Don't Do It All!

01/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Just as predictable as the crystal ball dropping in Times Square, January media fills pages and airtime with advice and suggestions for resolutions to begin anew. Every year I hear a litany of well-intentioned resolutions from friends and clients: clean the closet, lose 10 pounds, take tango lessons, get home early for dinner. History suggests we will let most of them lapse by March, and by June they will be forgotten. In truth, many will be tucked away into a special dark hole I call "this makes me feel bad" with every intention of bringing them out later... much later... when we need to feel lousy.

Because our "failure" to actually implement our intentions makes us feel "less than," we gravitate to wishful thinking or we devour the spate of bestsellers that makes denial acceptable. Are we passionate about creating some new order in our lives? Or do we just talk about it a lot?

How do we get started... this year "for real?"

Have you taken a hard look at your home or office lately? Are there still photos in a pile, art to be hung, files to be tossed, technology to be assembled or discarded? How would it really feel to dig in and clean it all up? Or to awaken one morning when the magic cleaning elves finished the job overnight? (Does anyone have their 800 number?) When it is done, what would be left to do? More significantly, who would I be? Could we be hesitating because that underlying question is just too confronting?

This is tough stuff. We fail in our resolve because we set unrealistic expectations coupled with equally unrealistic timetables. When the extra 10 pounds doesn't disappear after two weeks of "dieting" we slip back to our usual pattern of eating. If it gets "hard" to get up thirty minutes early to run or go to the health club, we find "reasons" that we don't have time. Modifying our daily behavior is hard work, and we resist... we push back... when it feels new, awkward, uncomfortable or it doesn't taste as good.

How can this year be different? How can we feel better doing it?

First, let's remove the scary question of what would I do if there is nothing more to do? Would I seem less important? No longer a player? That's a huge question, so let's deal with that later in the New Year, when it feels safer, and tackle the challenge before us in two slightly smaller bites.

I propose we begin the year with two simple commitments:1) to clear out the clutter and 2) sometimes, do less! Yes, commit to doing more than rearranging your sock drawer or tackling the storage room mess. Let's begin this year by opening up the windows, emptying the shelves, tossing out what we don't need, and doing less. It is all part of opening up a new way of being in the world.

A candidate New Year's Resolution:

Here's something to help you keep your New Year's resolution for more time for yourself from Tim Ferris, author of the surprise best-seller, The Four-Hour Workweek.

"This week I realized once again how 'not-to-do' lists can be just as effective -- often more so -- than to-do lists for upgrading performance. The reason is simple: what you don't do determines what you can do.

Here are nine stressful and common habits that entrepreneurs and office workers should strive to eliminate. Focus on one or two at a time, just as you would with high-priority to-do items.
I've worded them in not-to-do action form:

1. Do not answer unrecognized phone calls
2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
4. Do not let people ramble -- forget "how's it going?" and embrace "what's up?"
5. Do not check e-mail constantly -- "batch" and check at set times only
6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
7. Do not work more to fix overwhelm -- prioritize
8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7, seven days a week -- make evenings and/or Saturdays digital leash-free.
9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should.

It's okay to focus on getting things done, but it's only possible once we remove the constant static and distraction. If you have trouble deciding what to do, just focus on not doing to re-focus. Different means, same end. Embrace the anti-Nike: Just don't do it."