"I learned that we can do anything, but we can't do everything... at least not at the same time. So think of your priorities, not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything." -Dan Millman
"You can do anything that you set your mind to," is a common trope we hear, and it is partially true. As a species, we have done some downright extraordinary things (i.e. walking on the frickin moon!), but there are some important constraints to consider. We are organic creatures with certain unavoidable biologic needs and a finite amount of time in which to accomplish them. Always pushing the envelope of possibility is an innate human trait, but at some point, we must realize our limits. Paradoxically, by respecting our constraints we can learn to work with them, accomplishing more than expending energy to fight against them.
We live in unprecedented times, especially in the West. With self-help websites and books galore, we are being bombarded with the message that we are never enough. Worse of all, if we fail then it is entirely our fault. After all, we have all of the tools to solve our problems at our fingertips. Additionally, there are so many examples of people who have applied themselves and made it to the top. Over and over again. Does this sound like a healthy message?
What if instead of focusing on self-improvement we focus on self-awareness? This begins with slowing down long enough to ask some very important questions. These questions are designed to help calibrate our minds on why we are doing what we are doing rather than how we can be doing them better.
What areas of your life are the most important - family, career, physical performance, etc.? Give yourself a rating of how much attention you pay to each.
In the areas that you are spending the most of your attention on, what are your marginal returns? In other words, for every extra hour of commitment, how much improvement are you seeing?
If your margins are low, could you pull back and put your time towards another area that would benefit greatly from extra attention?
In those areas where you are giving a disproportionate amount of energy, could you hire a coach or a helper to decrease the amount of effort you personally spend on improving?
What would doing less look like in certain areas?
If you had unlimited resources to put towards your goals, what would you do first?
What would accomplishing your goals look like if it was easy? Are your limitations real or imagined?
Are there certain goals that may make sense to pursue later, rather than trying to tackle them now?
At the end of the day, we all have the same number of hours. How we spend them is the key factor. We can use our time chasing unreachable standards, living in a state of disappointment, or we can take a look at what goals are truly meaningful. It is far more important to be doing the right things (effectiveness) than doing them the absolute right way (efficiency). You can check out this post for more on this topic. Remember that there can be different seasons in our lives for different goals if we can allay our anxiety about needing to accomplish everything right now. By respecting our constraints we can take a more balanced and calm approach to get things done. Every person is capable of extraordinary feats, but no one can (or should) try to be extraordinary at everything. Use your time wisely. It is all that you have. In the words of Tony Horton, "Do your best, forget the rest."