The Value of Constraints

I, for one, don’t like constraints.

Within civilized limits, I’m not good with rules that don’t make sense, and I particularly don’t like being told arbitrarily what I can and cannot do.

But I also recognize that constraints are more than merely straightjackets and guardrails. They can provide encouragements and incentives that may propel you to better, more efficient, more creative, and potentially more successful results.

It all depends on how you look at them. For example:


Having access to sufficient resources is a great advantage in many situations.

For example, if your car breaks down, it’s nice to be able to pay for repairs, rent a hotel room, hire a ride home, or cover other expenses that may come up. If you’re building a new facility, it’s great to be able to hire a skilled architect, pay for top quality materials and craftsmanship, and include amenities and features that make it a more pleasant place to work or live.

But when cost is a constraint, it can provide unexpected benefits, such as forcing you to:

  • Prioritize and focus on essentials,
  • Negotiate for better prices and terms,
  • Find alternative suppliers, goods, or services that bring advantages,
  • Update technology, systems, or strategies to get improved results and/or long-term savings,
  • Improvise or invent new solutions to replace outdated ways of operating,

And so forth.


Most tasks, projects, and goals are organized around a set of deliverables that were established at the start of the effort. But sometimes, one or more of those deliverables turns out to be so difficult or complex that it effectively restricts the scope of the project.

The good news, however, is that constraints threatening to restrict deliverables can drive you to:

  • Brainstorm and develop better pathways to completion that help to maintain or even expand the original scope,
  • Work with stakeholders to reconsider and revise original specifications so as to maintain or even upgrade the value and desirability of the final result,
  • Rethink the task, project, or goal in ways that allow today’s deliverable elements to later be changed or upgraded in ways that expand the original scope.


Time is often the least flexible constraint, not only because it’s strictly limited, but also because we must complete most of what we do on schedules that mesh well with other people’s tasks, projects, and goals.

Normally, work expands the fill the time allotted for it. But with practice you can learn to compress the work – through short-cuts, gamification, efficiency techniques, or just working faster – to permit completion on an abbreviated schedule.

Other ways to beat time constraints include:

  • Better advance planning, because time spent planning at the outset often results in net time-savings during the execution phase,
  • Identifying the critical path to completion and scheduling all other activities to preserve that priority schedule.

These and other methods can help you beat the pressure of time constraints and finish a task, project, or goal in less than the originally-allotted time.

I sometimes think of the activities and efforts involved in my work and my life as a kind of fluid that, when pressured by constraints of various types, “squirts out” through unsuspected pathways and directions of flow that can prove more advantageous, often resulting in better productivity and increased success.

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