The shelf was near overflowing for months, but I wouldn’t admit it. There was always more than a sliver of space which was an open invitation to keep piling. Photo albums, cookbooks, and children’s books my kids had outgrown years ago. All happily co-existed – until they didn’t.
It’s like that Monty Python skit where the man is encouraged to eat one thin mint at the end of an enormous meal. The wait staff was sure that he had room, after all, it’s so small how could it be the thing that made him go from full to, well, done?
Yesterday, I turned around to grab something off of our magnificently packed shelf only to discover that it had twisted under pressure and our books were spread out in a wave on the floor.
Like Monty Python’s wafer thin mint, I’m sure others who came to my house could tell that shelf was at its limit, I chose to ignore it.
I see that a lot with my clients. They create lives that are so full that they get to a breaking point. Business trips, kids activities, family needs, work demands – it’s easy to continue to squeeze one more thing in until… boom. Something breaks.
Maybe it’s your health or perhaps your sanity that goes first. Maybe it’s an important project, or you miss your child’s big day. Each one of these is a sign that there’s too much on your shelf and your breaking point is near.
How to Avoid the Breaking Point in Your Life and Leadership
Acknowledge that the space serves a purpose.
For my bookshelf, it means I can take books I want to see on and off with ease. I can also see everything on there instead of a shoved in, piled on mess. It keeps me organized when I keep it in shape.
For your life, it means you can fit the things that matter with ease. You know what’s there and don’t lose track of things (like meetings, events, notes or promises).
In both cases, less clutter means more breathing room.
Recognize the book that breaks the shelf (or thin mint) before someone pressures you to put it into the mix.
People will always have to-dos for you. Always. Team members, your boss, your spouse, friends, you name it. If you’re in the habit of helping everyone all the time, your shelf can get mighty full fast.
You need to know when you’re at capacity. Yes, it’s possible that you could do more, but it doesn’t mean you can do it well or have an outcome that makes you proud of your effort.
Those signs that something’s broken (or close) – don’t ignore them.
Learn to say “no.”
There is a lot of pressure to say “yes” at work and fear that “no” will forever mark you as someone who’s not a team player or who’s inflexible.
Let’s flip that thought.
Learning to say “no” is key to your personal leadership. It’s setting boundaries so you can have the energy, time and focus to give your all to the things you say “yes” to at work and home.
Let things go.
Not everything should be on your to-do list and not every book that I can squeeze in should be on my bookshelf. Many of the books from my children’s childhood were for me more than them. I was carrying them around from house to house, but they had outgrown them years before.
What to-dos can you delegate? What to-dos can you forget about because the impact is minimal? What to-dos have you been rolling from one to-do list to the next, but never getting to it? Their time likely passed. Like my children’s books I schlepped around and insisted on keeping, it’s time to let them go.
By the way, if you don’t want to let those rolling items go, let something else go off the list. Make a choice not only for your productivity but also your happiness. No one likes to have an endless to-do list. It’s like carrying around a ton of books on your shoulders and straining under the weight every single day.
Just because you can squeeze one more thing into your day doesn’t mean you should.
Create a must-do list, not a to-do list.
Lastly, if you’re still hooked on your to-do list, let’s reframe it.
Instead of listing all the things you could do, should do, want to do, are thinking about doing, need to do, have to get to at some point (Whew!) Try a must-do list instead. Make it short and relevant to today. What three things are must-dos? That’s it. Three.Get ‘em done. Tomorrow there will be three more big ones to tackle. Put your focus where it matters most, and that may not be what or who is making the most noise at the moment.
I may not pare my bookshelf back to three books, but those that I don’t want to let go of quite yet can find a new home, on another shelf. They won’t disappear just because they’re not front and center. I’ll get to them when I need them today, not someday.
What one change do you need to make before your life, leadership (and books) come crashing down?
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