I write a lot about the myth of “work-life balance.” Longtime readers know that I believe we cannot separate these two things from each other since everything worth doing involves work. I believe that the key is to focus on sustainable happiness instead — doing more of what you love and empowering others to do the same.
I advocate for doing as much of what you love as possible — as long as it betters you and those around you. And you should do a lot of it. Over and over. So, it might surprise you to hear me say that most people I meet have a “work too much” problem — they are trying to do too much.
Too many of us are trying to do too many things that are not in line with what we care most about. We are busy because we are achievement-oriented and are allergic to being bored.
Being “busy” has become the ultimate humblebrag. It usually starts at work, but I have seen it extend to family and personal activities. Those who categorize themselves as “busy” think that doing so makes them in-demand or at least praiseworthy. That is simply not true.
I get it. I have been there. There is pressure at work, pressure at home, school events, volunteer opportunities, friends who need our support, and family members who drive us a bit crazy. If you are reading this, you are likely wondering how you are going to fit it all in despite already being sleep deprived. And that’s the one sign that you are just too busy.
Experience has taught me the truth — those who try to do it all struggle to accomplish even small tasks.
I decided a long time ago that at different times of my life different priorities would rule. It also meant that I had to be ok turning down opportunities that were not in line with my goals. It is ok to focus in certain areas and let others go — depending on what matters most to you and those who depend on you.
You can consciously make that same choice today. Before another meeting, friends’ weekend getaway, business trip, or concert goes on your calendar, here is what I recommend you do:
Overcommitment is the quickest way to find yourself off-course from achieving what you care most about right now. So, do not put anything else on your to-do list. Instead, give yourself permission to step back from everything for a moment. It is perfectly fine to remove yourself from the fray. This is how you will gain clarity to move forward again. Do what you absolutely must for a week and cut everything else out.
After you have slowed down enough to catch your breath, pull your head up and evaluate your current state. Use that time to ask yourself what you really should be working on. What are you doing with your time right now? Time management is a zero-sum game. And the only way to fix a broken schedule is to make sense of where you currently stand.
The easiest way to do this is by writing down a complete list of where and how you are currently spending your time. Write down everything that is on your mind, on your schedule, and weighing you down.
Once you have done a reality check, it is time for a fresh start. What is most important for you to accomplish each day to get your closer to your goals? What do you value most in your personal and professional life? If you start with the “why,” then prioritizing “what” you do each day will become much clearer.
Using the same list you made when you were evaluating where you spend your time, circle or underline the five items that are most important and the five activities that contributed the least to your objectives.
Once you know what matters most, it’s time to get going again — except this time, you will hopefully feel a much lighter burden on your shoulders. Starting your day with confidence involves knowing what you will accomplish and why. So, review your calendar and remove events that do not align with your high-level goals. You should only add obligations that have a clear connection to what is most important.
Moving forward, you may not brag as much about how many commitments you have. Instead, you will be intrinsically rewarded by the joy and fulfillment that comes from each day.
The most productive, happy, and successful people focus on doing a few things really well each day — not a hundred things haphazardly.
We all get the same number of hours in a day. Make sure you are spending yours on what matters most to you.
How do you decide what goes on your calendar?