Are You Spread Too Thin?
Raise your hand if you’ve ever said anything like this (or if you’re driving, just nod your head):
There’s too much to do, too many projects, too many meetings, too many people to serve to please all of them.
Too much work, not enough time, no space left for me or for creativity, or the other thousand things I know I need to do and can’t even get started with.
I’m so busy being busy that I can’t find time for a lot of the most important people and things in my life, and it feels like I’m living to work instead of working to live.
Can you relate?
If you can, then you’re not alone.
This week we’re going to get real, go deep, and figure out how to combat the all-too-common problem of being spread too thin.
Welcome to You Start Today, the Dr. Lee Warren weekly podcast to help you change your mind to accomplish real life change. If you’re ready to become healthier, feel better, and be happier in your mind, body, spirit, work and relationships, keep coming back for my best prescriptions every week. And every day, start today.
I’m Dr. Lee Warren, a brain surgeon slash writer who knows that life is harder than brain surgery. I’ve been on the ropes, but I’ve learned the secrets of not just surviving the war of life, but how to thrive. You can too, but you have to start today. And I know you can do it: it’s not brain surgery.
This is Episode 066: Spread Too Thin. You can get the show notes and more on my website at www.wleewarrenmd.com/066
You can’t change your life until you change your mind. Sometimes you need a brain surgeon to help you do that. Let’s go.
When I was a kid, my dad used to take me quail hunting.
It’s pretty exciting when the dogs get a covey of quail to flush and all of a sudden the still, sunny afternoon erupts into what seems to a twelve-year-old boy to be a million bobwhite quail furiously flying all around you.
And it took me forever to figure out how to shoot them.
When you’re hunting with a shotgun, your brain can make you believe that it’s going to be easy. You see, a shotgun doesn’t shoot just one bullet like a rifle does. Instead, it shoots a bunch of pellets- called ‘shot’- that spread out into a big area.
So, when you look up into the sky and see all these birds flying away in a group, your brain thinks, “All I have to do is pull the trigger and I’ll hit at least one of them.”
Well guess what?
You never do.
My dad told me over and over, “You have to pick one bird and focus on hitting it, or you’ll miss them all.”
I never listened. And I never hit any quail.
And then one day, frustrated that I always missed, I tried it.
I planned it in advance, my strategy for success for when we got out into the field.
And then it happened:
Our English Setter Dallas was rock solid on point, I stepped forward and BOOM! The covey jumped up and birds were everywhere. I raised my 12-gauge Remington shotgun and focused on ONE bird before I pulled the trigger.
POW! Feathers flew, the bird fell, Dallas retrieved, and a moment later I was holding the first quail I ever killed.
And I learned a valuable lesson that day: you can’t shoot at everything, or you’ll hit nothing.
The problem with life lessons, is I’m generally too hard-headed to remember to apply them to my life all the time, or in every situation.
So, despite the great childhood lesson I learned, I find myself as a grownup reliving the same issues over and over. Can you relate to that?
Look: I’ve struggled with being spread too thin too many times in my life. It’s inefficient, frustrating, and can lead to burnout, relationship issues, and poor performance in every area of life.
Let me give you an example from a typical week for me:
My daily routine is fairly fixed because of my clinic and surgery schedule. Thus, how I spend my time at work isn’t hard to allocate, and I perform at a very high level.
The problem is that I, like you probably do, have a lot of other things that I want and need to do in the rest of the time when I’m not at work:
I’ve got a book to write, a podcast to record, board meetings to attend, committees to sit in, reports to write, a speech to give soon, and, oh, I need to work out, check over our finances, pay some bills, go to the store, see the dentist, and, yeah, I’ve been so busy I didn’t have time to go with Lisa to San Antonio and so last night I got this voicemail from my granddaughter Scarlett, who’s four years old and calls me Pop.
That just killed me. I reinforces the idea that I. Am. Spread. Too. Thin.
Now, understand that it’s not wrong to have a lot of things you need to do. In fact, most hardworking, intelligent people have a diverse set of responsibilities and interests in which they’re engaged.
But high performance doesn’t just happen. You have to be strategic if you want to take the myriad things you need to do or want to do and make them all successful.
As I said earlier, you can’t shoot at everything, or you’ll hit nothing.
And if we want to succeed in life, we have to start hitting our targets.
In my case, I struggle with waking up every day and prioritizing the things I need to do so that I make progress on all of them.
I often fall victim to the powerful urge to put out fires, which is another way of letting the circumstances of the day dictate what and when you do them.
And sometimes I get so caught up in thinking of EVERYTHING that I wind up doing nothing, missing all the birds because I can’t remember to aim at only one.
I have a lot of drive to accomplish things. I’ve got big dreams, aspirations to be successful as an online entrepreneur and writer, even though I’m already blessed to be at the top of my “real” profession. People who listen to podcasts are usually pretty smart, interested in learning and increasing their successes, so I’m confident that this resonates with you.
And even though you’ve got big dreams and ideas, if you can’t figure out how to be laser focused on one thing at a time, one bird at a time, you’re never going to be as successful as you could be. Not at work, not with your family, not in your faith or in any part of your life.
Lisa and I for the past two years have used Michael Hyatt’s goal-setting course, Five Days to Your Best Year Ever, and this year we’re also using his book, the Full Focus Planner.
Mr. Hyatt is probably the most successful online influencer as it relates to productivity, goal-setting, and time management training.
And guess what he recommends: waking up every day and prioritizing your “Daily Big Three.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t do more than three things. It just means that you can’t do more than three things AT A TIME.
Brendan Burchard, one of the leading personal development gurus in the world, tells a story that illustrates the problem of being spread too thin.
Burchard talks about a man who grabs a shovel and walks out into a field he believes to be sitting on top of a huge gold deposit.
The man picks a spot, and begins to dig a hole. But after he digs a foot or so down, he gives up on the hole and moves to a new spot. He digs another hole and again quits after a foot or so. And on and on he goes, digging holes in the field for his entire life until he dies. Then another person comes along and digs into the man’s first hole. One more foot down, the second man strikes gold.
The point is, you don’t want your life to be a series of half-dug holes! Most of the time, we’re engaging in things that can potentially become gold in our lives- time with our families, time working on projects that serve others or advance our business or increase our success.
BUT- if we get involved in too many things at once, or if we don’t learn the secrets I’ll share with you in a minute of how to develop laser focus on a few things at a time until they’re done, then we’ll never find the gold in any one area, we’ll never hit that quail, because we’re spreading our efforts out too thin.
Let me ask you a question:
Would it be more effective to spend 5% of your available time and energy on twenty different projects or people, or twenty percent on five? Or 100% on one?
Let me give you one strategy and three quick tactics to help avoid being spread too thin, to learn to shoot at just one bird, and to not have a bunch of half-dug holes in your life.
Understand your PURPOSE for today- the BIG THINGS, the mission. For me, it’s something like this- “I am striving to develop a series of online businesses to complement my medical work so that I can influence more people, help them change their minds and become healthier, feel better and be happier in their lives.”
Once you know your purpose, it becomes much easier to determine your PRIORITIES for a given day, and to discern between the many things you COULD do and choose those your really SHOULD do.
1. Make a “Big Three” list of things you really need to get done on any given day. That’s not to say you can’t work on other things, but it WILL give you focus and clarity to help you concentrate on the MOST IMPORTANT things in front of you. These are your PRIORITIES for the day.
2. Once you have your big three, make a PLAN for how you’re going to handle them, reduce distractions, and keep digging until you find the gold.
3. Once you engage in your plan to accomplish your big three, it’s critical that you remain SUPER PRESENT in the work you’ve chosen to spend your time doing.
That’s it. That’s how I handle things when I find myself being spread too thin.
When I get that laser focus, I am one of the most productive people I know. When I lose it, I’m all over the place and can be a Jedi master at wasting time.
Listen, one of the most rewarding things in life is to do well in your work, accomplish a lot, and have emotional energy and time left over to spend with the people you love.
You simply cannot be as productive as you’re capable of being, or as happy as you could be, if you’re splitting yourself too many different ways every day. Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Actually, he was quoting Jesus Christ from Mark 3:25. But old Abe was right, a house, or a person, who isn’t squared away on what it stands for or what it’s purpose is is doomed to fail.
Being spread too thin is a soul crusher, productivity destroyer, and heart breaker.
It can lead to voice mails like this one.
Remember: you can’t change your life until you change your mind. And being spread too thin is something you have to change your mind about. It’s a default for many of us, because work and life have so many things and people competing for our time that if we’re not sure of our purpose, and if we don’t identify our priorities, make a solid plan, and be super present while working the plan, we’re in danger of finishing a day or a year or a life in that field full of half dug holes.
But that’s not going to happen to you, my friend.
Because you realize that making these changes is not brain surgery. Except that it sort of is. But it’s self-brain surgery, and you can do it.
But you have to start today.
If you have a question or a comment, email me via email@example.com
Remember: Life isn’t brain surgery; it’s harder. It’s a war. But even though life is hard, God is faithful. You can have the life you were created to have, but you have to stop being spread too thin, and you have to start today.
Hey, a lot of people have been asking me how they can get signed copies of my book, No Place to Hide. Now you can. Go to www.wleewarrenmd.com and right there on the home page you can click on my books and order them from the site! Make sure to put how you want me to sign it in the notes before you check out! People have also asked if Lisa will sign the books as well, and she’s happy to.
And if you like my podcast, you’ll love my newsletter. Every Monday I give you my best prescriptions for a better, healthier, happier life, for free. Check it out and join the community at www.wleewarrenmd.com/newsletter.
Follow me on Instagram and Twitter @drleewarren!
I’m Dr. Lee Warren and you’ve been listening to YST. Be sure to subscribe via iTunes so you automatically get new episodes. I’m trying to get to 30,000 downloads a month, so you subscribing and sharing the show with your friends will really help. Thanks!
You can get the show notes to this episode and links to the books and other resources I mentioned at www.wleewarrenmd.com/066
I can’t wait to talk to you next week, but you start today.
Theme Music is Blue Highway by Podington Bear, license courtesy of Creative Commons. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Podington_Bear/Soul/Blue_Highway