I was asked in an interview recently what one personal habit or practice has saved me the most time in my life and helped me maintain focus. It was a good question. I want to tell you how I answered. I think it may help you.
My answer was simple: “I know what to ignore.”
Almost disturbing, isn’t it? Yet I can tell you that knowing what to ignore and then ignoring it has made a huge difference in my life. It has helped me achieve. It has guarded my health. It has strengthened my ties to the things I care about.
Here’s why. Leaders are exposed to more than they ought to be involved in. Their worlds tend to be larger than most people’s and so they are simply aware of more. They hear about more events, more trends, more new ideas, and more folks they ought to know than the average person. It is a wonderful benefit of being at the heights and in the networks leaders enjoy.
Yet if you don’t know what to ignore and you don’t stick by ignoring it, you will find your life dissipated into a thousand unnecessary things. You will become the proverbial mile-wide and inch deep. You will also become exhausted, uninspired, and uncreative.
I live in both Nashville and Washington DC. Perhaps you can imagine how many happenings call to me in both these cities. Nearly every moment of every day there is something going on, something I’m invited to, something that would be great to do, something someone has said I ought to do. If I don’t know what to ignore, if I don’t happily, lovingly conclude, “That’s not for me,” then I will invest resources into too many things. I won’t work wisely. I won’t love my wife and kids well. I won’t tend myself as I should. I won’t deepen and rest consistently.
You have to know what to ignore, yet nearly the whole of our society pushes you to invest time and attention in too much.
For example, years ago there was a bit of wisdom floating around some churches that people were quite excited about. It was this: Find out what God is doing and get involved. Now, I understand the intent here, but really? Find out what God is doing. Well, he’s doing dang near everything. He’s reaching to the hungry. He’s working to get people to pull down racial barriers. He’s caring for orphans. He’s involved with every person in every country on every continent on earth. So, I do want to serve God, but in my lane, according to my gifts, in the field he has assigned to me. Not everywhere, for heaven’s sake. That’s impossible and I’ll kill myself trying.
Yet I saw people scrambling around my home city, trying to be a part of everything they perceived God to be doing. It nearly destroyed them.
You want to know who you are, know what you are supposed to be about, and know how to guard your boundaries. You have to know yourself and where you are heading. Then you have to ignore things in order to get there. This is simply part of life, and it is more a part of life for leaders.