It has occurred to me through reading other people's stuff, specifically Linchpin, that productivity is non-linear. At it's most fundamental it isn't. If the task is to move a pile of rocks from here to there, every trip of the wheelbarrow will go roughly the same speed and carry the same amount. However, as you get into tasks that are more mental or emotional the results will be more inconsistent.
Take the nobel prize for example. It usually takes overturning previously held ideas. There is usually opposition during the work. It is the type of thing that is extraordinarily difficult. Thus only a handful of people have been able to double down and get a second. No one has gotten a second in the last 30 years because science and technology has expanded so much that the list of qualified people to pick from is growing. A nobel prize is likely the highlight of successful career and probably takes 10-20 years of work in most fields, but most people have 30-40+ year careers. Why can't winners replicate their success?
I notice this with my coaching. Some days I say something, and I am shocked that I could come up with something so appropriate for the person I am talking to. Other days I'm trying to explain something simple and I feel like I can't communicate anything. I do think with experience we often try to mediate the highs and lows so that we are more consistent. In other words, a waitress who does a really amazing stand out job versus an average job will probably get one or two dollars more while a bad job will be four or five dollars less.
This article is really an attempt by me to justify some unproductive periods I have been having the last couple months. This morning one of my friends is running a 5k, it is the farthest he has ever run, despite looking more like a runner than I. The advice I gave him Friday was simple, "just keep going," because in a race forward progress is better than stopping.
retired sports stars can have extremely low productivity after retiring.