I am starting a new, occasional series on my blog about “Mythbusters.” My purpose is to dispel common myths that permeate our thinking. Especially those which can affect the quality of life. Hopefully, the TV show doesn’t get too persnickety about people using their name. 😉
As an eternal optimist, I’ve always believed that I am capable of achieving whatever I put my mind to accomplish. While I still think that is true in principle, I’ve realized that there are limitations to it. That being said, here is the first myth I aim to tackle in this series:
Myth: You Can Do It All
My unquenchable optimism leads me to believe that, if I try hard enough, I can get it all done. I can cross everything off my to-do list. The fact that my reality wasn’t near that ideal just meant that I had to work harder, be more efficient and more focused. Or perhaps the right productivity tool/app was the missing piece.
I lived with this tension between my ideals and my reality for years. Yet, I never lost hope, because there was always a new book to read or software program to try that might make all the difference. (Side note, I recently wrote a post about Todoist, an app that certainly helps boost productivity, but it doesn’t solve the inherent problem.)
A Moment of Truth
One day at work, I was talking with a co-worker who I regard as one of the most efficient, effective professionals out there. She casually mentioned that she never gets her list even close to completed each day, because other things always come up.
That brought from my long-term memory a statement made years earlier by the pastor at my childhood home church, another imposing individual. He stated that if he started his day with a to-do list containing five items, and got two of them done, he was extremely pleased with his accomplishments.
A thought struck me – what if getting everything done every day is not realistic?
If these two people, who were the pinnacle of accomplishment in my mind, admitted that they couldn’t get it all done, why would I think I could? I realized then that my expectations for myself were out of line.
To realize that I was trying to accomplish a standard that was nearly impossible was incredibly freeing. It is not that I was underachieving, it is that I was setting a standard no one could reach.
In the time since my original epiphany, I’ve concluded that the sentiment stated above applies to more than daily to-do lists. As priorities change and things get added, abandoned or deleted on the daily scale, so it is with the overall state of life goals.
There are so many, too many, things I want to do, accomplish, be, learn, read. There is not enough time in the day to do a fraction of what I would l like. Author Jon Acuff said it well in his recent book, “Finish,” in a section entitled, Choose What to Bomb. He opined that if you have your mind set on a particular goal, you have to decide what areas of your life you are going to let slide while you pursue it.
If you’re training for a marathon, it is going to take a commitment to run increasing miles over the weeks to get ready for it. That takes the time that you would have otherwise devoted to something else. Something has to give.
For me, I’ve been working hard to re-establish the per-mile running pace I hit when I was at my peak training ten years ago. It is tough, and it takes the time that I would otherwise spend elsewhere. Turns out, I can’t sleep in until the latest possible moment before getting ready for work and also go for a run. I have to decide each and every day what is more important to me.
This choosing of priorities is true for every element of life. If I am going to give 100% to something, I have to realize that something else (likely multiple things) will get less than that. I can’t do it all. As much as I would love to excel at my job, make amazing healthy meals regularly, keep my house spotless, work out every day, write a blog post three times per week, keep up with my volunteer activities and still stay in regular contact with all my friends, I have come to realize that a give and take is required.
It is not an admission of failure. Quite the opposite. It is realizing that my interests, passions, and responsibilities far exceed the capacity in my waking hours. And since maintaining my health through a proper amount of sleep is also essential to me, prioritizing becomes necessary.
My purpose in writing this post is not to be a Debbie Downer and tell you your dreams are unreachable. On the contrary, it is to share what I learned the hard way:
- Our own human limitations force us to be honest about what is realistic to get done.
- We might be disappointing ourselves unnecessarily by believing it is possible to “get it all done.” That is OK.
It might be time to re-evaluate your goals, figure out your highest priorities, and place them where they belong — at the top of your list. Then give yourself permission to let the other things slide a bit.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Ever met anyone who appears to be able to do it all? I am willing to bet they are letting some things slide that are undetectable to others.