Like just about everyone I know, I tend to over commit. I seem to find myself at the end of every day and end of every week wishing I had a few more uninterrupted hours to cross just a couple more things off my list so I could really relax and focus on [insert major life/family/professional goal here].
“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” is helping me make progress, however. Since reading Greg McKeown’s book, I’ve become better at focusing my attention on items, tasks, and activities that I know are the highest and best use of my necessarily limited time. It’s helped me realize that if I don’t set my schedule and boundaries, someone else will. Everyone is selling something, everyone wants something from me, and everyone wants me to say “yes” to what they’re asking.
I’ve become more comfortable saying “no, thanks,” and the early results are positive.
Choosing only the great opportunities
But finding what is essential requires a shift in perspective. Instead of seeing each opportunity as it’s offered, I’ve started thinking of what I’d be giving up if I take it on. What will I not be able to do if I say “yes” to doing this thing? By focusing on the tradeoff, I’m able to more clearly spot the few things are truly important – the really great opportunities – and recognize those which are merely good. I’ve realized that although I can do anything, I can’t do everything. While I’m trying to do lots of things, I may be foregoing the chance to do one thing really well.
At first blush, this seems antithetical to success in the service industry in which I earn my living. I want to be seen as the lawyer who can help out and solve problems, not as the person who tells clients or potential clients (either expressly or implicitly) that they’re not the priority. But I can’t be in two places at once, and even if I can occasionally multitask, it’s not likely I can ever multi-focus.
Choosing only one priority
The proposition has now become self-evident: When everything and everyone is a priority, then nothing and no one is. So I have to possess the confidence, and communicate it to others, that I’m working as fast as I can on the issue in front of me. When I can turn to the next issue, I will, and my attention will be singular.
I’m not suggesting this has been easy, but I am noticing that as I set my boundaries and take on only the projects I know I can fit in my days – that is by pursuing less – I’m getting more done and doing it better.