You’re doing too much. All of us (if we have good, honest friends or mentors) have probably heard these words at some point. Some of you are there right now. You’ve been running at a sprint for weeks—maybe months!—and it’s starting to catch up with you.
Why do we find ourselves here over and over again? And what can we do about it?
The Insinuations of Expectations
Expectations surround you. Sometimes, they’re explicit, like your dad teaching you the best leaders are the first to arrive and the last to leave. Sometimes, they’re implicit, like in the strategic silences your mom uses to speak volumes about your decision to send your kids to public school.
And sometimes, they’re impersonal, like the water we’re swimming in. Think of the pressure to reinvent yourself, the glorification of “busy,” the “always on” effect created by our phones, or the burnout culture of your company.
These external expectations can quietly become internalized. We feel urgency or pressure to act in a certain way, elevating a decision to the point of morality with a well-placed should: I should stay abreast of current events. I should attend that baby shower. I should set aside time for learning and development. I should be accessible to my team 24/7.
Expectations aren’t bad. In fact, they can be crucial, calling us toward our better selves. However, unexamined expectations frequently lead to overload. We all want to be good leaders, spouses, parents, friends, community members, and people. But if we don’t define what “good” looks like, based on some level of factual research and personal values, someone else will define it for us—likely without us realizing it.
Defining Your Win
In the book Win at Work and Succeed at Life, Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller discuss a principle called your “non-negotiables.” These are your highest priorities that define success.
One person’s parenting non-negotiables might include school pickup, while another’s prioritize morning connection or a bedtime ritual. One person’s work non-negotiables might include limiting meetings to 50% of their calendar, while another’s prioritize limiting phone use or offering “open door” hours with their team.
When you define your non-negotiables, you’re separating other people’s expectations from your own. This separation is a form of what psychologists call “differentiation,” in which you can say, “That’s you. This is me. You can think that, and I do not have to agree.”
Freeing Your Calendar
Once you have your non-negotiables identified, take another look at your calendar. It might help to print out a blank calendar sheet. Because that’s how we’re going to start: With a completely blank slate.
Now, consider your commitments one at a time. Is it reflective of your priorities? If so, add it to the schedule. If you’re motivated by a sense of “should” coming from somewhere outside you, it’s a candidate for elimination.
If it is one of your priorities but doesn’t require problem-solving or original thought, consider finding ways to automate the activity—like leveraging a weekly grocery pickup that auto-populates your usual items or scheduling a recurring date night blocked on your calendar.
If it requires problem-solving or human participation, consider whether you could delegate by enlisting someone else. Could your brother pick your kids up when he picks up your niece? Could your friend pick up the books you have on hold at the library and hand them off to you at an upcoming dinner? Could you pay your handy friend to look at your mom’s broken washing machine?
Notice the impact of expectations. Identify your personal priorities. Then, leverage elimination, automation, and delegation to create the space you need in your calendar.
“Busy” is overrated. Prioritize what matters and give yourself a break.
To learn more about leveraging elimination, automation, and delegation, explore our Free to Focus course.
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