The evening walk didn’t go quite as planned. Grumpster and Sunshine, distracted by two cats on one side of the road and a new neighborhood dog on the other, pulled hard in opposite directions. Standing in the middle of the street with a leash in each hand, I found my arms stretched as far as they could in the ultimate game of tug-of-war.
Negotiating with the two determined Jack Russell Terriers proved unsuccessful. Neither budged. One wanted to chase cats. One wanted to greet a new friend. And I just wanted to get home with both arms still attached. Instead, we went nowhere.
Our predicament reminded me of what Confucius said, “The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither.”
Trying to Do It All
Perhaps you’ve been pulled in opposite directions too.
Multiple choices vie for our time and attention. But there’s a hitch. We can’t choose them all. It’s impossible to walk more than one path at a time. We must select one or accept the fact we’ll make little headway by attempting to go in every direction.
This struggle is common. We lead busy lives juggling a myriad of competing responsibilities. We have good intentions. But a significant amount of our mental space is consumed by the anxiety of trying to please everyone and fit it all in. When we try, the results aren’t always what we anticipate.
The Danger of Not Choosing
I once knew someone, we’ll call Sam, whose calendar was often double and triple booked for a single time slot. This wasn’t an oversight, but a way of life. Sam said yes to everything. As a result, other people controlled his time and attention.
Sam darted in and out of meetings staying just long enough to make an appearance and then head for another meeting. During those appointments, he rarely focused on the conversation but checked email to catch up.
Whether it was fear of missing out or fear of being criticized, Sam refused to prioritize. This left him frazzled, ineffective, and unreliable. Sam’s efforts to respond to everyone else’s requests without deciding first what was most important negatively impacted others in the organization.
If we’re not careful, we can fall into the same trap. Instead of making a valuable contribution, we can become an obstacle others are forced to work around. We think saying yes will make everyone happy. We tell ourselves we can handle it with a little fancy juggling. But most of the time, the opposite of what we desire actually happens. Our good intentions can end up letting others down.
In order to move forward, we need the bandwidth to focus. This means letting go of a few things and choosing our direction.
So, how do you do it? How do you choose between competing requests?
- Take back control of your schedule. Return the responsibility to its rightful owner. Don’t let others plan your day.
- Prioritize based on importance, not necessarily urgency. Decide what is most critical for you at the moment that will make the greatest impact.
- Be willing to say no and accept that others may not understand.
- Be present where you are without feeling guilty.
That night on our walk, Sunshine eventually backed off. With less tension on one leash, I was able to reach out and scoop Grumpster up (and save the cats). It was only then we could move ahead.
We have to choose and be willing to let go. Sometimes it means releasing something really cool. But that’s the only way to progress to something better.
What do you need to let go of today to move forward?