The challenge in today’s frantic, info-overload, difficult time is deciding what not to do, and then focusing on what to do. One of the first things doctors do is take the Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm.” Setting priorities in personal life is difficult. Some call it "work-life balance"—I call it "deciding what not to do."
I decided not to play golf while my kids were growing up. It took too much time from activities I could only do with them while they were young. I also decided not to go to the bar after work and drink with my buddies. I missed the social interaction, but a lot of bad things evolve from that activity—drinking too much, driving after drinking, getting involved in other negative activities, like gambling—but most of all, it took time away from my wife and family. What I did when I was home presented a different challenge or priorities, but overall, a better set of options.
I also made a decision to try to avoid working weekends, so I could spend that time with my family. Since I seldom got home early enough in the evening for more than dinner, a little homework, and rarely, some TV, then the kids (and wife, who was tired) were off to bed. I could read and do “my homework” for an hour or two later in the evening.
Weekend work is insidious, chewing away at your free time and your psyche, and it has become almost required at many companies. I think that is wrong. You need time to recharge your psychological batteries and regain some perspective. In these days of “always-on” cell phones, e-mail, Internet, texting, etc. just finding some quiet time of any kind is a challenge. But it is a challenge to which you must rise, and then succeed at doing.
We see this “what not to do” problem in our government as they try to solve everything and essentially solve nothing. In fact, they make everything more complex and intractable. Somebody needs to figure out which items must fall lower on the priority list. This is a tough but essential job of good leadership.
Last, but certainly not least is the problem of self-induced, wasteful complexity, which pervades every walk of life, and especially in businesses. More money is wasted in hidden costs due to complexity than anyone imagines until they study it and measure it as I have. Simply measuring and managing complexity are the first steps to reducing it. A typical company can improve its bottom line profit by at least one full percentage point by managing and reducing complexity and clearing out the hidden—and some not so hidden—costs it causes. How do I know this? I have seen it and done it, not once, but many times.
Getting rid of complexity is all about deciding what not to do or what to stop doing. In your personal life, in our country’s government and in your work/business, identify those less important, non-essential things that are consuming your time and money and stop doing them.
Refocus your time, talent and money on the important things, the big things, that will make a difference—and in the personal sense—where there will be no chance to do them later or do them over. Spending time with a growing family is the most important one of those. There is no “undo’ or “do over” if you miss out on this. Now stop reading blogs, mute your cell phone and go hug your spouse, your children, or your significant other. There will always be time for the other stuff.