The arctic blast of our fledgling 2014 offers a chilling reminder that the kindred warmth of the holiday season is over.
That’s enough being. It’s time to get back to doing.
“So, how’s it going?”
“Good. Busy. Super busy.”
“Me too. Never been so busy.”
It’s as if there is a self-worth contest sure to be won by the contender most frazzled.
But busyness is no virtue. If anything, it makes us—me included—distracted, forgetful and often late. It diminishes our capacity and saps our creativity.
That’s why we can actually accomplish more by doing less.
But how do we decide which activities absolutely must stay and which might have to go?
Five Minutes to a Leaner You
This quick and simple exercise should give you several top candidates for the chopping block. You need only one piece of paper with a line down the middle (or click HERE for a printable form). On the left side, write LIFE-TAKING, and on the right side, write LIFE-GIVING.
On the Life-Giving side, list the opposite—those practices you can pursue for extended periods of time, wondering where the time has gone. You might be tired after a long day of life-giving activities, but you’re not weary.
I should be clear that this exercise is not a license to shed roles to which you’ve pledged yourself—like being a good parent or spouse—or common duties that appear on no one’s life-giving list—like changing diapers or cleaning dishes. Heck, the president of my company, Drew Tignanelli, washes whatever dishes he finds in the company kitchen sink.
But if the majority of your roles and the duties you’ve accepted are life-taking, I encourage you to consider making some difficult decisions in an effort to improve that ratio. That may mean saying yes to something, but it almost certainly means saying no.
1) Following through on this exercise may be simple, but it’s not easy. Stakeholders are likely to be disappointed, whether you’re giving up a board seat, book club, church committee or poker night. Your income may also be reduced if you sacrifice an activity that creates income, change jobs or invest in furthering your education.
2) Many activities are not wholly life-taking or life-giving. For example, last year I decided that maintaining a presence on Facebook took more life than it gave. I certainly derived some benefits from being on Facebook, connecting with friends and family, but the net effect was life-taking. (By the way, I dumped FB six months ago and don’t miss it at all.)
Addition by Subtraction
You can cause a monumental shift for the good in your life and work by simply removing life-taking activities. Your performance in life-giving roles has room to flourish, increasing your productivity and satisfaction. Even more surprising, some activities will move from life-taking to neutral—or even life-giving—after your overall burden is lightened.
Hitting the delete button on even one or two life-taking commitments can make you a better partner or parent, boss or employee, friend or family member. And especially for those whose vocations fall under the creative heading, creating more blank space on the canvas is essential to maintaining and improving your art.
Special thanks to Josh Itzoe, a colleague and good friend, for encouraging me to undertake this exercise several years ago.