ‘time to reload’.

  • Gus

    Write a great post full of ideas and people comment on you’re (hehe) spelling and grammar! lol Some people.

  • Mithun Sridharan

    Very interesting ideas. I started reading your blog about High speed reading half an hour back and I’m still going strong with an increased word count per minute (I guess so), despite the time now being 3:00 AM! Very interesting posts.

    Great job!!

  • Evan

    Excellent. I don’t think it was your grammar that nearly had James “sleeping with the fishes(sic)”, just a couple of spelling errors. An editing issue, I surmise, because you are a very good speller and I don’t think there is anyone who read that sentence who found it too incoherent to understand the content because there was a letter missing in one word and a misplaced apostrophe. I don’t know James, but something tells me: “drama queen.” shhhhhhhhh I bet he gives it 100 per cent, though. James, it might feel like you’re going to die but you won’t. Not because of Scott, anyway.