“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.”
- Henry David Thoreau
Before jumping into deliberate living, I want to show you a model used in project management.
This is the Iron Triangle
the Project Management Triangle
the Triple Constraint
If you’re not familiar with the triangle, here’s why it’s so cool (and why it’s been a staple in business since the 1950s). Businesses rely on three factors when they’re developing a product or service: time, money, and quality. When each of these are applied to a side of the triangle, you’ll notice that if one side changes, the others will too. For example, if a company wants to release a new product as soon as possible AND maintain the quality their customers expect, they will need to increase costs. That’s because, according to the model, only two of the parameters can be changed at a time, as seen here:
When people yell:
“We must deliver a quality product!”
“We must deliver a quality product!”
“We must ship soon!”
“We must keep costs down!”
You, being a knowledgeable, insightful, and reasonable person, will already know that the company can only focus on two, or else the triangle will fall apart.
Why can’t we do it all? (Asked the determined, overconfident project manager)
Answer: If you make everything a priority, nothing will be a priority. If you focus on all three, you’ll send a mixed message, because one side must carry the weight of the other two.
If you want a quality product that stays within your budget, you should expect it to take longer.
If you want a quality product done fast, it will cost more.
And if you want an inexpensive product fast, your quality isn’t going to be the best.
Since we can’t do all three, the question becomes: what is a priority?
Living deliberately, we are all project managers of our own lives. I’m going to ask you to apply this type of thinking to your own life (as will I), because the most important project that often takes a seat on the backburner is our own life. The most important project you need to manage is: YOU.
We all wear A LOT of hats. You are an employee, you play a role in your community (city, club, or religious organization), you have hobbies, you are a friend and a family member. Those are a lot of roles, and yet, you are the same head beneath each hat. Together it adds up to one life. Your life.
The trap many of us fall into is trying to manage all of our hats at once. Our work needs to be completed (on time, on spec, on budget), our friends and family members need to feel supported (and they, in return, support us), we attend meetings for our social obligations, all the while remembering to take out the recycling on Thursdays, feeding and watering the pets.
Even if you have above-average time management skills, perfect work/life balance, and do a lot of biohacking (joking… kind of… ehmm bulletproof and truBrain), you will eventually reach your limit. Like the Project Management Triangle, you can only stretch yourself so thin before everything begins falling apart. For example, if you cut sleep to add more time to your day, your quality (output per hour) will suffer. If you pick up a phone call during a family dinner, you may be able to put out a fire at work, but it will be at the expense of interrupting an important family event. Like the project management triangle, if you commit to too many things, one side eventually will end up carrying the weight.
Personal Management Triangle
I’ve updated the Project Management Triangle to a Personal Management Triangle. Each side reflects the three responsibilities we all have that makes up our life: family, work, and hobbies. The size and shape of the triangle will be different for everyone. For example, when you focus on work and friends & family, you will have less time to focus on your hobbies. Some people have told me: I don’t have hobbies, and others: I’m not close with my friends/family. If this sounds like you, the side you spend the least amount of time doing becomes the one you can sacrifice. When your manager asks who can stay late to finish a project? It’s likely you can.
Before volunteering for an all-nigh event at work, make sure your other sides can handle the weight. In a blog post this summer (scroll down to the section titled: I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR IT), I write about tracking what you spend your time on by setting a timer to go off every 15 minutes for an entire week (the idea is from Laura Vanderkam’s book, 168 Hours). You might find that you are spending more time with friends/family, hobbies, or on work-related projects than you are aware of.
The triangle rests on your dock, which is something I write about in Age of Agility. In the future, I’ll write about how these two models work together.
Find Your Focus
This summer, I wrote about finding your focus by using a strategy to identify your most important tasks. If you haven’t done it already, I encourage you to do so now. Not only will the exercise help you discover your focus, it will also encourage you to think about why some areas of your life call for more attention. Living deliberately means being honest with yourself about your goals and expectations. What in your life can get by with less attention (lower quality)? What needs to be perfect? What requires more of your time? Because if everything gets the same amount, nothing is a priority.
It’s About You, That’s Why I Need to Focus on Me
Personally, I’d rather do a spectacular job at a few things than a mediocre job at many things. That’s why I’m going to reduce the amount of time I’m spending on my blog—for now.
I’ve realized that if I want to do the important things I care about (and do them well), something needs to give. I’m currently working on some exciting projects that I’ll share with you all in the coming months. Since I want those to be the best they can be, they have become my priority. I’ll still be using the same amount of energy, I’m just laser focusing it on a select few projects.
Although I’m putting a pause on the weekly blog posts, I will still be here as a resource.
What’s not changing:
You will still be able to contact me (here) and I will respond within 24 hours
I will be available to speak on your panel, at your company or school
I am available for one-on-one brainstorming sessions (I’m not a fan of the word coaching)
I am always available for high school and undergrad mentoring (on a first-come basis)
In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read, here are my top 10 posts from the past year:
October 26, 2018
September 21, 2018
August 24, 2018
August 10, 2018
July 27, 2018
May 18, 2018
March 11, 2018
March 5, 2018
February 13, 2018
January 24, 2018
More than luck, friends.
Andrew J. Wilt is the author of Age of Agility, a book that addresses the skill gap between school and work. He can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @andrewjwilt