HomeleaderLearning to love limits

Learning to love limits

I had a freeing observation a number of years ago:

I can’t do it all.

I’m a little slow to learn some things. Most of you are more advanced than I am so you probably figured this out long ago. But for me, I’m a work in progress so it took me a while.

I remember being in a seminar years ago where the instructor had us add up the activities we wanted or needed in our lives and how much time they would take. Things like:

  • work
  • family time
  • date night
  • exercise
  • time for reading
  • eating
  • faith practices
  • hobbies
  • sleeping
  • social activities
  • time to take care of things around our house
  • etc. (the list can go on for a long time)

Most of the people in the class ended up with 200+ hours per week that were needed to live the life they wanted to. Unfortunately there are only 168 hours in the week. So if we all had 4 extra hours a day we could live our ideal life. If you can get away with sleeping 3-4 hours per night you are in good shape. The rest of us have some hard decisions to make.

On the one hand that sucks. It would be easier if we could just have it all right?

On the other hand the limits can be great. Limits force you to identify the results you really want the most. Limits well managed force you to make the tough decisions with your time & energy to achieve those results. Limits help us focus.

In other words:

When focused, ‘I can’t do it all’ translates into ‘I can do some things VERY well’

In my work, at Blue Ocean Ideas I am the CEO. What does that even mean? I’ve struggled with that over the years. But I’ve arrived at two things that I need to focus on. If I do these well I am maximizing my contribution to my organization.

The first is this: My job is to create the ecosystem that will help my team thrive as we serve our clients and strive to tell the truth about who they are, faster. This can mean a lot of things:

  • making sure we are on point and have clarity on who we are and what we do
  • keeping our staff up to date with the technology, space, and other resources they need
  • creating very clear expectations for everyone involved in every project
  • finding the best people possible to work with – internally and externally
  • growing our staff as they become Jedis at what they do
  • keeping us relationally focused on how we serve each other
  • establishing what we can and can’t work on
  • pointing out and calling out our quality issues so that we can improve
  • encouraging people

Essentially, the first part of my job is to create a better place to work.. If I do this well we are generally healthy. If I don’t things start to fray.

The second part of my job, and the more client facing side, is making sure there is a clear strategy for everything we do. This usually looks like asking a LOT more questions than clients expect in every engagement. Many clients come to us saying “we need a new _______________ .” What they really mean is: “we want_______________ to happen.”

My job is to change the initial focus from the what to the why. And then it is making sure there is a how in the middle that will get us there. If I successfully help clients do that they thrive in their work with us.

If I do both of these things well I am on my game. The only way I can do that is by accepting my limits and focusing.

What are your limits? Do you embrace them or fight them? Do they help you focus or cause frustration?

Keep moving forward,


Written by

I am the CEO of Blue Ocean Ideas, a creative agency in Baltimore, Maryland. My job is to clarify the strategy and take care of my team. I am married to the beautiful Elise Rittler and we have four great kids. When I’m not at Blue Ocean Ideas or with my family I am riding a bike, running, playing ultimate frisbee, eating, or sleeping. There is a little more about me here.

4 Responses to “Learning to love limits”

By Sheila Cox - 7 February 2013

Great insights Greg! Too many business leaders beat themselves up about things they “should” be doing. So much more important to choose what you “will” do, then do it! And celebrate!

By greg - 7 February 2013

I couldn’t agree more Sheila. And if we focus on the “will” dos we will get better results regardless!

By Matt Felton - 8 February 2013

I’m working on a machine that add 4 hours to each day. In the meantime, this is some awesome advice.

By Tom Lynch - 9 February 2013

Great post. I’ve not worked with your company but one of your clients talks about the great work and insight Blue Ocean offers. Thos was a great first encounter for me. Best.

Leave a Comment