It’s always struck me as the season of contradiction. Longer nights and fallen leaves invite sleep, if not outright hibernation. But in most work cycles, the pressure calls for more work than ever. Lawyers collect their bills, accountants fight through year-ends, sales folks and development directors canvas for bonuses, and students freak out about papers and exams. People with year-end goals are burning midnight oil not festive candles. While Christmas trees and menorahs beckon for us to reflect, savor, and wrap our arms around our loves ones, WalMart and Target call for us to shop til we drop, adding shopping lists to “to do lists.”
Two sets of skills rise to the top for the season. Mastering the 80:20. And learning to pause the doing for moments of being.
1. Exercise the discipline part of your mind, employing the 80:20 rule in three ways. First, focus on the 20% that gets 80% of the gain. Step back and see what matters most. For example in fundraising that always meant focusing on the potentially BIG year-end givers. As a student that meant not just studying hard, but asking which studies would make the biggest difference; a class where you had all B’s all semester, and an exam that only counted 10% was not a 20%er. Focus on the classes where you could make a move. This seems obvious, but it requires discipline because under pressure we can mindlessly and hurriedly do what’s habitual or satisfying, but often that is not the most important thing. Practically, this means make to do lists.
But more important it means disciplining yourself to decide what’s at the top of the list. Spending 10 minutes (which isn’t even 80% of an hour!) to start each day by prioritizing will make the time you spend on work much more likely to be 80% importance work.
The final aspect of the 80:20 is to forget about getting to 100%! Let the 20% that’s at the bottom of your list simply drop. Bonus if you get to it. But for many — excepting THE most compulsively detail driven who WILL finishing EVERYTHING, we will gain energy and focus by choosing not to pressure ourselves to unnatural levels. And guess what? There will be a new year. And you can add stuff back on your list, if you really wished you’d gotten it done.
2. The other skill set is REALLY hard but even more REALLY — worth practicing. Breathe. Breathe. Every spiritual tradition I know teaches in some way the ability to slow down and become aware. And that slow can mean steady, and less can mean more. Jews celebrate Shabbat as a time to rest and savor (for a beautiful read, pick up Abraham Heschel’s gorgeous book The Sabbath). Heschel explains the life-changing quality of a day of rest. But in our harried world, it makes sense to begin with a moment. By re-learning how to breathe. And in so doing to see you can choose. To be here now – in the tasty heat of coffee on your lips, the lull of mid-day, the craziness of work whose seeming reality and self importance you can simply — laugh at. Nothing, no work, no task, no result compares to the immeasurable splendor of being. And of being – together. Imagine with practiced breath how many times in a day you can create the infinite nano-space of the moment.
Here’s a simple way to practice. On the inbreath, say to yourself, “waiting.” On the outbreath say, “now.” Try it 5 times. It’s not the 80:20 rule. It’s the 1:100 rule. Takes a second to have it all.
Lead with your best self!