In my previous post (2 weeks ago, I know, I'm sorry for the gap! We went on vacation and the weeks flew by!) I started out a 3 part series talking about this concept called "scaling". I focused on business scaling in the first post in the series and now I'm going to talk about what Scaling in your life can mean.
Scaling literally means "to uniformly reduce or enlarge." In life, I find this to mean flexibly and with planned intention, meet the demands on you and your families life in an efficient and effective manner and all that, with minimal self-imposed stress and strain (rather, that which can be avoided!). Our lives are in some ways similar to a business but really, in many of the ways that matter, nothing like a business. We often have implicit goals, agendas, strategies and outlooks and perhaps sometimes even explicit and defined. We also have ways and means by which we achieve these goals and outcomes and produce the results we desire. This can be as simple as how we cook dinner for the family or more multifaceted like how we accomplish all the various life demands of a given week like making it to those soccer games, medical appointments, and spending much needed quality time with the family.
I think it's important to look at life through this "scaling" lens because I see many folks out there struggling with the demands of modern life, growing families, changing career and lifestyles, among other things. I also see many people who are successful and quite satisfied with how they flexibly meet the demands on them. I think an important distinction between "productivity" and "scaling" is that to be more productive means to use the resources you currently have in a more efficient and/or effective manner, i.e. more about decreasing inputs to maintain the same outputs. Scaling, on the other hand, means investing in resources (time, energy, tools, methods, support personnel, etc.) to ensure that when more demands come you're capacity and capability can maintain stability and sustainability as things change. I think there are a few key ideas that can help people smoothly adjust to the changing demands in life and do so with ease, cost effectiveness, and ultimately successful outcomes.
Principles of Scaling in Life
- State Your Vision and Principles Explicitly - as in business so in life, whether you state it out load or not, you have a "way of being" in the world and outcomes or a vision that you're tending towards. Whether it's "status quo and how it's always been" is your view or something provided to you by outside influences, it's there. One way to approach this is with simply asking yourself "If I'm "being" this way or that, what questions would I have to ask myself for this way of being and my circumstances to be the answer?" This is sort of switching the viewpoint and looking your life and principles in reverse. Sort of, deriving them from what's already there. That can then be a launching point to critical examine the vision and principles and discard those that aren't aligned to your values and perhaps add in some that are more in tune with who you really are and want to be in the future. I believe this step is critical, especially in life, because the question is "To what end am I living this life, in this way, with the people I love and care about (or maybe not as the case may be!)?"
- Prioritize - this is really important. As I've written about in other posts, modern society and life bring so much joy and abundance to our lives that there are unintended and ugly consequences. One of them is an abundance of choices, options, and demands on our time, attention, money, and other resources. This is another place that "life will happen to you" whether you want it to or not. Deliberate action is key here. You can prioritize your time, attention, and action to align to your principles and vision in many different ways. Steven Covey's "Urgent and Important" four square is one way (Urgent and Important, Urgent and Unimportant, Non-Urgent and Important, and Not Urgent and Unimportant). Taking a critical view in this way can help to eliminate those repetitive activities and resource sucks that are unimportant. Essentially all of those should be completely eliminated from your life. Another way to help prioritize your time is future oriented where you look at What's Easy/Hard to take action on and what's Low/High Payoff. The payoff can certainly be monetary but I also mean it things like "highest quality time spent with family" and "the best use of my time" sort of considerations. These are just two simple ways to categorize and eliminate the low priorities. Another approach is to write down all the weekly/monthly activities and attention/time/money grabbers in your life (an inventory of sorts) and do the 80/20 analysis I've spoke of often. Take the top 20 items that you get the most satisfaction and desired outcomes from and critically examine the other 80% to eliminate, delegate, or automate in some way.
- Eliminate, Delegate, Automate, Streamline, Retain - this deserves more consideration. We so often take on new activities, projects, attention grabbers, and resource consuming streams in life that they deserve a periodic examination and reformation. Again, this all might sound overblown and unnecessary but I know many people out there may be feeling as though "life happens to me, I'm not deliberately living...I feel as though my life is being lived for me" or some other version of that thought process. Taking that inventory of you and your families time and resource consuming activities and streams and eliminating where possible is a really big step. The rest could potentially be delegated or automated. Perhaps you'll retain as is and that's fine. Alignment is really key here. Automating means finding ways to reduce your "touch time" on these things where you can reduce or even eliminate your need to conduct this work or activities "hand's on". Maybe it's balancing your checkbook (plenty of online tools to help get to an automated state with this) or paying your bills (almost all regularly paid bills can be auto paid now). Caution: I always believe in human in the loop on most things financial so make sure to periodically audit your automated systems! Delegating means to share the load in your family perhaps. That can take time but training your kids in much that it takes to run a household can pay huge dividends in the long run. I feel that this is either forgotten, avoided, or detested in our day in age and so much is lost because of it. In "How Will You Measure Your Life" author Clay Christensen describes the outsourcing of many activities in the household that taught work ethic, self-reliance, and critical skills to the long term detriment of the kids ability to function well in society. That's why I start (if you have kids) with first delegating and sharing the work of your life across your family. Second to that, I am a whole hearted proponent of a Dream Team of Accountants, Certified Financial Advisors, Attorney's, General Physicians, and Health and Wellness Coaches. These are key dimensions in our lives that we under appreciate or avoid all together and we struggle accordingly. This Dream Team takes time to build but they provide SO much more than what appears obvious if you develop the relationships and respect their unique capabilities. I've been able to accomplish so much more in our lives as we've experienced deaths, career transitions, health related events, among other things with having a close at hand dream team of professionals to delegate the tasks associated with their work and professions. They're worth more than every penny you spend to work with them. There is much to be said about streamlining your time and resource consuming facets of your life. This is that dreaded "personal productivity" area of life but if you focus in on tasks and projects that are essential and repetitive in nature and figure out how to "trim the fat" from them, they'll open up time, attention, and resources to be devoted to other critical areas in your life.
- Create Systems to Thrive - processes are great, but systems will really enable you to accept the demands on your life with grace and ease. By systems I mean a set of decision heuristics, physical solutions, computer based solutions, etc. that most importantly remove demands you don't want before they even come to your attention, in the best case! This is as simple as spending the time to set up filters on your email clients, or physical mail sorting tools, or so far as a set of questions your family (or you and your partner) ask yourselves when a new opportunity surfaces to spend time, money, or attention on. Something like "is this aligned to our priorities we've set out for ourselves? Does this further our vision or take us farther away from it? Would a "no" or "do nothing" alternative be harmful or catastrophic to a relationship? Does this maximize the benefit of our money expenditure?" Again, I'm not promoting perfection here, but asking some level of questions and having a growing set of systems in place in your life can help tremendously with increasingly unavoidable demands on your life.
In this post I suggested that our lives could take some lessons from business to look through the lenses of "uniformly reducing or enlarging" our ability to meet demands in life: on time, money, attention, effort, or other resources. This, I believe, is one of the true unintended consequences of a modern, market based life of abundance in which we live. It's time we take the bull by the horns and do some bit of work and design to live fully and in purposeful ways and stop letting so much of our lives "happen to us". Contact me if you'd like to continue the conversation or for an initial consultation on "scaling your life" for the better!