Back when I was 13 years old, working away for $3.10 per hour at the local garden center, one of my tasks was to take the empty flats (the plastic container in which you get your petunias) and stack them up in an old warehouse until they were needed again the next spring.
Of course, the old warehouse (that we called, ‘the barn’) was already overflowing with flats, pots, boxes of Christmas decorations, soil, tools, and even tractors. It was already over capacity. Somehow, I still managed to cram in another stack of flats in a dark corner. But it was far from optimal.
This is also how we treat our minds, and as a result our work and relationships suffer.
We cram our mental faculties full of information, appointments, deadlines, commitments, ideas, and even “bucket lists”. We end up giving half-hearted attention to a laundry list of activities instead of sustained, quality attention to fewer, more important objectives. Our careers, stress levels, relationships, and health all suffer.
As I discovered back when I was 13, the real problem wasn’t trying to cram more stuff into an already disorganized space. Oh no, the real problem came later when you tried to find things and extract them efficiently.
Likewise, the real problems in our minds arise when it comes to giving focus and attention to problems that matter. When we have half-heartedly committed to a dozen people, activity, committees, events, fundraisers, and groups, all of them suffer, particularly the projects that demand our greatest focus.
It’s time for a politically incorrect solution to dealing with the overcapacity in our lives.
Recently two friends and business colleagues emailed me to set up a phone call to explain his their new businesses and how I could partner with them.
I thought about scheduling calls with each of them as both opportunities were interesting and each could be successful for us and beneficial for the people we would help. But each call would need to fit between my deadlines for ETR, Financial Independence Monthly, my fitness business, and the Underground Online seminar, without cutting into the time I have dedicated for my family or health and fitness routine. The call would also need to revolve around my travel schedule.
As I thought about finding space in my schedule and in my mind for the extra responsibilities that these new opportunities would bring, my head exploded.
Maple syrup-glazed Canadian brains everywhere. Have mercy on my poor assistant who will need to scrape out my grey matter from between the keys on my laptop.
Okay, my head didn’t explode. But it FELT like it was going to explode. My anxiety and blood pressure rose just thinking about trying to shove another opportunity into my already full to the brim mental warehouse.
So I said, “No, thank you, I’m sorry.” I went on to explain why I just could not get involved in any additional projects right now. Here’s what I wrote.
“I apologize, but I don’t have the mental capacity to give this conversation and your opportunity my full attention and preparation. As a business owner, I’m sure you’ll understand how we are being pulled in many directions, so you know where I’m coming from. I appreciate your interest in sharing this with me, however at this time I am fully committed to other projects and people.”
It felt great to say this. It felt even better to know that the strained attention I have for my current list of projects would not be diluted any further. And while there’s still a lot of work to do on cutting out more unnecessary tasks from my day, saying “No” to random opportunities that come my way is a start to reducing mental clutter.
The politically incorrect truth is this: You have to stand up for yourself. Listen, you don’t have time to talk to everyone about every single one of their problems. You can’t fix the world. Of course, you should certainly decline the invitations politely, but at some point you have to say no.
As much as you want to help everyone, as much as you want to jump into every new project and opportunity that comes along, you must remember that you have a limit on your mental capacity for quality work, meeting deadlines, and dealing with people.
All of these decisions are to be made with a big picture goal in mind. You want to unclutter your brain so that it able to deliver focused attention on major projects. Avoid having your attention diluted by multi-tasking or chasing every shiny new object that comes your way.
On an even bigger scale, remember that every decision you make to get involved in a new project takes time away from other aspects of your life.
With each new opportunity, ask yourself this: What are you willing to sacrifice from your current life in order to insert this new opportunity into your limited mental capacity?
Each time I am tempted to overindulge my desire to be involved in every exciting new opportunity that comes my way, I remind myself to review Kekich Credo #2 that states:
“Cherish time, your most valuable resource. You can never make up the time you lose. It’s the most important value for any productive happy individual and is the only limitation to all accomplishment. To waste time is to waste your life. The most important choices you’ll ever make are how you use your time.”
For all of us, no matter how much we want to take on everything that comes our way, eventually something has to give. We can either take control and choose what gets cut, or we can find out the hard way through experience as to what part of our lives ends up suffering.
Make the choice. Reduce capacity. Do fewer things well rather than a lot of things half-heartedly. Eliminate the demand on your already strained systems, and give more focus and attention to the priority projects in your life that will make the biggest difference.[Ed. Note. Craig Ballantyne is the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with a web–based business that you can operate from anywhere in the world – including a coffee shop, your kitchen table, or anywhere around the world where there is Internet access. Discover how you can achieve the American Dream and your financial independence here. You’ve never seen anything like this before.]