Go deep in everything
Modern life has us involved in a lot of stuff. For those of us who like to go deep in each of the things we do, taking on more things means doing less of each. To keep up with everything, the trick is to aim for balance, right? Hang on, maybe there’s a way to go deep and cover everything.
When it comes to working on something, I’m exhaustive, thorough and I like to do the right thing. I like to think it through, find the core, and act decisively from there. That means that adding something to my list ends up feeling like I’ve got to make room for a mountain. Are you like that too?
Because of my tendency, I used to focus on just one or two things (mostly work). Life, though, forced me to adapt to its complexities and add a few things to my list:
- Taking care of the house,
- Taking the lead with the kids,
- Excelling at work,
- Connecting with the extended family,
- Investing in friendships,
- Helping out causes,
- Being a great guy with the people I meet.
That’s a long list of goals, and I wanted to go deep in every one of those items. Tough problem, right?
Balancing (is not an) act
I couldn’t go deep in each one, so what’s the other option? Balance?
But balance isn’t even a thing you can aim for. It’s a false target. You can’t go full speed toward balance; it presupposes the action of holding back. It means switching tasks constantly, compartmentalizing your life. None of this is really great.
Trying to do everything was going to burn me out, but staying at the surface of everything was wearing me thin. The problem, I found, was that I was going too deep in the wrong things.
Go deep in the central thing
The central thing is the one you can turn your main focus to. You can center your life around it. If you go deep in this central thing, it’ll be good.
Work wasn’t a good central thing for me to concentrate on because it was competing with the rest of my life. So what is now my central thing? That will be the topic of a future article but let me share with you my basic trick.
To find out the central thing, the trick I use consists of ordering the things I have on my mind in such a way that I can say “Before (a certain date in a few months from now)1, I’ll have really succeeded in this one thing, even if all the other things on my list don’t get completed fully.” I wrote another article on this trick, and it explains how to do this, if you want to go through the full exercise.
Your central thing will probably be a fuzzy concept, something you can’t really check off your list completely. It’s going to feel big. You’ll know it’s a good one if it scares you a little, if you feel it’s something you’ve been neglecting. It’ll be important, and you’ll know you can go deep in it.
What about the other stuff on your list? Here’s an idea: you’ll know that your central thing is a match if it’s good for everyone in your surroundings. If you go deep in the central thing, it’ll help the other concerns on your list to get done, naturally, without competition.
Your central thing will overflow onto the rest of your life in two ways: For starters, concentrating on the central thing will help prune off the stuff that’s distracting you, the stuff that doesn’t matter anyway. Second, it’ll reframe what you’ve decided to keep: it’ll help you re-write those other things on your list in a way that’s meaningful.
In that light, turning to your other concerns will be easy to do, since the central thing connects to everything else on your list. What’s more: because you’ll have your central thing in good standing, you’ll be able to go deep in those other things as well, in their time, each their turn.
So there’s a way to go deep in all of life’s stuff. People will look at you thinking you’ve achieved balance, but you’ll just have put some order into the things you turn your focus to. Find the central thing that helps everything, go deep in that one and you’ll find that it becomes easier to go deep in everything else that matters.
And you, what does your central thing look like?
It helps to choose a date in a few months from now, but don’t be surprised if it’s something you’d set as a goal for the rest of your life. Likely, this is what your central thing might end up being anyway. ↩