Rate of Perceived Exertion

In many exercise programs, you’re asked to assess your “rate of perceived exertion,” or RPE. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you working? From 0-2 is low effort, you can talk; from 3-4, you can still have a conversation but it’s tougher; from 5-6, you’re getting uncomfortable; 7-8, things are getting pretty difficult, and 9-10 are maximum effort.

This helps us figure out how hard we’re working relative to what we’re trying to achieve, and it’s pretty standard fare for monitoring physical exertion. 

I want to think about how to apply this same idea to mental, intellectual, and emotional labor. When we look at what we’re doing over the course of a day, what’s our rate of perceived exertion?

RPE 0-2 This is easy, I’m not feeling challenged by tasks or obstacles

RPE 3-4 There’s some effort here, but it feels manageable

RPE 5-6 I can do this, but not forever

RPE 7-8 This situation is hard for me to manage

RPE 9-10 I am doing everything I can just to keep going; this isn’t sustainable

Obviously, depending on who we are, what else is going on, and other variables, we may find our flow state at any RPE from 0-6. And on any given day, we may need to tap into a higher RPE for certain tasks. What I’m interested in is the overall balance: how much exertion is the right amount? And on what, and when?

I offered my first pass at a “daily work life RPE” chart above. What suggestions do you have? What did I miss? How do you talk to yourself about what kind of effort you’re expending, and how effective it is? What do you notice about your own rate of perceived exertion, and how might it be similar or different from people around you who are doing the same things?

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