Success by Doing Less

The drive to succeed can be overwhelming.  It can push us to take on more and more until we feel we are being pulled in too many directions.  Each “thing” can potentially be helping us get to where we want to be.  But when is enough, enough? When is it time to step back and start prioritizing? Time to turn things down and refocus? Well, preferably before you feel overwhelmed and burnt out, but definitely after.

It can be hard to turn down opportunities.  It can feel like a failure to not be able to do it all.  One of my favourite sayings lately is “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” When you start to feel buried and like you aren’t devoting your full attention to where you want to–or are unable to give your whole effort anywhere, then it is time to reorganize.  I don’t want to be at half power, or ¾ power; when I am devoted to something I want to be wholly devoted.

So what do you do when you’ve reached that point? What do you pass on and what do you take on? I find that you have to step back—right back—to the start.  What was your motivation when you took on this position, what were you applying for and what was your dream placement? Has this dream changed at all as you have grown and learned? It is important to step back and remind yourself, specifically, where you want to end up.  Then make a list of everything you have going on, all the projects and extra work, everything paid and unpaid.  Then write beside each one what you are gaining from it, what it is teaching you, and how it is helping you get towards that final end goal.

There are going to be some things on that list that are non-negotiable, and they may not be contributing directly to the end goal, but it is important to recognize them and highlight them.  Decide how much time is being dedicated to those (realistically).  Then as you work down the list of negotiable projects break them into two groups: related to the goal and unrelated.  Once you have this list figure out a way you can remove yourself from those projects without burning bridges, be honest, and talk to those involved, if you are on a contract you may need to stay to the end but be open about not renewing and always thank them for the opportunity to try.

Once you have been able to remove the unrelated and negotiable projects it is time to take a look at the related projects and your non-negotiables.  I like to prioritize the related projects, which are most beneficial, what is the pay of each, which do I enjoy the most? Once you have them sorted into a list decide how much time is needed to dedicate to each to feel like you are getting the most out of them and putting in the effort you want.  You may find that everything on this list fits, and you may run out of time.  These ones, too, need to be cut.  But remove them in a way that you are (again) not burning bridges.  Be thankful for the opportunity but explain where you are coming from.

I think there is a tendency, at least for me, to take on more and more in the idea that it will help me succeed.  These tasks may be only loosely related to the goal.  But there comes a time when your mental health needs to come first.  You need to use your time efficiently.  It is okay to turn projects down and it is okay to leave projects that you tried to take on.