I first heard about this book at SQL Saturday #51 when I was talking with Joe Webb and Thomas LaRock. Joe was describing the basic premise of the book, which is that everyone has more to do than can possibly be done. As a result, someone is going to get less of us than they want. Unfortunately, too many folks choose to let the family take that hit, which is completely illogical (I’ll explain in a bit). Then Joe Webb posted a quick blog post about the book, so I went ahead and grabbed it and read it.
If you’re looking to get more efficient with what you do by looking at a program like Getting Things Done, you want to read Choosing to Cheat first. Part of the Getting Things Done system is understanding your priorities and goals. GTD has the same premise as Choosing to Cheat: you can’t do everything you want to do or that people expect you to do. So you’re going to have to make choices. Either you can consciously make choices which support your priorities, or you can be driven by whoever is screaming loudest right now.
Why should you read Choosing to Cheat first? Quite simply because it lays out things in a logical manner as to where our priorities are and where they should be. Right up front I’ll point out this is a Christian book written by Andy Stanley, son of Dr. Charles Stanley. And Andy does use Scripture to back up his points. However, he doesn’t just use Scripture. He uses great illustrations that get his message across, he argues logically why some of the choices we make are illogical, and why when we often choose to do nothing because we think that dealing with an issue will cause severe problems, what we’re forgetting is that by not doing anything, those problems come about anyway. Here’s an example:
Work and family compete it today’s world. We can’t give enough time to either one to fully satisfy one or the other. There will always be more work and there is always something else we can do to build our family, to grow our relationships with our spouse and children. So we’re forced to make a choice of how to allocate our time. We’re going to have to cheat someone, but who? For most folks, it’s easy to give work more of our time. However, this is an illogical choice. In today’s work environment, we may have a great boss and work for a great organization, but one change in managers or in the economy or whatever else you can think of can change everything. I’ve seen it in every civilian job where I’ve worked and so likely have you. So we can pour time above and beyond into our jobs where we could find ourselves out the door tomorrow. And that’s what a lot of folks do. Or we could pour our time above and beyond into our families, who generally accept us unconditionally, who aren’t going to put us out the door tomorrow on a whim (even when we think it’s a small issue that’s caused a schism, it’s usually a build up over time of a lot of little things… death by a thousand cuts, basically). And that’s where the logic hits home: why do pour extra effort into a relationship where we could be dropped tomorrow over a relationship that is unconditional and sustaining?
Now based on the title you might think that Andy Stanley is recommending you shirk work for family. That’s not the case. You still do your best. You still look to be as productive as possible. However, you make clear determination of what is acceptable and what is not. For Andy, even as a pastor of a church plant, that meant coming home at 4 PM every day because his wife, with two young children, needed him badly at that time. She had a full time job with the children and by the time 3:30 PM rolled around, she was about spent. She needed someone to spell her. So Andy made the hard choice, after talking and discussing with his wife, to be home at 4 PM every day. He wasn’t going to cheat his family any longer. But that didn’t mean he could leave off his responsibilities, either. It meant working better with others. For instance, he delegated some of his counseling to other members of the church staff. He made sure meetings didn’t him past the 4 PM time frame. That meant coordination and negotiation. You get the idea. He still had work that needed to be done, and he still had to figure out how to get it done without the “luxury” of throwing a bunch of extra hours at it.
Even if you’re not a Christian, this is a good “work-life” or “life-work” balance book to read. It helps one put things in proper perspective. And it gives real, practical advice on how to approach making the appropriate changes to reallocate your time accordingly. Most folks can’t go in and blindly tell their bosses, “These are my hours and you’re going to like it!” After all, we have a relationship with our bosses, too. There’s a way to approach our work superiors. Andy’s example is out of the book of Daniel from the Bible, but it is logical, it shows proper commitment, and it is respectful to all involved. Anyone can apply these principles to see if work is amenable to allowing a change to occur. And there’s also practical advice if the answer is, “No.” That’s reality. Not everyone is going to say, “Yes,” or even, “Let’s give it a try.”