Newsletter: How To Do It “All”

A lot of new happened in the first month of the new year. With all the new experience has come new information, which has compelled me to make some adjustments: Given what I now know about A and B, and the possibility of C, what does that mean for my plans for X and Y, and my expectations for Z?

I spent a long afternoon last week reworking time in my calendar for this and that and the other – and reluctantly accepting there isn’t room for all I had planned for the year.

It was very tempting to Stick to the Plan and try to shoehorn all I’d like to do into my schedule, but that would hardly be sustainable. That would just turn me into a very tired and cranky person – no, make that a totally-overwhelmed-and-freaked-out-all-the-time person.

Like it or not, something had to go.

And so I am – with a twinge of sadness – dropping design services from my repertoire (for the foreseeable future anyway, along with postponing a few other projects). There simply are not enough hours in the day for me to be the kind of designer I want to be and the kind of teacher I want to be. I had to choose.

This week’s newsletter is about how to make such a choice – an essential time management skill.

How To Do It “All”

How do I do it all? I don’t.

In this instance, I don’t mean I don’t do it all myself, but delegate instead – although that’s an important strategy. Nobody can do this thing alone – at least not for very long.

What I mean is I simply don’t do it all.

I don’t act on every idea.
I don’t say yes to every opportunity.
I don’t accept every invitation.
I don’t try to absorb all there is to know.
I don’t obey every should.

I’ve become very, very choosy.

Why? Because anything else is insanity.

So how do I choose? Given the overwhelming smorgasbord available to us every day, what are my criteria for selecting this over that?

It comes down to two things: synergy and capacity.

Question #1: Synergy

You might expect, “Do I have time for this?” to be the question I start with. But having or being able to make time for something is not a good enough reason to say yes.

Ideally, all the activities I engage in fit together, each contributing to the other in some way. I find cultivating this kind of synergy helps me to feel balanced and whole (as opposed to feeling pulled in a hundred different directions).

This thing I am saying yes to doesn’t exist in a vacuum by itself. It will influence everything else I am engaged in one way or another, and that potential effect is the first thing I take into account when making my choice.

What will I (need to) learn? What support systems will it require? Who will this introduce me to? Where will it lead? How will it challenge me? How will it help me?

How much attention will it need? Is it likely to be draining or energizing?

What needs will this fulfill? How many? Which ones? [Unless my financial situation is quite desperate, if the only need that will be fulfilled is money, it’s a no-go. When I do things just for the money it almost always ends badly – mildly or spectacularly – and I end up wishing I hadn’t said yes.]

Will that sync with everything else I am doing? Or will it divide my focus in unhelpful, distracting ways?

Knowing that like attracts like, do I want more of what I am saying yes to?

I pay close attention to my intuition when considering these questions. I heed any resistance or anxiety as a red flag. I listen to that voice in my gut before obeying any sort of should. I’ve learned to trust it, even if it can’t explain itself or its reasons seem petty.

I don’t know if it’s a result of our reverence for law or science, but in this culture we seem to think we can’t proceed without evidence or proof. But I believe we can accurately know things without knowing why, and act with confidence on that information.

The more I trust my intuition, the faster and easier this sort of decision-making becomes. In our hearts, we know what fits.

So, Question #1: Will this enhance what I’m already doing?

  • No. This is a bright shiny object (or dull rusty trinket) that will only serve as a draining distraction. Capacity or no capacity – stop here.
  • Yes. This will mesh very nicely with what I’m already doing. Proceed to Question #2.

Question #2: Capacity

So I’ve decided I really want to do this thing. Doing this thing makes total sense. But do I have the time and energy to give it the attention it warrants? Do I have the capacity to take it on?

I’ve become much more realistic about my capacity in recent years.

I have a much greater awareness of how much time and energy I can devote to work, and how much rest and recreation I need in turn. I also have a better understanding of the how long it really takes for me to engage in and complete certain activities. I’ve gained a decent sense of my personal pace.

I also know that paying attention to synergy boosts my capacity.

But there remain limits – I have limits – and I have learned to stop fighting with that. Besides, a to-do list is much easier to manage when it is short.

So occasionally I sit myself down as I did last week to take an objective look at the puzzle pieces of my schedule and figure out if and how they fit together within the frame of those limits.

Sometime rearranging them is enough. Like repacking a suitcase that seems like it can’t hold everything, but does with a bit of refolding of the contents.

But, more often than not, something has to be left behind. So it’s back to Question #1. I have to weigh my very good reasons to do this thing against what is already on my schedule and presumably has good cause to be there.

I may decide against it in the end. It may go in the “later” container or “maybe” container or “never mind” container. Or I may have the opportunity to trade something that wasn’t such a great fit for this new thing that is.

Either outcome is okay (even it comes with a bit of grief for the opportunity not pursued).

The idea is never to try to do it all, but to determine the just-right combination that is a very fulfilling enough.

Whenever you are doing one thing, you’re not doing something else. Learn how to feel good about those choices by becoming a Time Disciple with me. Please join the upcoming True Discipline of Time Management course – registration closes this Friday, February 6.

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3 Responses to “Newsletter: How To Do It “All””


  1. 1 Susan Crawford February 3, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I agree about the value of learning to be selective in our in-the-moment culture. Nothing gets added to my plate without first identifying where it lends value and ranking how it advances my business plan. This exercise has definitely been freeing.

  2. 2 Jessica @ThriveYourTribe February 4, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Cairene, You’re so right that synergy makes it possible to accomplish a lot more (or makes what you accomplish a lot more satisfying), and though it’s hard to let go of all of those delightful possibilities out there, letting go is sometimes necessary. It’s a continual re-balancing act, eh? Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your process!


  1. 1 Are twinkies on your to-do list? « How THW Gets In Gear Trackback on May 13, 2009 at 6:32 am

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