I appreciate the innate power of narrowing our focus because for a large chunk of my life, I lived another way.
I worked long days. I kept a to-do list that got longer and longer. I covered the workload of ‘team’ members, either too lazy or incapable of doing their own work, and I definitely started earlier and stayed later.
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the next deadline. I lived in urgent mode, a constant state of reaction. Caffeine helped fuel this state. Like a 100m sprinter waiting for the gun to go, I’d anticipate and be waiting for the next bang. And then, as you may have guessed, I suffered something of a burn out!
I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. Not just tired but spent. Externally, I projected a sense of calm and being in control, but underneath I had been paddling too hard for too long. I needed to reset. I was on a path that definitely did not feel like my path.
I knew there must be a better way. I knew this had become my life but couldn’t be my life. I wanted something different. More than that, I needed something different to thrive. So I took action.
What followed was a paring down period. A commitment to simplifying my life and my approach to my work.
I cut my to-do lists into pieces. Instead of trying to get everything done at once, I focused simply and purely on one or two main tasks a day. Once I got those done, I then gave myself permission to move on. I batched repeat tasks (phone calls, meetings, email, etc.) but refused to be imprisoned by inboxes any longer. I really started to purpose my days. I focused on less but ironically got more done.
I was so committed and determined to make this new path, and the associated changes, stick that I went all in. Normally habit changing ‘experts’ recommend making small changes over time to let new habits ingrain. While this is sound advice on the surface, I knew I needed more immediate change. I had tried the other way and it had led me here. Here (at the time) was not where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to live my life constantly burnt out and stuck in reactive mode.
So I continued down the rabbit hole of simplifying my commitments.
I learned and used the power of “no.” I coached, mentored, and supported team members but stopped short of doing their work and thinking for them. I learned that doing the right things (and sometimes the tough things) up front, can mean other tasks no longer need doing at all. I realized someone else’s urgent doesn’t always make it my urgent.
I embraced the power of 80/20 thinking and realized not everything needs doing. That means I concentrated on who and what means the most to me—the 20 percent of my life that provides 80 percent of the value—and let other demands on my time go.
I got the white space back in my days and no longer felt I needed to rush from this to that. I got time back, I got energy back, I got my life back.
And a funny thing happened in tandem. More so than ever before, other people started to notice that I was someone who got things done. Words like “organized,” “focused” and “takes his responsibilities seriously” regularly appeared in feedback.
I became known for meeting deadlines with minimal fuss, someone who was trusted to prioritize my own workload and the workload of others.
I became known as someone who could navigate complex projects and environments, focusing effort on where it matters most.
Emboldened, I began to double down on my approach. I became self-employed and started using these skills to help organisations achieve their goals. I enjoyed my work more, and my rewards for that work increased. My freedom and flexibility in my work increased. I now had much more say in how I worked, my time and labours no longer completely at the mercy of others.
My health, mindset, and outlook all improved. I got ‘me’ back.
That was nearly ten years ago. If I can do it, I’m sure you can do it. Your journey will be your own, of course, but if you’ve hit the point where commitments are crowding in on you, and your time no longer feels like your time, it is time to pause and reset.
Words will not do justice to how tough this process can be, depending on your circumstances. However, I promise you something, the effort will be worth it. If you do this, you’ll never want to look back.