You can Win the Right Battles this Year
It seemed like not too long ago that we were taking in the sights and sounds of the New Year countdown and rejoiced (or heaved a sigh of relief), as we closed the year and crossed over into a new one.
The Secret Yearnings for Fresh Starts
For many of us, new years are somewhat magical; we cross the threshold to a new year with the hope that we could, perhaps, start afresh and begin to live a better life in the new year. To that end, we craft goals and make resolutions. But as we quickly approach the closing of January, here’s a dose of reality check as we ask ourselves:
- Where am I with respect to what I have hoped to do differently?
- Where am I with my goals and resolutions?
Reviews or Resolutions?
For me, my new year kicked off not with resolutions but with a review of what I can do better this year. While goals have its place to motivate people, I recognize that I am not much of a resolutions person. I have no problem making new year resolutions but keeping them is a whole different ball game altogether. Even with the best of intentions in setting new year resolutions, I realise that things happen; a lack of motivation coupled with unanticipated events and shifting priorities throughout the year. This “lethal” concoction is enough to push all my goals and resolutions to the backseat of my life. This is then naturally followed by a sense of guilt and inner shame for not being able to stick with the resolutions.
And so, for the new year, I decided that I am going to replace resolutions with a review of what can be better and work at it. This is likened to the spirit of Kaizen, the Japanese approach of gaining major improvements through small, ongoing positive changes or continuous improvements.
Even with the best of intentions in setting new year resolutions, I realise that things happen; a lack of motivation coupled with unanticipated events and shifting priorities throughout the year. This “lethal” concoction is enough to push all my goals and resolutions to the backseat of my life. This is then naturally followed by a sense of guilt and inner shame for not being able to stick with the resolutions. And so, for the new year, I decided that I am going to replace resolutions with a review of what can be better and work at it… I intend to win the right battles this year.”
And so, on Jan 2, as I exercised and stepped away on the steps machine in the gym, I contemplated my next steps (pun intended) for the new year. It was then that I discovered something I did wrong last year which I intend to right this coming year; I intend to win the right battles this year.
The Irony of To-Dos
Many of you may know that I am the “burnout” guy; the one who overcame burnout at least 5 times and am now on a social mission to use my lived experience to help people thrive over burnout. This strong sense of purpose has kept me going in the last two years, as I worked hard at setting up and running my social enterprise to champion mental well-being and mental resilience.
In a typical day, it is not uncommon for me to open my to-do app in the morning to find tonnes of to-dos vying for my attention. I would then take a careful look at all that needs to be done and start to shortlist what I would work on that day, often ending up with at least 20 items. While it sure felt good striking tasks off the list as I completed them, I soon realised how the joy is short-lived, as more tasks, in turn, gets added back to the to-do list. This would usually leave me feeling quite defeated by the end of the day.
At the peak of this unsustainable and crazy way of living, in December 2019, I had some 113 tasks staring at me, as a growing sense of uneasiness welled up inside of me. It is indeed an irony that my life, which advocates a thriving and burnout-free life, was once again at risk of spinning out of control into a defeated and burned out life. The truth remains that I hadn’t been kind to myself and I was slowly slipping back into the same crazy routine in the past of working off some 25-30 items a day that eventually got me burned out in 2017.
That being said, the ‘gift’ of having overcome burnout so many times helped me hone my self-awareness and ability to bounce back faster. I started to ponder what the main issue was that could be responsible for burnout for so many people, myself included.
… the ‘gift’ of having overcome burnout so many times helped me hone my self-awareness and ability to bounce back faster.”
The Ailment of Crazy Busy Asians
I found that the answer could be found in an ailment that plagues many busy people: margin-itis a.k.a. the lack of margins. We live in a crazily busy age where life is increasingly complex and our the work and personal arenas of our lives continue to make increasing demands of our time and resources. This craziness is further fueled by the strong presence of addictive and disruptive technology (our screens and constant connection to the internet) and the resultant expectations (from others and ourselves) that we can and should get more and more done within the unchangeable number of hours in a day.
We pack our lives crazy as we become Crazy Busy Asians, we fail to recognize that we are not superheroes and that we have limits. We forget that life does not always go the way we plan it; there will always be the unanticipated last-minute errands to run, leaking pipes to fix, projects to complete, conflicts to resolve, behavioural issues in our children to attend to, illnesses, accidents and even deaths. Need I say more? We fail to leave room in our lives so we can have the bandwidth to deal with these “un-anticipatables” should they happen. We are at risk of tipping over big time the next time another such un-anticipatable happens. The unlikely cure for this: margins. We need margins in our crazy lives so it will get less crazy.
We forget that life does not always go the way we plan it; there will always be the unanticipated last-minute errands to run, leaking pipes to fix, projects to complete, conflicts to resolve, behavioural issues in our children to attend to, illnesses, accidents and even deaths… We need margins in our crazy lives so it will get less crazy.”
Not Every but Right
For me, I had to learn this the hard way, as I experienced my fair share of un-anticipatables within the first few days of the new year. It forced me to ask myself if it was even possible for me to fight every battle that I encountered. I was clearly suffering from margin-itis.
And then came the eureka moments over 3 weeks in January as I worked away at the steps-machine in the gym, as I contemplated about it during my quiet time, as I listened to the sermon in church and as I interact with different friends and acquaintances in the course of my life. My personal faith reminded me of a fundamental truth:
“… for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” ~ The Bible (2 Chronicles 20:15)
The key here is not about winning every battle but in choosing your battles and winning the right battles with the right resources.
There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” — Peter Drucker
I have clean forgotten how I was called into this calling of mine to help people thrive over burnout and I have been using the wrong resources or the right resources in all the wrong ways. While my to-do list gave me a systematic way of getting things done, I realised how, beyond a certain point, it was not helping me anymore. In fact, the long list of things forces me to work increasingly longer hours each day as I attempt to clear my work, in the hope that it will be better tomorrow. But the truth of the fact is, more will be added to the list tomorrow.
The key here is not about winning every battle but winning the right battle with the right resources.
The MIT Strategy
And so, I decided I need to do things differently. I remember reading about MIT (Most Important Tasks) and decided to try it. I began to choose my battles to fight each day; I would start each day with my quiet time so I can anchor myself. And then, instead of my usual practice of shortlisting as many tasks as possible that needs to be done today, I cherry-pick my top 10 MITs (Most Important Tasks). And once I have completed it, I would call it a day, only to repeat the same process with a brand new set of 10 MITs the next day.
And I am happy to share that this one single decision and tweak to my life has helped me experience relatively more peace and purpose even as I navigated through the different un-anticipatables presented to me. There is still much work needed as I continue to learn how we can thrive in our lives but let’s leave that for another article.
Your Turn to Share
What about you? Are you choosing your battles? Are you fighting the right battles? I am keen to hear you share your strategy to prevent/cure margin-itis?
Allow Us to Help You Thrive
Are you a Crazy Busy Asian? Do you have margin-itis? Do you want to win the right battles this year? You can be a smart rat and escape the rat race this year. Come and join us at our events (https://emmaus.sg/public/take-action/join-upcoming-events/) to begin to thrive in life.
This article first appeared on https://emmaus.sg/public/you-can-win-the-right-battles-this-year