I’m a big believer in the power of Results And Relationships. The data tells us that by seeing worthwhile results of the work we’re doing and developing and nurturing strong relationships with the people around us, we’re priming ourselves for success. Today I got to experience both, and it was glorious.
I had the opportunity to participate in an Evergreen Leadership Circle organized by Kris. Our “Circle” of twelve accomplished professionals (including Kris) spent the morning taking a good, hard look at our own behaviours and collaborating on ways we can “Simplify to Focus.” The epidemic of “Eternal Busy-ness” has taken over our lives to the point that we practically (or literally!) have to schedule bio-breaks to guarantee we’ll get them anymore, and forget work-life balance, the current model of time management looks more like a nightmarish game of Tetris with tightly controlled segments of time carefully arranged so we can pack in the maximum amount of “stuff”, and ohhhh, if I only had 2 extra hours a day I’d… probably fill it with 6 more hours’ worth of activities that still aren’t adding to our desired outcomes or our quality of life.
Let’s be honest. It’s not that there aren’t enough hours, it’s that so often we’re not intentional with the stuff we’re doing, or we feel like we have to do all the things to be seen as valuable, or that by joining the Cult of Busy we somehow insulate ourselves from the underlying imposter syndrome or fear of being seen as “not a good team player” in a world that, despite the social narrative about “employees being the most valuable asset”, all too often does judge our performance by how many billable hours we have, rather than the accomplishments we have during the hours we spend engaged in “work”.
So, how can we pare down to the things that actually matter, and dive deeply into those things? How can we create space in our lives for things that align with our personal and professional priorities? First we need to actually understand what those priorities are, and that, my friends, is not easy. Much like many vision statements, we may have some vaguely aspirational idea of our priorities, but if asked to share them elevator-speech style, we often struggle to articulate them with clarity and succinctness. If you don’t even know what your priorities are, how can you evaluate your projects and activities to see how they measure up? And, as Kris reminded us, we need to get our list of priorities down to the Top Three. Trust me, this really is a “magic number”! Remember, we’re talking about simplifying! Only once we’ve completed this can get into the juicy stuff… it’s time to Shed, Shrink, and Simplify!
It’s time for some tough self-love. If you’re on social media, you know how the minimalist process works. I haven’t succumbed to the closet purging trend yet, but there’s a lot of merit in the concept of “If this doesn’t bring me joy, and it doesn’t add value, why am I doing it??” Look at your calendar, your project list, and even the things you haven’t written down but are pouring energy into on a regular basis. What can you remove from your list of work commitments? Do you need to sit in every single meeting just to “stay in the loop”? Can you trust your team to tell you the stuff you need to know, when you need to know it? (If not, no amount of meetings is going to fix that!) What can you “decline” on your calendar to reclaim some of your valuable time?
And then… give yourself a minute to just breathe, and congratulate yourself for having the discipline to say “No”!
Pro Tip #1: No amount of meetings is a substitute for trust.
For many of us, another layer of complexity is that even if we know what our priorities are, there are almost infinite opportunities to take on projects that are in line with those priorities, so we wind up saying yes until we’re drowning, and then we’re loathe to let go of anything because we’re personally invested in these amazing things we’re doing, and it feels like a moral failing to admit that we can’t do everything.
Whether we’re cutting back the actual number of projects we take on, or we’re finding ways to consolidate work or delegate parts of it to share the experience and the opportunity with other members of our team who can benefit from the exposure and the journey, this is another exercise in discipline. Another aspect to consider: One person’s trash can truly be someone else’s treasure. Is there somebody who wants to learn pivot tables or how to make cool slide decks? Loves market research? Give others the chance to take the ball and run with it. Share the spotlight! After all, no one has a monopoly on excellence.
Pro Tip #2: No one has a monopoly on excellence.
I think of this as fine-tuning your “Must Do” list to keep it crisp and efficient. Sure, you need to have check-ins with your team, but can you schedule 1:1’s every other week, or maybe once a month? Can you cut your absolutely necessary meetings down to 45 minutes? What about 15? C’mon… challenge yourself! Can you schedule a couple of 15 or 20 minute single topic meetings, instead of a two hour packed agenda that’s going to bloat and drag everybody down endless rabbit holes where decisions can’t be made?
Does every conversation even need to be a meeting? Can you make a commitment as a team that you can just pick up the phone to get those simple issues resolved so you can get back to the work of… well.. working? What are other creative ways you can pare back some of these necessary activities to ensure you’re getting the best “Return on Energy” possible? (thanks to Mark Bender for this awesome acronym!)
Pro Tip #3: Simplify to maximize your ROE (Return on Energy)!
In a culture that worships at the Altar of Busy-ness, it takes a true visionary to say “No”. By understanding both your professional and personal priorities, you can be your own best advocate. Instead of drowning under an impossible sea of tasks, emails, to-do lists and general frantic chaos, take a breath, focus on what matters, dive deep, and see what amazing results await you!