Often when I first meet someone who is considering working with me, they tell me that one of their goals is to “figure out how to do everything”.
They’ve heard you can do it all.
They want to do it all.
They believe there’s a magic bullet out there somewhere, and if they can just find it, they too, can do it all.
But here’s the thing: you can’t.
You can’t do it all. I can’t do it all. None of us can do it all.
We’re all going to die with a big, long list of things we didn’t do.
Can we get more efficient so we can do more? Hell yes!
But can we do it all? Sorry, still nope.
And here’s why: Even if you were the most efficient person on the face of this planet, you likely still have way more you could do, want to do, and aspire to do than is actually possible.
I like to imagine the time available to me as an empty glass. And a pitcher of water as the stuff I have to do.
Unfortunately, I can only fill the cup to the brim. After that, it starts overflowing.
I can’t change the size of the cup.
I can’t change the density of the water.
I can only control what I pour into the cup. Or pour out of the cup.
Sure, I could keep pouring more water into the cup, even after I’ve filled it to the brim.
And water would start spilling, until I stopped pouring water into the cup, or started pouring it out.
I’d be spending a lot of time cleaning up the mess instead of doing the things I needed, or wanted, to do. I’d be mopping up the water, even while more keeps coming.
At a certain point, you have to say to yourself “No more! There’s no room”.
So what can you do when you find that your cup is already full, when you have too much to do and you’re already very efficient?
Well, there are only 3 options:
Delay (“Wait a bit before adding more water to the cup.”)
- One option is to delay. This can take a couple of different forms. You can either extend the timeline for things already on your plate or give realistic (with buffer!) timelines for new items.
- Or both.
Delegate (“Pour some water out of the cup and into someone else’s cup”)
- You can share the load. Are you holding onto work your direct reports are capable of doing? Could a coworker help you out?
- At home, what about your kids, a partner, a relative or a housemate?
Don’t do (“Pour some water out of the cup and back into the sink”)
- You can let go of some of those items. You can decide you’ll never do them. (I’m looking at you “bookshelf arranged in color order” that I once wanted to do, but realized I’ll never do. At least until I’m retired.)
- A word of warning: Obviously at work, you may not be making this decision all by yourself.
So, how full is your cup right now?
Can it fit any more water?
Let’s push back on the wishful thinking. Let’s stop hoping the bup just gets bigger.
Instead, let’s be honest with ourselves about what we can and can’t take on.
When you take on more than is humanly possible to do, and then you can’t do it, you blame yourself.
You damage your own self-worth. You beat yourself up and wonder “Why can’t I do this?”.
But remember, it’s not just you. We all have a cup. And if we overfill that cup, we’ll be left to clean up the mess.