Want to have it all? Read this first…

want to have it all

Have you ever felt like you were on a treadmill: you’re working incredibly hard but just not gaining ground? (Yes, I’ve felt this way too!)

I ended December by finishing “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. While I had heard about this book for the past couple of years, it wasn’t until MY coach recommended it to me that I actually found time to read/listen (I love Audible!) to it.

The concept behind Essentialism is deceptively easy: “Less, but better.”

“Why,” I thought, “Do I need to actually read a book about this one sentence?”

Despite my resistance, I dug in and it was worth the time. Greg McKeown gives stories and examples that help illustrate all the ways that that we might intellectually subscribe to “focus, productivity, and important over urgent,” yet in our day-to-day lives, constantly undermine ourselves.

Take me for example. I’m actually finishing the book during our cruise. Yet right after we board the cruise I can’t help but look at the detailed schedule of events and enthuse to my husband that “wouldn’t it be fun to check out the casino, do a spin class, listen to the comedian at 11:30pm (well past my bedtime), do a cupcake decorating class. . . “ You get the idea!

Then I had this light-bulb moment!

I took a page from the book (the title one to be specific) and ask myself, “When I leave the boat in 4 days, what will I be really happy I did? What’s really essential?” I realized it was just “spending time with my family, reading, and working out.”

With this clarity, every day I focused on getting in my workout, reading for 1-2 hours and then spending time with my family. And yes, at the end of the trip I did feel relaxed and fulfilled. Of course, some of the family time involved watching the ice dancing show on the cruise (can you believe there’s an ice rink on a cruise?) So we did enjoy the bounty of the ship – but in a way that felt like it was on my terms rather than their activities schedule of overload.

I’ve come to believe more and more that productivity at work is often not a matter or working “better” or “smarter.” It’s usually all about the power of a good “no,” even to some things that seem really beneficial/fun/career-building/etc.

There are things that all of us would rather not do at work. For some people, it’s meetings, for another it might be writing reports. And occasionally we can say no to those things. But more often, there are some essential parts of our jobs we don’t enjoy. So it’s really tempting to add in the “fun stuff.” To do more of the things we really WANT to do at work.

I’m all for passion at work and finding the intersection of what you enjoy with what you are good at. The problem is that once we say yes to too many of those additional “fun” things, everything feels draining and like a time suck. Suddenly the project that initially excited and energized you is keeping you up late at night at your computer since that’s the only time left you have to work on it.

McKeown points out that too much of the time we choose things that are 7s or 8s. They are definitely good, but they are not our “Hell yeses” or our 9s and 10s. What the book and theory behind essentialism has called out to me is that I need to be more mindful of what my “hell yeses” are. And that I need to say no to more of those “that sounds goods,” to open up space for some of my true 10s.

My friend Sara and I always choose our “word for the year” in place of resolutions. This year I chose “Essentialism.” This means I’ve constantly asking myself – “What’s REALLY important now?” and sometimes the answer is different than I expect. Sometimes instead of doing 3 more emails, I stop work earlier and hang with my daughter. Other times I’ve turned down some work in favor of keeping my schedule open for my 9s and 10s. And, while I’m still working on this, I’m trying to stop playing my addictive iPhone game at night and just go to bed and get to sleep!

So here are my questions to you:

  1. What’s most important for you at work right now?
  2. Is it’s a hell yes or an obligation?
    1. If hell yes, when have you booked time on your calendar for it? (if you haven’t – do that now!)
    2. If it’s an obligation, what’s your hell yes to work on alongside it? 

Now re-do this for your personal life.

Rinse and repeat.

And please, comment below and let me know what’s moving up on the prioritization scale for you.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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