Previously published on Forbes.com
No matter how hard you try, you cannot be all things to all people. More striving, more working, more late hours won’t get you there. Let’s face it, you can’t do it all.
Many of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We tell ourselves we should be “adding value” or “doing it right.” I see this on my team. And it gets in the way of creativity and trying new things. For example, we are launching a new client offering and one of our team members is super nervous about the launch. Today, in a conversation, I told her it’s okay if we goof up on our first client delivery. We’ll learn from our mistakes and do better next time. That’s how we do it around here.
There’s only one way to reconcile with the cold hard fact that you can’t do it all: Release the unrealistic expectations you have of yourself. You aren’t perfect, you never will be. You are human. You can’t be good at everything.
Instead, spend your time figuring out what really matters to you and what your highest and best use is—the things that you do extraordinarily well with very little effort—and then get really good at that.
So, how do you suss out what is the highest and best use of you? This is something we, as coaches, often do with our clients.
First, you have to get present to all the stuff you are doing and giving attention to. All of it. Start by making a list of everything you currently do in your job. Create a Post-it note for every discrete task you do or accountability you have (or read your job description to see what you are accountable for). For example, “Attend the weekly management team meeting.” “Write the monthly client summary report.” “Respond to email.”
Once you have a pile of Post-it notes with all of the stuff you currently do, group these tasks (the notes) on a whiteboard into clusters that seem to go together, and name them. We recommend limiting the clusters of activities to between five and seven. Keep in mind that there may be some things you do that are outliers—they don’t go into a cluster or grouping of activities. Just keep those separate on the whiteboard.
The cluster names will reflect your priorities at a high level. For example, “Mentor and develop employees for high performance.” Or “Serve our customers well.” Or “Inspire hope and optimism on my team.” These are high-level uses of you—your highest priorities at work. If you are a very pragmatic person, your category names may reflect your pragmatism: “Produce impeccable financial reports for senior leadership.”
Ask yourself if these five to seven high-level accountabilities are the best use of you. If not, consider who you might delegate these tasks to. You may also discover some things you are doing that are a terrible use of anyone, not just you, and don’t really need to be done at all. These you can consider dumping.
It’s also a good idea to share this with your boss and your peers for input and to gain a broader perspective. Once you’re clear about what you need to be focused on, it’s much easier to let go of what isn’t the best use of you. Clarity is the essential ingredient.
Here’s a work scenario you may relate to: Your manager brings up a project in a meeting that someone needs to take on. It’s not a super challenging assignment, but it’s time-consuming. Also, whoever volunteers for this gig is unlikely to receive much recognition for it. As your boss describes what they need and asks for a volunteer, the room falls silent. Everyone hoping that someone else will raise their hand. The wait becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Then, finally, the one who has the lowest tolerance for this kind of anxiety gives in and says, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
Don’t let this be you.
Is there a chance that this is a good assignment and the highest and best use of you? Maybe, and in that case, great. But before you give in, really look at it with open eyes. Only raise your hand if it’s aligned with what you have clarified as the highest and best use of you. Otherwise, sit with the discomfort and let someone else cave.
Stop trying to do it all. Spend more of your valuable time engaging in the things that you do extraordinarily well. This is the work of leaders.