When you’re confident it’s the right thing to do, what keeps you from doing it? Your answer will give you an unsettling gut check about your risk for the future.
I sat across the table from a very successful business leader at a casual lunch. He…
Does this kind of thing ever cross your mind?
What? Another appointment? Another conversation? Another project? Another task? Another social engagement? Another problem to solve? Another call for commitment?
How does a person get to the point of “no room?” How does it happen that a person’s mind, emotions, energy, and schedule become so occupied that they have no room for things that really matter? You can blame anything, everything, and everyone but it all comes down to your priority choices or the lack thereof. No room is a direct result of your choices.
“But I don’t have a choice!” you say. I submit that you always have a choice. The consequences of the choice may be so undesirable that you believe they eliminate choice. It takes courage to make it, but you do have a choice, even if the consequences are challenging.
When choices are hard, you may allow others to make them for you by default. You let them tell you who, what, when, where and soon they are pleased, and you have no room. If your environment and relationships demand a lot, it is your choice to meet those demands or not.
You’ll want to keep some room in your being for the things that are important to you (socially, emotionally, cognitively, spiritually). You’ll want to keep time in your schedule and a reasonable amount of energy available for things important to you. Keeping room available involves carefully managing priorities and creating space for the “anothers” and “mores” that are valuable to you. You must make that room before you need it. I want to support you and encourage you.
You may know what’s important, but what’s most important? You can discover this by using a values clarification exercise. After doing the exercise, some find that what they thought was important was not as high in the ranking as they believed. For example, a person tells me that their family is a most important value, but after doing the exercise, they find that their behavior shows their business to be more important often crowding family out.
Busy-ness is an aesthetic for deadening the pain of an empty life. A full and rich life is active and productive in the most important arenas. You can decide what the most important activities are for you by using a mission identification exercise which will align with your values. This exercise will help you determine what you believe you must accomplish — what you were created to do – and, as a result, end your life without regret. Be busy about that instead of everything people and life-in-general throws at you.
Neither of these exercises is easy, and you will need a good bit of self-discipline to complete them. But, the clarity and confidence you will gain make the exercises well worthwhile.
Clear determination of your values and mission is a way of clarifying boundaries. You are saying what you will do and what you won’t. You will have a basis for saying “no” to good things and “yes” to the best, most important things. Now, live in the light and freedom of this.
Get Simple (excerpted from Put Stress to Work)
Are you living under the tyranny of too much in your schedule, too many financial commitments, too much to take care of, and too grand expectations for the standard of living that you’ve created, leaving “no room?”
There are times when I wish I had less responsibility, less on my schedule, fewer material things to maintain, and much less to which I must pay attention. Sometimes the complexities of my lifestyle distract me from my priorities, like people, making lasting contributions to the world, and giving myself to things that will last beyond my lifetime. Being active and contributing are good things. But, occasionally, I can get so much going that my attention drifts away from what really matters to me.
You could get so busy about everything that you accomplish nothing that matters. If this becomes a way of life, it can produce a feeling of emptiness and purposelessness. As you get simple, your life will become less stressed, more peaceful, well-paced, and focused. You might also have more room for what matters and what will last beyond your lifetime.
Now is the time of year for accumulation in first world countries celebrating Christmas. Get more, more, more until “no room.”
I work with young professionals for whose potential the sky’s the limit. Unless something goes badly wrong, they’ll make much more money in the future than they’re making now. I often encourage them to decide now what “enough” looks like for their future. What size house is enough? How much money is enough? How much car is enough? If you don’t decide this early, you may increase your material and financial obligations as your income increases. Lifestyle and standard of living ramp up to absorb the income. You may become oblivious to the amount of accumulated stuff that presses on your attentional, mental, and physical capacities.
Deciding how much is “enough” is a value decision which requires boundaries and assertiveness to honor those values. Your pay raises, bonuses, impulses, or the Joneses with whom you’re competing don’t decide this. You do.
Decide what’s essential. Then live in the essentials. Simpler allows for less stress due to limits of capacity. So, the oxymoron “less is more” does work, in a way, in that when you have less of something, you can give more to something else.
In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown says, “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution toward the things that really matter.”*
You’re the manager of your capacities. Your choices determine how you’ll use those capacities to the greatest effectiveness. Either, you’ll open wide the door, keep trying to do it all, and let any and everything absorb your capacity and beyond; or, you’ll decide what will benefit from the capacity you have. The amount of your time available will always be used at 100% by people, things, or personal maintenance activities (eating, sleeping, exercise). By setting priorities and associated boundaries, you decide how to use 100% of your time.
I have several clients who are discovering that:
CAUTION: When you say “no” you may feel guilty, be afraid of the judgment of others, or worry that you “hurt their feelings.” Simply acknowledge these emotions are present and get on to something else. You may have to do this many more times than once.
What things do you need to reduce or eliminate to make room for the things that matter?
Simplify by doing what only you can
Get simple and make room by spending less time and energy doing everything and more time doing what only you can do. If you’ve hired and trained extraordinarily well, only a few things need your attention. Some CEOs note that they make about five decisions per year. These are the big decisions that only they can make.
Every detail does not need your attention. When you take on responsibility for every little detail and respond to every request for your attention, you will reach the limit of your capacity sooner, and you hinder yourself from doing what only you can do. Delegate responsibility to someone you trust and don’t allow those to whom you delegate to push their responsibility back up the chain to you.
Giving less of your attention to the details of operation allows you more time in the balcony seat to oversee the bigger picture of strategy. While in the balcony overseeing the dance floor of the operation, you can see things you would not otherwise see, avoid pitfalls, and capitalize on opportunities.
The practice of doing what only you can do works at home, too. If you can delegate to someone else in the family, do it to free yourself to do what only you can. Try to engage in actions that only you can do. Yes, it’s OK to delegate, even to your children. You aren’t the only one who can wash the dishes or mow the yard. It’s important that someone does these things, but not that you do them. To help you decide what only you can do, use this exercise at putstresstowork.com/readerbonus.
Less time in meetings results in more time given to productive activities. Most meetings are poorly planned and executed. As a result, untold hours are diverted from most productive activities. The time of people who are only 10% involved in the agenda is wasted, they’re bored, frustrated, and learn that your meetings are to be dreaded. Less meeting time means more time in productive pursuits. Try out the True Course Members Only Site to find a short course in How to Lead Great Meetings http://discoveryourtruecourse.com/resources/true-course-members-only-site/.
Less time spent in unfruitful thought about issues gives more time for planning to be productive. Waste less time by planning more. Create a time to meet with yourself at the end of each day. Evaluate the day, celebrate accomplishments, and plan for the next day. Do the same at the end of the week, by evaluating the week and planning for the next.
Less accessibility extended to some leaves more of your time and energy for those who’ll make your business most successful. You can allow people to waste your time or drain you dry emotionally. You need not be accessible to everyone in your business or job. Avoid the energy drainers and time wasters. Create boundaries to establish with whom you’ll invest your time. Less time with drainers and wasters will give you more time to invest in those who will make your business and life more successful.
Less demand on you personally will allow more room for creative, strategic thought. You may drive yourself to overwork, stay busy, but not necessarily productively busy and stretched “like butter scraped over too much bread.”** Take time to decide to whom and to what you’ll give your time and attention. Take action on your decision. You’ll be less stressed, more at peace, more productive, and have a greater sense of accomplishment.
Less time and energy spent on important things will leave time for the most important.
A sure way to avoid “no room.”
You get to the place of “no room” by yourself and the choices you’ve made and continue to make. You may not even be clear about how you got there exactly. Don’t try to get out by yourself. It rarely works.
A sure way to avoid “no room” is to engage a coach that can help you work through the clarification exercises for values and mission and support you through the challenging work of changing mindset and actions to get simple and make room. I think you know what to do. You could use the support and accountability that a coaching relationship brings.
I want to give you that.
An unmatched instance of “no room.”
As I write, I recall another instance of “no room” that is unmatched in history. In that instance, the world made no room for the unquestionably most important of all gifts – Jesus Christ. Be sure to make room for him during this busy season and every day through the years.
*McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. New York: The Crown Publishing Group. [Kindle Edition]. (pp. 3-4). Retrieved from Amazon.com
**Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954). Lord of the rings: Fellowship of the ring, p. 32.