Yesterday, my folks moved to a new home, just one mile from where I live. They left a house that they had called “home” for more than 41 years. It was my home for 16 years, too. There are many memories and experiences wrapped up in that place. I remember like it was yesterday when I first set foot in that house on a cold January day in 1971. We’ll hold those memories dear in our hearts, and photos will help us recall many more. As you can imagine, the process of sorting through 41 years of accumulated possessions was not easy. My mom and dad did a fantastic job of deciding what to keep, toss, sell, or give away. My siblings and I all helped, too.
The process of helping them sort through their possessions has inspired me to work through my own home, room by room, to decide what to keep, toss, sell, or give away. The idea isn’t to make an inevitable move easier, although that would be a good outcome. The reason is that as I look around my own home, I see stuff that serves no purpose other than to clutter my life and sap my energy. (Why do I have instructions for a VCR that died years ago?) I also know there is sentimental memorabilia that would be worth enjoying again. (Yearbooks and medals from track meets help recall good friends and valuable life lessons.) There are other things that no longer have value to me but may be a blessing in someone else’s life. (Does anyone know how to price out a stamp collection?)
Getting rid of what is worthless, putting into others’ hands what is valuable to them, and re-enjoying what is valuable in my own life would be worthy. As a result of that work, I imagine a more focused and unburdened life. Isn’t that something we all could use?
Moving Day At Work
As I thought about undertaking that project, I realized there is a work-life equivalent to this exercise. There is value in assessing all of your commitments, responsibilities, activities, and even relationships to decide what to keep, toss, sell, or give away. When I think about the many executives I’ve worked with over the years. I can group them into two general categories: those who are undistracted and focused, and those who seem to lack direction and purpose. This latter group includes many highly capable, successful people. I wonder, though, what could they accomplish if they were to sort through their “professional possessions” and make clear decisions about what to keep, toss, sell, or give away.
What should I keep? Knowing what to keep is dependent on having a clear sense of personal mission or purpose. If you have a clear personal mission, you can evaluate how your commitments and activities support that mission. If you don’t have a clear sense of mission, discerning this is step #1. Nothing else I say here will be of much help. One way to know if you should keep a commitment is if it energizes you. That’s a sign that it supports your passion and mission.
What should I toss? The first thing to examine is dysfunctional relationships. I need to be careful here—you need professional help in making these assessments. In many cases it just isn’t possible to “toss” a relationship (family-owned businesses come to mind). Professional help (coaches and counselors) can help you navigate these muddy waters. But do so, because many of these relationships are destructive. The second area to examine is commitments that do not energize you. You may be on a team that you believe to be strategic to your career, but everything to do with that team drains you mentally and emotionally. This is counterproductive. Toss it.
What should I sell or give away? The concept of “selling” professional possessions doesn’t fit very well in this discussion. The idea is very similar, though, to the purpose of giving things away. The point is that most leaders have responsibilities that are a waste of their time. Once delegated to others, those responsibilities become a training ground for building others’ leadership or management skills. I frequently use this approach with clients. After identifying what the center of the leader’s work is, we begin to shave things off the periphery. Handing them to others in the organization helps to develop other’ skills and professional relationships. Another way to look at what to sell or give away is that it is a matter of stewardship. Why hang on to commitments and responsibilities that could be more valuable in someone else’s professional life?
I would like to hear what you plan to keep, toss, sell, or give away. Frankly, I’m most interested in what you plan to toss or give away. I believe these decisions have potential for the greatest impact on your leadership.
Update (August 5, 2013): See a follow up to this article, Moving Day – Part II.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Mom and Dad!