In a busy world, you might feel forced to do it all. Perhaps you’re up to the task in terms of time management and organization. But on the basis of skill, can you be great at everything? When do you start settling for ‘good enough’ or worse? And how do you avoid getting stretched too thin across all these responsibilities?
Students who undergo on-the-job training often learn a lot by shadowing a professional as they go about work on a typical day. It’s a useful approach to analyzing your own situation now and then. We often fall short in self-awareness, because we don’t have this sort of outside perspective.
Start by trying to apply this technique to yourself. What does an average day in your life look like to someone who’s following you around?
If you’re like most employees, you work a fixed shift at a single job. But even without a side hustle, your life is probably full of shadow work. These are tasks that you never get paid to do, but are increasingly becoming expected of you.
Driving to work, preparing your meals, troubleshooting your computer, planning a budget, doing the laundry, and even evaluating your shopping choices: you could pay someone else to do these tasks. Yet more than ever, modern living often entails handling them yourself.
Sure, sometimes it just comes down to money. If you’re barely making ends meet, you simply have to cover basic needs. Like it or not, you have to shoulder the extra burden.
But if you look closely, you might find that you do have a choice in the matter. It’s just that we frequently default to tackling these tasks, because we’re conditioned to think only in terms of the money saved.
Don’t be delegated to
Shadow work is often presented as a way to give ourselves greater control. Think of how your internet service provider operates. When there’s a problem with your connection, you give them a call, but do you get to talk to someone right away?
Most companies don’t put you through at once. Instead, you have to go through a series of robotic voice prompts. These so-called ‘self-service options’ are supposedly aimed at making your life easier so you don’t have to spend time on the phone waiting for someone to resolve a simple concern. The same logic is applied to having you download mobile apps that offer similar functionality.
But the fact is, it’s not your job to self-diagnose and troubleshoot devices and connections. You’re paying companies to do these things because they supposedly do them best. Yet they try to delegate those tasks right back to you.
Taking charge of such tasks gives you control, but what does that matter when you’re not the best person for the job? Your involvement might add value in some cases, such as when you cook healthy meals instead of buying fast food. But when it doesn’t, it dilutes the impact of your efforts.
Value and buy time
This is what leads to the familiar problem of having to juggle multiple responsibilities at once. How can you enjoy great success in your career while also being an amazing parent, teacher, cook, accountant, chauffeur, personal assistant, and more?
The question seems impossible, but only because we often approach it from the wrong angle. We know intuitively that some things demand our focus; devoting time to taking care of our children, for instance, is something that will always add immeasurable value to their lives.
On the other hand, some things need to be delegated, and outcomes can often be improved in this way. You might not be the best music teacher, but there’s no doubt it boosts a child’s intelligence. Enrolling your kid in piano lessons will take them off your hands for a bit and also take their development beyond your own capabilities in that respect.
Finding that balance requires you to develop a system for valuing your time. You also have to be able to assess your own skill in different areas and competencies.
With greater awareness of the worth of your time, you can make more informed decisions. If you have disposable income, you’ll realize that your options for spending aren’t limited to consumer goods or leisure activities.
You can actually buy back time and pay for someone else to take some of the load off your shoulders. And it will help you narrow down your focus to the few things that matter most, and where you can maximize your personal impact.