Upon completion of Jay Papasan and Gary Keller’s book, The One Thing, I am most intrigued by their assertion that our 21st century concept of work/life balance is basically a myth. “A balanced life is a lie,” they say, and the more I think about it, the more I might be coming over to that side of the fence. Part of their theory is that “in your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanges.” The magic, they maintain, happens at the extremes not in the middle. The cure becomes focusing on what really matters, when it really matters: the ONE thing (thus, the name of their book, right?).
It is my assertion that not a single person in recorded history has been on their deathbed, with the family solemnly gathered, and said, “I wish I had worked more.” I think it is this too much work ruins a life concept that brought about the whole idea of the balanced life in the first place. The question of how one achieves balance, actually becomes more basic. What is balance, becomes the question.
Balance, in real life, is not and cannot be a fifty/fifty proposition. If I work eight hours, must I balance that with an equal amount of play, of family, of service, of…..? There isn’t adequate time for that type of statistical balance. Time, by the way, is the only part of the equation that is finite. We have 24 hours in a day and according to the Romans, 365 days in a year (except for that pesky every fourth February thing). Time, therefore, must be the item to be managed. Unfortunately, time management is also a pipe dream.
Time happens. Einstein or Hugh Hefner or one of the other geniuses said that, I think. Each of us has the same amount in a day, a week, a year. You and I have the same amount of time in a day that Michelangelo, or Bill Gates, or Jesus had. As you know trying to really manage time is like trying to manage the weather. It cannot be done. You can attempt to adapt, but you’ll never control. So, what can we control?
“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance,” stated Dr. Jim Loehr in his book, The Power of Full Engagement. While the clock mercilessly ticks away in its uncontrollable manner, we have the power to determine how we expend our energy within that time frame (be it a minute, and hour, a day, or any other unit within our lifetime). It is my energy, I control. Where do I focus it? At what intensity? For what result?
I choose to run. I have been fully engaged in this activity for nearly 47 years. I’ve always maintained it brings me balance. In reality, it isn’t balancing at all. It is, in and of itself, an integral part of my existence. It is an activity in which I spend energy focusing on something that is not work. Papasan and Keller would call it a counter-balancing activity. “Counterbalancing done well gives the illusion of balance,” they say. There is a part of me that connects with this idea of counterbalancing. To certainly “balance” an eight hour workday, wouldn’t I need an eight hour run? I certainly hope not.
What I have found is that a one to three hour run can easily counterbalance, and actually enhance, an eight hour day. The reward, far exceeds the relative time spent. And the expending of physical energy somehow renews intellectual energy. I have written blogs, developed courses, solved the world’s problems, and plenty more on the run. So through the run, I am ready to tackle and often tackling the day’s work.
The key word stated earlier is CHOOSE. I choose to run. I make a conscious choice to engage in an activity that is not work. Unlike the ticking of time, the run doesn’t just happen. It must be chosen, both mentally and physically. Then it must be executed. The same can be said of family time, volunteer time, sleep time and any other time you might be attempting to include in your 86,400 seconds given per day.
The key to balance, or “counterbalance,” as the authors would say, becomes making the choice to focus energy in places that are important within the confines of how we would prefer to live our lives. Those places can only be “controlled” by us. We identify those places and give them importance by making them priorities.
So, I suppose, the next question becomes, what are our priorities? How do we want to spend our time so we might avoid regret in our final moments in this life?
Mitch (yeah, a City Slicker reference thrown in) was annoyed upon the realization that when Curly said “one thing,” it was not an answer . It was a question. Everyone’s priorities are not the same. Everyone’s priorities are not equal. You have to find out what your one thing is and then more importantly, take action.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in a singular purpose for an entire life. One thing, to me, is not ONLY one thing EVER. Work is not everything. Nothing is everything. The disproportionate emphasis on simply one thing is what ruins relationships, jobs, and lives.
I believe in one thing: one thing at a time. When you are working, work. When you are playing, play. When you are with friends, or family, or the most important person in your life, be with them. That email will wait. That text can hang on a few minutes.
Our fruitless obsession with multi-tasking is robbing us of our opportunity to be in the moment. The idea that we can handle five things at once is, first and foremost, not neurologically possible. Beyond that, the kicker is that five things at once generally produce five mediocre results. Remember the Jack of All Trades? Master of none. Even the masters of juggling, jugglers, will tell you that the secret is not catching the balls, or bowling pins or chainsaws, it is where and how you toss them. One at a time.
It has taken many words to get to this point. Our one thing, is the moment. It is this moment, right here. And the next one and the next one. Strung together these moments, if well focused, could make a pretty good day. A bunch of them could make for a pretty nice life.
I want to sum up my One Thing dissertation with two quotes. Dr. Jim Loehr describes being in the moment as “being right here, right now, loving every minute of it.” Geez, I love that. So simple, so elegant and idea, especially if taken to action. I’ve attempted to have that be my focus since I first heard it. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, not so much.
And from writer David Bader comes, “Be here now. Be somewhere else later. Is that so complicated?”
Obviously, it is.