Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force. – Lao Tzu
A lot of people seem to believe that things need to be difficult – that you need to work hard, push yourself and struggle – because it’s only that kind of effort that produces results.
That doesn’t really work for me.
It seems to me that a lot of time when people say they’re working hard what they mean is that they haven’t got the time to figure how to do it in an easier way.
Now, it’s hard for someone who is in the middle of a particular experience to stand back and see how it can be done better.
And it’s usually infuriating to be told by some smug nobody that you’re doing it wrong when you’re putting all this effort into what you’re doing.
I’ve learned over time that trying to change other people is not time well spent.
But, it makes a lot of sense to try and work on yourself – and when it comes to that I see three kinds of approaches.
The first is one where people focus on why they can’t do things – they see all the obstacles in their way and fold their arms and refuse to move.
Such folk are happy doing their work and living their life in the way they do it – they can’t imagine an alternative but they do seem to spend quite a lot of time complaining about the present.
I’m not really sure how that helps you – but from what I can see it means you get old and see rather a lot of people doing better than you are doing.
Standing still is not a good strategy.
At the other extreme is the person who really pushes themselves – the one who wants to be in a position of responsibility early, be a Managing Director, get that big promotion.
That’s the one you see a lot of in society – the people who’ve been brought up on the idea that competition is everything, you get ahead by beating others and that winning is what matters.
I see people like this as running as fast as they can – pushing themselves to the brink of exhaustion – and still going.
They’re the ones staying late at work, pushing themselves to get the job done on time, working very very hard.
But, is that really a useful way to be?
Haven’t we moved on from a world where brawn and time made a difference?
Once upon a time the size of your muscles mattered if your job was to cut down trees.
Now machines do that.
And if you’re doing knowledge work then surely you don’t need to spend huge amounts of time getting things done – isn’t that what computers are for?
Except, most people don’t realise how to use computers.
For example, most consultants use Powerpoint extensively for their work – and that means they spend hundreds of hours getting every detail right.
But, did you know you can automate Powerpoint – get it to programmatically do a lot of the things that you’re doing manually right now?
The vast majority of people don’t – and are racking up hundreds of thousands of hours manually positioning text boxes.
I don’t know about you – but I think that’s a waste of time.
Now, another approach, one that I think is better, is one designed around you as an individual.
It’s well known that the human body is not designed for continuous running – you can do it for a while but not forever.
What we are designed to do is walk.
You can walk pretty long distances, just keep going – because that’s the mode of travel our bodies have evolved to do most efficiently.
And doing things efficiently is the best way to do them.
What that means is that you should design your work around your life – you should try and make it as easy as possible to get what you need to do done.
If you want to write, for example, but have kids – then write when they’re asleep: early in the morning or late in the evening.
That might mean you write 30 books in your lifetime rather than the 200 put out by people without children – but would you really not have your kids?
If you have a demanding job – then perhaps first figure out how you can make it less demanding – what are the bits that you’re spending time doing that can be automated?
Many things can be – really.
Now, if you head towards excuse territory – then there isn’t much more to say.
But it’s hard to see very many situations where you can’t do things that you’re currently doing in a manual way more effectively – if you only knew how to.
And many people just don’t have the time to think about things like that – they’re too busy.
Which is why to the first and last groups – there is very little to say.
To the first – you’d suggest they get moving or get left behind.
To the last – you might need to wait till they realise for themselves that this is putting a huge strain on themselves.
But if you arrange things so that you can do them at the pace that works for you – well then you can go for a very long time.
And maybe then you’ll do something you’re proud of – without having to sacrifice everything that actually matters.
Because really – life shouldn’t have to be all that hard.