Why You Can’t Do Everything.
When I was a little person, my mother used to tell me my ‘eyes were bigger than my stomach’. It was said because I would always want more food than I was capable of eating. I have since discovered this is a common human trait in many areas of our lives. We believe we are capable of doing (or eating) more than we can.
Part of the problem is caused because we find it difficult to say “no” to others. For example, we get asked to help a colleague, or a friend, our boss asks us to do an additional piece of work before going home, or a client asks if we could do something extra for them. And we are conditioned to say yes without checking to see if we have the time available to do it.
We are told ‘The customer is always right’ (or in Korea: “the customer is king”), and we should always strive to go above and beyond what is asked of us.
And while occasionally it is prudent to accept the additional work, most times it is not. Most of the time, we are saying yes because we fear upsetting someone or fear we will miss out on something important.
Another human tendency is to feel we always have to be doing something. As a result, we have stigmatised doing nothing and often attach the label that someone is ‘lazy’ or ‘good for nothing’ if they are not doing anything. And yet, some of the most important discoveries in science came about because someone was doing nothing. Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree doing nothing when he first understood the concept of gravity. Archimedes was taking a bath when he discovered the relation between the surface and volume of a sphere.
This tendency to always fill up our days with tasks and stuff results in filled up task managers with low-value tasks. Tasks that do nothing to move our goals or essential projects forward.
In his book, Eat That Frog! Brian Tracy states a rule: “You can get your time and your life under control only to the degree to which you discontinue lower-value activities”.
How many tasks on your to-do list today would you say are critical, high importance tasks? If you are honest with yourself, you will likely find that less than 20% of your tasks today have any real importance. The remaining 80% of your tasks, if not done, would not cause you any problems. So those are your low-value tasks.
Unfortunately, most people have no idea what is important and what is not. If you have not identified what is important to you, then anything and everything that comes your way will be important. And if everything’s important, nothing’s important.
To overcome this and get control of your life and your time, you need to identify three things:
Everything you do must be built on the foundations of these three things. Your long-term goals give you the direction you want your life to go. For instance, you may have a long-term plan to start your own company or to save $1 million for your retirement. Identifying these goals gives you a purpose. If you want to start your own company, you will see each day as a learning opportunity. If you want to save $1 million for your retirement, your daily work that provides your income will be important and ensures you are saving a sufficient amount to provide you with your income goal.
On top of your long-term goals come your areas of focus. These are the eight essential areas of life that are important to all of us:
Family and relationships
Health and fitness
Lifestyle and life experiences
Making sure these areas of your life are managed and that you are frequently doing something that will enhance and improve these areas of your life develops a balance to your life that leaves you feeling less stressed and more in tune with your environment.
And then there is your core work — the work you are paid to do. Whether we like it or not, we need to earn a living to put food on our table and keep a roof over our heads. To achieve that, we accept employment. We go to universities and take courses to enhance our skillsets, which are more valuable to potential employers.
The trouble is, we keep saying yes to new work, and pretty soon, the job we applied for is not the work we are doing. We’ve expanded our scope, which leaves us little time to continue to improve our skillsets and thus improve our value to our employer or future employer.
Being aware of the work we are employed to do keeps us focused on providing us with our income. It means we excel at the work we do, and that pushes our careers forward. Getting caught up in work and tasks unrelated to our core work reduces our ability to excel at the work we are employed to do. A great designer does not always become a great team leader, just like a great footballer does not naturally become a great coach.
If you want to feel more in control of your time and life, you need to step back and look at what you are doing each day. Are you spending most of your time doing what you are good at and what you want to do? Or are you spending the majority of your day rushing around saying yes to every request and neglecting the important things to you?
Deciding to reduce what you do in the interests of what you want to do is not easy. You risk upsetting and disappointing people. You may miss out on an opportunity, but one thing is guaranteed; until you finally stop and discover what you want, you will always feel like you are chasing something unknown, and ultimately, you will feel miserable and disappointed.
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My purpose is to help as many people as I can live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.
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