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Leading Life: Less is more

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Welcome back to the Leading Life series! I don’t know about you, but I often find that when I start to lose sight of something fundamental—something related to the person I want to be and the way I want to operate in the world—little reminders begin to pop up everywhere. The message that’s been buzzing around me over the past couple of weeks is this: “Less prep, more presence.”

Now, it didn’t initially come to me in that lovely, concise phrase. I need to thank a client (and possibly, indirectly, author Adrienne Maree Brown) for that. Instead, it first arose in a conversation with a friend (who happens to be a business school dean) who was reflecting on the critical importance of downtime to success both as a leader and in life in general. He told me that he had recently been faced with a choice: Work late to finish preparing for a morning meeting or head home for dinner with no expectation of returning to work later that night.

That he decided to stop working and have dinner as planned is great—and also somewhat countercultural—but that’s not what struck me. What really stayed with me was his reasoning, namely, that the participants in the meeting would be impacted more by how he showed up than by the specifics of what he said at the meeting. Arriving well rested and energized with an openness and curiosity mattered much more than having worked through every aspect of the agenda in excruciating detail.

That’s when my reminder-detector (aka resonance-meter) went off. Yes, I thought. So. True.

And yet, how often do we push ourselves to do just one more thing—to look into one more alternative or check one more fact or cross one more t and dot one more i—before something is ready to go? For many perfectionists like me, over-preparing is both our natural inclination and an attempt to trick our anxious minds into quieting down… if we’ve considered every possible form of opposition and anything that could possibly go wrong, then we have nothing to worry about, right? If only it were that simple.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we don’t prepare. Anyone who has ever run a successful meeting, given a presentation, or even thrown a party knows that these things take a lot of time and energy in advance. And, equally important, they take a lot of time and energy while they’re happening. And that’s the key point.

So as we face these daily tradeoffs, let’s all try to remember to check in and ask ourselves whether we must do one more thing or if our time might be better spent on something that may at first seem frivolous and unproductive. Because as we all know, downtime is anything but.

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