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The Art of Radical Exclusion

Here’s the idea: we make time for what’s important to us.

If I fail to fulfill a commitment I’ve made in a timely manner, it’s because of a conscious choice I’ve made. If I don’t return the phone call I said I would, it’s because I chose to do something else.

I may or may not have a good excuse for why I failed to honor the commitment, but one thing’s for sure: if I make a habit of it, I will soon lose the trust of the person who had relied on me.

To prevent this from happening, I sometimes practice the fine art of radical exclusion. This is where I deliberately ignore or decline any number of inputs, messages, or requests for my attention in order to focus on what I decide is more important.

Some people think this is rude, but I see it as directly related to fulfilling my primary commitments – the ones I’ve made to family and close friends, the ones that call for great work, and the ones that will ultimately change the world.

The theory of radical exclusion is that if I’m chasing down voicemail and hanging on every email, I’m probably not changing the world.

The application is that, from time to time, I close up. I don’t take any more inputs for a while. I learn to say these things, repeatedly:

Sorry, I can’t commit to that.

I regret I will not be able to meet your expectations.

I am working on other commitments that will not allow me to take on any additional tasks at this time.

Antisocial? Perhaps. Rigorous? Certainly.

But in the end, we make time for what’s important to us. To fulfill some commitments, others must be excluded. You can do this bit by bit, but sorting out each request requires the use of time and energy you’re trying to gain. If you make the time (there’s no such thing as “finding” the time), you might be surprised at how beneficial this is.

Then, when you do resurface to the world of constant interruptions and continual requests, you’ll see it probably won’t have changed much while you were in exile. Instead, you’ll have changed, and you’ll emerge with more (good) work complete than you ever could have done without shutting things off for a while.

Try it sometime.


Photo by Eduardo