What the $1.5 trillion Federal budget deficit taught me about time management

I was listening to NPR today and they talked to a writer from Newsweek (whose name I didn’t catch, unfortunately) about this year’s $1.5 trillion Federal budget deficit. Everyone says we should fix it, but we can’t come to any sort of agreement on how. Since the vast majority of the population receives some benefit from the Federal government, either in the form of services or in tax benefits, balancing the budget necessarily involves pissing off very large constituencies, which is why few politicians seem to do more than talk about balancing the budget.

Then the Newsweek writer said something very interesting: large budget deficits are what you would expect to see in a democratic society that lacks a strong sense of priority and purpose. Instead of making the tough choices about what to fund (and what to NOT fund) based on what’s really important to us, we try to fund everything, and end up doing it all halfway and running up a huge debt.

I instantly thought of time management: don’t many of us play this same tired game with our time? We don’t want to make tough choices about what to cut from our time budget, so we juggle too many things while trying to “have it all” or “do it all”, and end up doing a bunch of things poorly, falling into mediocrity, and running up a deficit of time, money, or both. Just earlier today before hearing this story, I was contemplating my attempts to juggle too many projects and struggling to know which, if any, of them I should give up. This idea made it much easier.

I don’t want my life to resemble the current Federal government: an on-going war of different priorities and interests, vying for attention, and creating a dystopian clump of mediocrity. So I cut two projects from my life today. Maybe they’ll come back someday, but they’re officially on ice for now, and I’m down to three projects or areas that I spend my time and mental energy on. I hope to cut another by the end of the year, but that’s all I can say for now.

Does excellence require focus? Are there counter-examples? And if it does require focus, why is it so hard for some of us to just do one or two things?