You’ve heard that New Year’s resolutions have a horrendous success rate, right? One source suggests the number is as low as 8 percent … 8 stinking percent.
But why? Is it for a lack of resolve? Somehow, I don’t think that’s it.
It took a heck of a lot of resolve for your nephew to conquer the video game “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” in only two days. Yet, we may question whether that resolve was well spent.
So, how are you spending your resolve?
Too often, our resolve is spread across an array of tasks so numerous that our effectiveness is diluted. But what about people who are good at multitasking? That’s a myth, says Stanford psychology professor Clifford Nass:
“The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”
Nass equates the effects of chronic multitasking to smoking. Just because you do it all the time doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Another downside of applying our resolve too broadly is the inevitable disappointment that comes from falling short of our goals. Indeed, when was the last time you actually got to the end of your daily to-do list and thought, “Gee, I wonder what I’ll do next?” Even the most productive days don’t feel like it when there are still 10 incomplete tasks staring us in the face.
Why do we do it? Why do we wear busyness as a badge of honor, even though it diminishes our productivity and saps the satisfaction of a good day’s work? New York Times essayist Tim Kreider has some ideas. He writes:
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
Is it possible that we could accomplish more in 2015 by doing less? Is it possible that by aggregating our resolve and applying it to fewer tasks, we could be more productive and derive greater satisfaction from our effort? And practically speaking, how do we decide where we will and will not apply our attention?
There’s a simple five-minute exercise that should give you several top candidates for the chopping block. It’s a concept I shared in a blog post for Forbes.com in January 2014, and it’s worth repeating as we enter 2015.
You need only a pen or pencil and one piece of paper with a line down the middle. On the left-hand side, write LIFE TAKING. On the right-hand side, write LIFE GIVING.
As I wrote last January:
“Fill the Life-Taking column with the roles (or tasks within roles) that drain you. They’re onerous chores, not labors of love.
On the Life-Giving side, list the opposite — those practices you can pursue for extended periods of time, wondering where the time has gone. You might be tired after a long day of life-giving activities, but you’re not weary.
I should be clear that this exercise is not a license to shed roles to which you’ve pledged yourself — like being a good parent or spouse — or common duties on no one’s life-giving list — like changing diapers or cleaning dishes. …
But if the majority of your roles and the duties you’ve accepted are life-taking, I encourage you to consider making some difficult decisions in an effort to improve that ratio. That may mean saying yes to some things, but it almost certainly means saying no. …
Following through on this exercise may be simple, but it’s not easy. Stakeholders are likely to be disappointed, whether you’re giving up a board seat, book club, church committee or poker night. Your income may also be reduced if you sacrifice an activity that creates cash flow, change jobs or invest in furthering your education. …
You can cause a monumental shift for the good in your life and work by simply removing life-taking activities. Your performance in life-giving roles has room to flourish, increasing your productivity and satisfaction. Even more surprising, some activities will move from life-taking to neutral — or even life-giving — after your overall burden is lightened.”
Perhaps the key to successful New Year’s resolutions isn’t in determining what we will do but instead what we won’t do. This new year, let’s acknowledge that we have all the resolve we need to arrive at January 1, 2016, fully satisfied with the work and objectives to which we apply ourselves. Then, let’s employ wisdom in determining how best to channel that resolve.
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