This week I made a difficult decision to remove a few things from my plate. In some cases the removal was long overdue, for other things, pruning was a spur of the moment decision. Not to make it sound easy, the process was surprisingly stressful. Saying “no” to things inevitably produces a negative experience for someone or something; being the messenger of that experience is uncomfortable at best.
The good news is that immediately after removing things, my mind sort of snapped to. Everything that I wanted to be doing suddenly came into focus. I knew what had to be done, I was excited to do it, and was able to execute. The experience was interesting because it’s the first time I’ve deliberately said “no” to several things at once. The outcomes were better than expected, leading me to realize that more often than not, the story you cook up in your head can help you to waste more time than necessary getting to the point.
All of this came together when I heard the phrase “if you chase two rabbits, they’ll both get away” on a podcast I was listening to. The sentiment couldn’t be more accurate. Before I said “no,” I was failing to accomplish as much as I knew I could. I’d go after one rabbit, only to get distracted by the other leaping into a bush. The result was—like the aphorism suggests—fruitless.
I’ve talked about focusing before, but this was one of the first times that I understood that not just focusing but also limiting is important. It’s not enough to say “I’m only going to work on these things.” You also have to set limits on what you’re going to focus on within your area of focus. Speaking in terms of numbers, three “big things” seems to be my personal limit. If I need to focus on more than three things at any given time, there’s a good chance that my performance on at least one will fall short.
Cutting things out stings at first, but seeing your ability to produce better results immediately after can be liberating. Paraphrasing a quote by Tim Cook speaking about Apple’s success in his interview with Charlie Rose: “it’s so easy to add; it’s hard to edit. It’s hard to stay focused. And we know we’ll only do our best work if we stay focused.”