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From 30 feet away a shotgun blast will disperse many dozens of pellets over a broad area. The greater the distance, the wider the spread of pellets.
A rifle on the other hand is a single projectile. It only creates one hole in the target, but it’s able to do it from a much greater distance.
The energy behind a shotgun propels dozens of BB-like projectiles toward the target while the rifle focuses all that energy on a single bullet. Focusing on less is rifle-like. Multi-tasking like a madman is more shotgun-like.
Years ago while working with a client who was easily distracted because everywhere he looked he saw opportunities, I created a diagram to show him the power of focusing on fewer opportunities. Sometime later I created a 1:21-minute video (without sound) to replicate what I did in front of the client that day.
I drew a circle with a dot in the center. That center dot represented the starting point for any business pursuits my client might engage in. The outer circle represented profit or whatever measurement he wanted to use to represent success. And I began by marking an X somewhere on the circle, to represent that goal. A circle is 360 degrees so we’ll assume there are 360 choices or pursuits (even though there are infinite number of them really). So our X represents just one.
I then began to advance one dot at a time from the center dot (the starting point) in a straight line toward the X, the goal. I put 3 dots in a line and told my client that each dot represented a step toward achieving success in that direction.
Then I drew a new X on a different part of the circle to represent a new opportunity – a new pursuit. And I put three dots in the direction of that X, telling my client that represented steps taken to achieve success toward that different goal.
I did it with a third X on yet a different part of the circle. Again, I put 3 dots toward that goal, representing different activities put toward this third goal.
Suppose there are 10 dots between the center starting point and anywhere on the circle. The dots represent the actions necessary to reach the outer circle or success. By now I’ve put 9 dots on the diagram, but they’re divided by 3 different pursuits so none of them is even a third the way toward achieving success.
I explained to him that if his attention had been more narrowly focused on a single objective then he’d be 9 steps toward success. That meant, he’d be just one step away from achieving the goal, albeit a single goal. But instead, he was about one-third the way toward achieving success in 3 different areas. Which meant he wasn’t even close to success at any of them. His history showed that he hardly ever reached the outer circle. With anything. When he did manage to achieve it, he struggled the sustain it…or improve it because something else grabbed his attention.
Over time, it was pretty clear to him what he most struggled with — he mistook motion for action. As long as he was running around with his hair on fire he felt like he was driven, and ambitious. But he was wrong. Clarity was elusive for him. He didn’t see it. Until he finally could see it. His lack of success had very little to do with much else other than his focused attention to it for long enough periods to make it a reality. He was busy traveling short distances in many directions, but the goals were all longer distances away. Short trips to the store do not a vacation trip make.
That’s the power of less. It’s the power of embracing or leaning into less – not more.
Throughout our time together he discovered that he had a fundamental idea that had never proven true in his life. Throw more stuff on the wall and something is bound to stick. Bet on more numbers and surely one of your numbers will win. Do enough things and something is bound to succeed. But it never did. Because he struggled to maintain enough focus fully exploit any opportunity. He couldn’t discriminate between opportunities.
That may not represent your life, but it represents many of us who suffer distraction and a lack of understanding of how powerfully freeing limitations are. The power of less is the power of being more discriminating. It’s the power of placing greater importance on some things so you can push other things further away – things that you don’t value as highly.
My client didn’t calculate the importance. He never stopped to think through how and where he invested himself. He incorrectly judged every opportunity as equal, but that’s never the case.
Too Many Choices Is Too Restrictive
Here’s a link to an article about white paint. In the article, a person claims there are over 900 shades of white paint. Nine hundred! I wonder how long designers and customers spend trying to wrestle to the ground which shade of white they should use. So many choices require a lot of time. And anxiety.
What if you had to choose among 5? Do you suppose the decision would be easier? Do you think you’d be sorely disappointed because you could only pick one from among 5 as opposed to finding one among 900 or more?
Over 99% of us would be just as happy with one of the 5. Happier if you consider the agonizing required to select among 900 plus!
More isn’t always better. It’s often paralyzing.
Are more meetings better?
More phone calls?
More events on your calendar?
More events to attend?
More vacations? Well, okay…maybe more of that is always good.
There Is No Secret
People are fooled by the whole formula or secret mentality. They diligently search for (and invest in) a template they can follow to get the result they want – wrongly thinking that if could just precisely follow the path of a successful person, then we’d be successful, too. But there are too many variables they fail to consider.
We’ve already talked about how time is a big factor. Things take time. There’s also timing. When things happen matters. There’s also a third major differentiator. Talent.
My son was talking with me the other day about business. He has his own small business. I’m very proud of him because he’s worked like a madman to launch, build and grow his business. Some years ago, before he started it, I was cheering him on because I knew he had the stuff to succeed. But it was a big and scary move leaving one career behind to start a brand new one. Especially when you’ve got a family. But I was 100% confident he’d succeed. I was right. #FatherKnowsBest 😉
Well, he’s not at all like me in some very important ways – ways that I knew would serve him well. He’s overtly extroverted. He doesn’t overthink. He has no reservations about asking. Those skills I knew would be instrumental in helping him become a successful small business owner.
Well, during our conversation the other day we happened to start talking about how one size doesn’t fit all, and that people can do – or attempt to do – the exact same thing, but it doesn’t mean they’ll end up in the same place. I remarked, “Talent is the BIG differentiator.” He commented that he had coached somebody to do exactly what he did in building his business. He said, “And they did everything I told them. I mean, everything. And they gained some traction, but things didn’t really stick.” Being his dad, it was easy for me to remark, “Cause they’re not YOU. The difference is YOU.”
Now he and I both know – and so do you – that you can’t go around spouting off how great you are, even if it’s true. Well, we can’t. Some folks can. 😀
Here we are at the start of football training camps in the NFL and the college programs are in full swing, too. Teams are ramping up. Rosters are being set. Game plans formulated. Many of these teams are implementing the same schemes or strategies. Coaches are frequently coaching the same techniques. But on Saturday or Sunday, when the games are played one team is going to win and one will lose based mostly on the talent on the field. Talent makes the difference and we don’t often enough want to give talent due credit because we can’t do much about it. So we focus on things like hard work, effort, focus, and things we can more easily control.
I bring all this up because it directly relates to our topic of leaning toward less. And it can include less ambition. Hang with me. I’m not talking about giving up or accepting mediocrity. I’m talking about ambition in the sense of wanting to be more than your talent will allow. Michael Jordan, for whatever reason, left the NBA to become a minor league baseball player. Talent coupled with age wouldn’t allow him to succeed in baseball. And he was never going to achieve in baseball what he did in basketball. No amount of effort was going to make Mike a major league baseball star, or even a suitable utility player in the majors. He simply wasn’t good enough.
I know your mama told you that you could grow up to be anything you wanted, but she loves you. The world doesn’t love you that much. 😀
She lied. Not knowingly perhaps. Or intentionally, but she did lie to you. You can’t be anything you want. The key is to find that magical intersection between what you most want to pursue and your natural talent. Spend your time there. That’s the point of less being more when it comes to ambition.
Limiting ourselves is hard. And often it’s counterintuitive. Mostly, we tend to think that throw it all against the wall and something is bound to stick. But that’s exhausting, especially after we’ve thrown stuff and thrown stuff on the wall and NOTHING seems to ever stick. Shotguns are being used for the work of a rifle. Scattered effort and attention versus more precisely targeted effort.
When I began to think about the power of less providing me with more…I also was thinking of how the power of letting go, gave me opportunities to hang onto something else. Something more valuable. More profitable. Initially, I was going to make two separate episodes, but these ideas are too congruent to ignore. They belong together.
We’d like to have less furniture. We don’t use all the furniture we have…and mostly, we have some of it to fill the space. That now seems like a foolish choice.
I think of the things I love to use. The things I do use. I’ve talked before about a favorite cup, a favorite fork, and a favorite bowl. One of each. Not many from which to choose.
Letting go of stuff can be challenging until you begin. I know. Because we avoided it for years. Wish we would have embraced it years ago, but no matter – we got around to it. And when we started, it gained momentum quickly.
There’s stuff and then there’s furniture, which is also stuff, but bigger! “But the room will look so empty,” says the naysayer. To which I’d say, “What’s wrong with that? There’s something refreshing about empty space.”
Let’s start with The Yellow Studio (currently). For years, I’ve had four large, floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I’ve also had four small bookcases (that fold up). I’ve got a two-drawer lateral file with a six-block cube storage unit that has three cloth drawers. There’s been a 62″ tall four-sided CD carousel in one corner. A single-drawer file cart, on casters. Another computer stand with a retractable keyboard tray, also on rollers. The biggest piece of furniture is a 6-foot-long conference table that I use as a broadcast table – my main workspace. And of course, there are chairs – my own Herman Miller Mirra and at least one other chair.
Wanna know what I’m keeping for The Yellow Studio version 3.0?
Maybe the simple, one-drawer filing cabinet which has a top and one other shelf right below it. It measures 16″ x 22″ x 19″ and has high utility.
And I’m not sure about it. But I’m leaning toward keeping that.
The Yellow Studio version 3.0 will likely center around a new desk – adjustable for sitting or standing. A desk that will accommodate multiple monitors and all the podcasting stuff. A desk that will be well wired (with solid cable management – which means the wires will be well hidden). And a desk on heavy-duty casters so it could easily be moved around. And a comfortable chair or stool (I may opt for a higher sitting position). And this little single-drawer file cart I’ve just described (because it would likely fit nicely under the desk, lowered or raised.
That’s the subtraction of a lot of furniture. And that’s letting go, which feels awesome.
As I look around I see other furniture that we N-E-V-E-R use. It’s ornamental. And I don’t even enjoy that aspect of it.
Months ago I began writing down what my ideal outcome would be furniture-wise. Keep in mind, I’ve got a wife and I’m far more interested in her achieving her ideal outcome – because I honestly don’t care *that* much. I’ve already purged about 85% of all my possessions so if I never achieve anything more than this, I’ve won. Already.
But…my ideal outcome when it comes to letting go of furniture would mean in our bedroom we have our bed and small nightstands on each side. A bench at the foot of the bed is nice (we’ve got one now) for sitting down when you put your shoes on. Otherwise, perhaps one small bookcase – like one of the folding ones I’m keeping ’cause they’re high utility and well made. Otherwise, I’d love to have storage inside the closet for things like underwear and socks. I don’t need a chest of drawers or a dresser.
The thought of all that wall space – and access to the baseboards (for vacuuming) – is pretty thrilling. Just thinking about that environment calms me.
When I was just a little boy I had to put away my toys and stuff before I could go to bed. Yep, I was that kid! 😉
I could never go to bed until I had cleaned my room. There’s something to it – at least for me.
I won’t take you through every room in our house for my exercise in my ideal outcome. But I can tell you that we don’t want as much space as we currently have. And the space we do have, we don’t want to be cluttered with stuff. There’s one big important distinction I need to offer between my wife and me. She’s a talented and gifted seamstress. She loves to sew. She has spent years learning and practicing her craft. She has spent time and money assembling her ideal outcome as it relates to this activity she loves so much. Fabric. Equipment. Furniture suitable for the craft. There are lots of parts and pieces necessary for the practice of her art and craft. So this isn’t a competition or contest. Nor is it a comparison. She loves what she loves and I love her.
During the purging she’s made a statement a few times, “I should sell that,” and I’m retorting, “No, you shouldn’t.”
This isn’t about getting rid of things just to get rid of things. Letting go isn’t about letting go of things you love. It’s about letting go of things that are more of a burden than anything else. Her sewing supplies aren’t a burden. They’re a valuable resource. And she needs space because this work she enjoys – and is so good at – requires it.
So don’t go thinking I’m being more accommodating than I truly am. I’m driven to make her happy, but this is a lesson in how two completely different people, into two completely different things, can approach simplification in their own ways. And we respect each other enough to realize that our approaches will be different.
When you watch one of these HGTV shows where the couple is going to decide the kind of countertops or flooring they want…do you cringe like I do when the husband has some serious disagreement with the wife over the veins in the granite or something? Maybe it’s just me, but I always watch these shows and think, “Dude, what do you care? Let her have what she wants.” I mean, she’s not wanting a purple countertop with gold leaf trim. I’d object to something like that, but I didn’t marry a girl who would pick something like that. So what do I care? She’s not going to dictate what kind of desk is the focal point for The Yellow Studio version 3.0. And I’m not going to dictate her sewing space – other than to make sure she doesn’t let go of something she might regret – just because she sees me getting rid of so much stuff.
Major Point: I’m getting rid of stuff that I never use, don’t want, and don’t need.
Another Major, Musical Point: Midnight Pilot deserves success. I can’t let go of wanting them to achieve their musical dreams. I hope they’re able to persist before they let go! Shout out to Grant, Kyle, Kris, and Dustin.
Let’s mix and mingle these contrasting ideas of letting go and hanging on.
Flipping the script on the power of letting go is the power of hanging on – the power of holding on for dear life. But there’s an important fact that we all have to face. We own it. The circumstances of our life – the things we choose to hang onto and the things we choose to let go – those are ALL on us.
Owning the outcomes of our life doesn’t mean we’re to blame. It doesn’t mean everything is our fault. It simply means we’re going to accept responsibility for it, which mostly means we’re going to own figuring out, “Now what?”
This is the hardest thing for us. To stop making excuses. To face the reality that we’re responsible for our own lives. That we’re not merely victims of others, circumstances or fate. That in spite of awful things that happen to us, we have choices in how we’ll respond. That we can free ourselves if we’ll find the courage to unburden ourselves from our excuse-making.
We’d all be better if we slowed down blaming others and if we’d face our reality – it’s our life, and we can choose what we’ll think, do and say.
I can illustrate my own lessons in all this notion of less is more, letting go, hanging on, and however else you’d like to think of these things. Consider this craft of podcasting.
On June 1, 2021, I started a new podcast that was more nichey than anything I’d ever done. It was about a specific place in Arkansas. A small place population-wise. About 16,000 people. According to the 2020 US Census, 75% of the incorporated places in America have fewer than 5,000 people. No matter, by any standard 16 thousand people isn’t a big place. Geographically the place covers 26,000 acres so it’s quite a land mass. But you get the drift – any podcast about a place like this – unless it’s a famous vacation destination or something else worthy of putting it on the map – a place like this won’t be a blockbuster podcast garnering millions of listens.
I started the podcast as a visitor who wanted to know more about this place because I fell in love with it after stumbling onto it while looking for some respite – someplace to get away. Well, the podcast quickly gained traction by gaining listeners, viewers, and attention. More quickly than any podcast I had ever produced – and by June 2021 I had been podcasting for over 20 years. Now that we’re beyond one year old we’re continuing to gain momentum and I’m confident that we’re going to keep working to improve our little show and it’s going to become even more valuable to our audience. That’s the goal.
By narrowing the focus on one specific place and the places that surround it, we found a fast audience. By excluding other areas and communities, we’ve found a successful home with our audience. We’re not trying to be all things to all people. We’re intentionally limiting ourselves to this specific place and things associated with this place. Whenever we slide unintentionally a bit outside that, our audience tunes out. When we lean hard into who we are and what we’ve set out to do, we grow. Funny how that work. Of course, talent is our limitation! We’re working on it, as much as we can. 😀
My years of business experience taught me the power of narrowing a focus – and serving a narrow market. Less is more. I spent almost my entire career serving the higher-end, luxury sector. By excluding other sectors, it made those marketing efforts pay off more. By narrowly defining who and what we are, we’re more able to find people who identify with us and more people willing to say, “Here I am, you’re talking to me!”
“Variety is the spice of life.”
Is it really? Just because it’s trite doesn’t make it true. And besides, define variety. Is two variety? Or three? Or 43? How much or how many are required before we can call it variety?
We’re talking about making choices on what we want to include and what we want to exclude…so we’re choosing from a variety of options. This isn’t about losing our freedom, but rather about expanding our freedom. It’s about liberating ourselves from lesser things for more important things. That’s why I uttered that phrase when I was a teenager working for a tyrant in a stereo store. “If everything is important, then nothing is important.” It was true when he berated us how everything mattered equally and it’s still true today. If we refuse to be selective then we’re necessarily saying that nothing has priority. And we know how ridiculous that is. And now untrue that is.
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t have time.” We’ve all used that excuse. But it’s a lie. We all had time to do it. We just didn’t want to. The reasons can vary. Maybe we didn’t care about it. Maybe we really didn’t want to do it, but we didn’t want to tell the person that. Maybe we had so many other things that were more important to us. No matter the reason…it was NOT a lack of time. It was, most certainly, a lack of interest. We didn’t have enough “want to” to do it.
This is how setting limits is liberating. Freeing.
It seems like it might be restrictive, but it’s not. I can attest firsthand now that I’ve purged about 90% of everything I own. It feels like I’ve thrown off shackles that weighed me down. I feel lighter. Freer. More flexible. And I have no desire to go back. I can tell you that I’ve truly repented. I have no plans to go back to that way of life ever again. Because this is much better than that. It’s an improvement and I’m willing to continue to pursue this feeling for the rest of my life.
Leaning toward less forced me to prioritize. It made me more closely examine things.
When I was operating retail businesses I regularly would put inventory on trial for its life. That is, I’d make each item stand on its own merits. Maybe that item served a unique purpose, but it had to serve that purpose successfully or I’d be happy to replace it. I was completely agnostic toward any SKU (stock-keeping unit). I didn’t get romantic or sentimental about it. The item succeeded in fulfilling a purpose or it didn’t. Numbers don’t lie.
In a similar fashion, I took that approach with my own leaning toward less. I put possessions in trial for their life. And it didn’t involve all the data crunching required of retail inventory. It was much more visceral. I’d hold an item or look at an item and within 10 seconds I knew it was either TOSS or KEEP. Toss meant donate it, sell it or trash it. Keep meant I’m hanging onto it.
Now that the work is pretty much complete, I can tell you with absolute certainty – I value the remaining items more than I ever have. My feelings are fuller. Freer. I have less on which to focus and so it’s easy to continue to judge these things and their role in my life. My possessions fit into one or more of a few buckets. They’re high utility. They’re sentimental (priceless). They’re enjoyable. In all three cases, they enhance my life. They don’t burden it down – which is how I was feeling pre-purge.
When we learn to set limits we learn to leverage them better. But we never figure that out if we’re constantly saying YES to everything. Including possessions. Including pursuits.
I had a wealthy friend who would take one big trip after another. No, we weren’t running mates or anything, but we had a friendly relationship. He’d take some big trip to Ireland or Spain or Australia. He’d be gone for 10 days and experience things that money will buy. Within a week of being back home, he’d start talking about the next trip. Planning would begin. Within 6 weeks he’d be off again…living the high life. I used to watch this and be exhausted. And I wasn’t making any of these trips. The mere thought of thinking of them exhausted me. But he was like a kitten with a ball of yarn. And a new ball of yarn would roll across the floor. Off he’d go chasing that one. Then another ball enters the room. And off he goes in that direction.
He was accumulating lots of experiences. It could be argued that the experiences were so vast and so frequent, that nothing was terribly unique about any of them. Even for me, they began to blur together. I have no idea what they like for him, but something was missing. Something was leaving him empty. Until he took a new trip. Then another. And another. Never mind the thousands – hundreds of thousands of dollars required. I’d often silently wonder, “For what? To say you did it?” I never really knew why…other than he had the money to do it, so he did. His money wasn’t limitless, but it kinda sorta was. Enough anyway.
I didn’t have the resources for such choices. So I made very different decisions. But he could have, too. His life. His money. He could – and did – whatever he wanted. I respect it, even if I don’t understand it.
Life without limits might seem liberating but I often think of the mega-wealthy and how trapped they really are. And I’m not playing sour grapes. I’ve known enough mega-wealthy folks (people with over $100 million; that’s my own view) to know how demanding life is. The social schedule is daunting. The requests are neverending. Everybody has a request or a demand. The fear and paranoia run deep. Deservedly so. Every single one of them has more than one story of being duped or taken advantage of. The paranoia grows. Relationships are questioned. The importance of decisions is magnified. A whole lot more to lose. I’d like to be wealthy, just not mega-wealthy. 😉 I’d like limitations to my wealth — I just don’t want them quite as limiting as they currently are.
What if you don’t want to simplify? What if you don’t want to lean toward less? What if you enjoy chaos and the hectic life of spinning as many plates as possible?
I grew up watching guys like Erich Brenn on variety shows, like The Ed Sullivan Show. Google him. E-R-I-C-H — B-R-E-N-N.
Erich was THE MAN when it came to spinning plates. Watch the videos and you’ll likely be fascinated, but you’ll also probably feel like me – exhausted. Not to mention you’ll wonder, “Why?” When you’re literally spinning plates, it’s entertaining…for a while.
The people unwilling to set limits on their pursuits and activities are plate spinners. Which is great, if that’s what you want to do. But there is one enormous downside to these people. A universal truth about such people.
They impose on everybody else in their life.
I’ve never found an exception. Not one.
Plate spinners demand – knowingly or not – that everybody around them conform to their way of life. Pushing back won’t help. At least I’ve not found any form of pushing back that helps.
They’re not bad people, but their choices wind up being – I think, mostly unintentionally disrespectful of everybody in their wake. You either go with it, build a bridge and get over it – or you’ll fume until you blow up the relationship. I know because I’ve taken both routes are various times in my life.
I’ve talked with a few close friends bent this way. I’m convinced they’re unaware of the negative impact of their behavior. I’m equally convinced they have no clue how to go about altering it. So far, I’ve yet to encounter anybody who really wanted to change. I’ve only seen it in one person who confessed that deep down he felt like his life would be dramatically better professionally and personally if he wasn’t so scattered. But all the others openly talk about how much they love jumping around like a cat on a hot tin roof. It provides something they feel they need. I believe them.
But I also believe there has to be a better way – some way where we can lean into who we are while being more mindful of how our behavior might negatively impact others. Maybe it’s the thought of leaning less into who we are – and how we naturally roll – so we can be MORE mindful of how we may be influencing others (or frustrating others). For example, I’m a fixer. I can naturally see how good something is and in my mind, it’s not being critical, but I immediately lean into what can be done to improve it. Fix it. Make it better. But experience has taught me that some people – no matter how much I explain it – see it as “never being satisfied” or critical. Now, I try to adjust if I sense a person is bent that way. I usually refrain from making any suggestions about improvement and instead, I’ll try to spark curiosity in the conversation to aim for an ideal outcome. Sometimes it’s a game of “what if?” where we talk about what our very best outcome might look like…which often leads to a conversation of “how could we make that happen?” Some people – truth is, most people – are happier with that conversation than with tweaking or fixing something. So I’ve adjusted my approach without giving up how I’m naturally wired – or the things I’m naturally good at.
Leaning into less gave me the inspiration and desire to lean into being MORE mindful of how others react to me. Whether you’re a plate spinner who hops around frenetically or a sober-minded person who easily sees the potential for improvement or something completely different – this isn’t about changing you. Or urging you to change how you’re naturally wired. It’s about helping you think about how you impact and influence others.
The bottom line is our collective needs to lean toward less about us and more about others.
That sounds so altruistic, but it’s practical. And we benefit.
Think about the person you love the most. For me, it’s my wife.
She’s nothing like me in some very important ways. She’s a lot like me in some other very important ways. But in those ways where we’re very different, it’d be easy for me to lean into myself and resent her for not being more like me. Or for not understanding and surrendering to how I roll. I was guilty of that in the early years of our marriage. Sometimes, it still happens when I stop paying attention as I should.
When I think more about her and her preferences – her natural tendencies – then I’m able to adjust my thoughts and my actions. I don’t stop being me. I don’t surrender my natural talents and characteristics. But I happily – after I stop and really think about it 😉 – lean MORE into doing what will be most helpful. I don’t always succeed, but like you, I’m still a work in progress.
Leaning into less of something affords us opportunities to lean into more of other things. In the case of my marriage, I can – and have a strong desire to – lean more into my wife’s happiness. It’s not about surrendering my happiness. It’s more about finding my own happiness in hers. And I can tell you that it’s something I’ve learned over time. Today, it’s genuine. And real.
The path to more is less.
It’s a matter of focus on which one is which. We can think about what might deserve less before we can do much about what might deserve more. Or we can reverse it, and think about what deserves more so we can then examine what deserves less.
As I am wont to do, I’ve buried the lead. The real point of all this is our delusion that NOTHING has to give. That’s how we get swamped. It’s why our closets are exploding. And why so many of us are spending almost $50 billion on self-storage. Experts expect that number to soar to almost $65 billion by 2026. About 38% of Americans used self-storage last year. The average customer spent $90 a month. And – are you sitting down? – according to storage industry stats, the average self-storage facility has a 92% occupancy. That means, all these storage places you see, they’re mostly fully booked.
We’re so special we can have it all. We don’t have to sacrifice anything. We can take every phone call. Return every text or email. Chase every entrepreneurial endeavor. Pursue every possible romantic relationship. Yes, we can have our cake and eat it, too.
So we try.
Every shiny object, every ball of yarn that enters our field of vision gets our attention. Every phone buzz or ding gets our attention.
According to a Duke University study, it takes 23 minutes for us to regain our focus after an interruption. Twenty Three Minutes!
You’re in a zone enjoying the flow…doing whatever it is you’re doing. A text pops up on your phone. You immediately check it. That means you stop doing whatever you were doing. Flow is gone. The zone disappears. Regardless of the subject of the text, you’re now thinking of something else, likely related to that text. Maybe you text back. Maybe there’s a link in the text…so you click on that. We have all done it. We all mostly DO IT. Every single day. Many times every day.
Oblivious at the price we’re paying. Because we don’t think we’re paying any price. Rather, we just assume that’s how life happens these days. Besides, everybody is doing it. So it clearly is working for them – we’ll make it work for us. But what if it’s not working for anybody? What if we’re all following each other falsely believing this is how it has to be?
Today, I’m encouraging us to stop long enough to question what we’re doing. To ask ourselves if it’s really working well for us. And if not, why don’t we more closely examine how we operate and improve it?
Let me tell you why this is an important topic for me right now – and why I hit the record button. It’s been a longstanding challenge for me. But I first read the book, FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1990. He defines flow as an effortless, zen- state of concentration in which you no longer perceive time, allowing you to fully express your skill level all the while remaining calm, focused, and oftentimes creating a feeling of happiness. Much has been added to his work. Lots of other books and content have been produced showing us that focused, intentional effort is highly profitable. But most of our days are full of something much different. Rather than any zen-like pursuit, most of us look like squirrels darting around at every sight and sound that startles us.
Some months ago I came face-to-face for the umpteenth time with a person who loves to spin plates. He’d consistently call me on the phone, and begin the conversation only to be interrupted by a text message or another phone call – often within the first 30 seconds. “Oh, I need to (fill in the blank on whatever it was he needed to do that was obviously more important than talking to me). Let me call you back.” Most of the time he’d then just hang up, off in pursuit of that interruption.
Who am I to judge priorities for somebody else? I have no way of knowing if the interruption was urgent or casual.
What I did know is that he selected a time to call me. I didn’t call him. There’s likely a reason or purpose for him calling me at that particular time. But the interruption suddenly – and always – became more important. After it happened a few dozen times I began to wonder if every interruption was more important than whatever else was on his mind or agenda. It didn’t have anything to do with me. Not at first.
I started connecting dots that he’s likely foregoing whatever is on his own agenda at any given moment to pursue whatever interruptions come his way. Months of watching him forced my conclusion. It was only then that I began to realize how disrespectful it is. And as an old retail animal – a guy who ran retailing companies for years – I likened it to the person standing in the store at the counter waiting to be served, or to pay – taking a backseat to a random phone call. Stupid. Ridiculous. Something I never tolerated as a business leader. The person who has gone to the trouble to come see us in person is more deserving than the phone call. So for me, as a businessman, it wasn’t about abandoning one of them, but it was about how to give them both superior service while recognizing that the person right in front of us is always THE most important person. I spent hours talking with staff about “being present.” We’ve all likely been served by the easily distracted salesperson or clerk. Makes you feel really important, huh?
It doesn’t all matter equally. It can’t.
It’s not all equally important. Else, there are no priorities in life.
Some things must matter less so others can matter more. Some people must matter less and get less of our time because others matter more, and deserve more.
Some pursuits must matter less because others matter more.
Maybe it’s time to get in deeper touch with what we want more so we can start leaning into what deserves less.
P.S. It’s not lost on me that this may be more episode than a normal one. 😉