There’s an interesting trend going on in the productivity niche. For the longest time, the focus of productivity has been on how we can get more done. Here recently, the trend is on quitting.
That we’re at this stage in the dialect is fairly predictable. After years of being led by acolytes of the corporate masters into thinking that we need to get more done, we’re tired. We recognize that we can’t get it all done – so now we’re quitting.
Another reason we’re at the quitting stage in the discussion is due to the overwhelming popularity and influence of Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek. Tim makes a very strong and persuasive case for quitting – and the quitting bug has bitten many people.
But I think we need to think about something here. While I completely agree with Tim and the Quitting Cult that quitting is a logical option and, in some cases, the most reasonable course of action, let’s be real here – not too many of us are in the position to quit.
Take a second to consider that many of the disciples of the Quitting Cult share an important feature: they’re single.
Before I get tons of comments (okay, my readership is not that big) that cite many cases of married people with kids quitting and becoming happier or accusing me of blatant ad hominem, let me just submit that quitting and facing the prospect of not making ends meet for a few months is fine when you’re making that choice for yourself. When you’re making that choice for others, though, the consequences take on a completely different weight.
So, I think the Cult is right that many people are afraid to quit, but I also think that many people choose not to quit because they have obligations to others that they feel they need to see through reasonably, and quitting, often times, is not conducive to filling obligations to others.
But the Quitting Cult is also right – we can’t continue to live the lives we live the way we live them, and something has got to give.
Rather than being taught how to get more done (being more productive), we are in serious need of being taught how to do fewer things that are more valuable. What the rest of us need to be taught is the art of the strategic withdrawal.
What’s the difference between strategically withdrawing and quitting? The former is a program that allows us to fulfill the obligations that are value-added or important while not taking on any more that aren’t. It recognizes that there are some obligations that we have that we really don’t want, but that it’s nonetheless important to see them through. The starting point for strategic withdrawal begins with internal conditions, i.e. it starts with the type of life you want to live, rather than external conditions, i.e. being in a job you don’t like.
To be fair, Tim does a great job of designing a program that allows us to strategically withdraw without simply quitting. Those following in his footsteps may be stressing quitting more for the rhetorical point, and, if that’s the case, we may be advocating the same course of action.
At some undetermined point in the future I’d like talk more about the steps for strategic withdrawal in detail. But since I hate critiquing without supplementing it with an alternative, I’ll make some preparatory suggestions.
Don’t take on any more externally-motivated commitments from this point forward
You’ve already made commitments in the past. Whether or not you’ll be able to see them through is not quite the point yet. The point is to stop taking them on. Learn the art of saying “No.” Your default answer for all future externally-motivated commitments should be “No.”
Figure out what living from the inside out means for you in your context
So few of us have know how to live our lives from the inside out, meaning that we let societal standards dictate how we live our lives our rather than our talents, values, and goals. Until you figure that out, you’ll continue to do the wrong things unless you get lucky through experimentation.
I stress in your context because being homeless while starting a new business may not be for you and your family. It may turn out that you can’t live from the inside out right now – but you’re making a plan for what it looks like so that you can start acting on it.
Determine which of your current obligations are actually important to your vision
You may find that it’s important for you to finish something you’ve started even though you don’t like that task or don’t want to do it. The important thing is to do this on a case-by-case basis and not to decide that, holistically, you are going to be the type of person that fulfills obligations. Commitments are not all on par – some really do need to be let go.
Get out of commitment debt
Okay, you’ve figured out what needs to go. If it’s something that you can quit – do so NOW and don’t lose any sleep for doing so. If you can’t, figure out which of those obligations you can get out as soon as possible with as little work as possible. What’s most important here is that people know that you are downscaling and you want to see things through, but you’re not taking any more additional work than you need to.
Take the resources you gained from quitting or fulfilling your commitments and put them to completing the other unwanted commitments
Not what you were expecting, eh? It’s better to clear the plate of unwanted Stuff rather than leaving it on there to irritate you as you start your new lifestyle. The sooner you can get rid of the unwanted, the sooner you can start living your life commitment-debt free.
The key thing throughout the program is to quit making commitments in the areas you’re trying to get out of. The reason people are recommending quitting is because it immediately gets you out of the tug of the future from those things you quit. Continually withdrawing is hard because so few of us know how to say no and we’re all too likely to keep committing to things we don’t want to do.
Quitting may be the route to go for some people, but strategic withdrawal is the way to go for the rest of us.