Last issue Kevin Miller reminded you that you don't have to know everything and posed five questions you can ask yourself when you're trying to select your key information areas. Read Part Two below to create your own short list and learn how to stick to it.
Creating your short list
Now you're ready to list your key areas for study, using the chart below. This will be a rough draft; feel free to erase or scratch out as you go. For each area of study, make sure it fits most or all of the 5 criteria:
- No one else in my team or life can be expert in this; it's something only I can specialize in
- This area of information can't readily be looked up or obtained elsewhere
- This is a subject on which I'm making major decisions or will soon
- The few key people in my work or life depend on me to know this
- This subject fits my life's calling and strengths.
If you're like me, you will end up with a short list, a modest list, a manageable list. Your goal is to eliminate enough topics so you can concentrate deeply on others. Eliminate and concentrate.1
Yes, you will lose knowledge of some things, which stings. I got an email from a man who described himself as "a Renaissance person: certificated educator, published composer, ordained minister, published author, Ph.D. professor, somewhat-effective executive, radio speaker, parachurch ministry leader, husband and father." He admitted, "It's hard to resist diversified learning, since life is so interesting!"2
I feel the same way. But the alternative to a short list is not more learning, but less effectiveness. Let T.D. Jakes describe what happens to the person who refuses to set priorities: "Overloaded people fail. They always have and they always will. Like an airplane, we can only carry a certain amount of weight. If we have too much baggage on board, we will be ineffective and we won't be able to soar. Most people end up exceeding the weight limit. Motivated by the desire to please, impress, or otherwise gain commendation, they take on too much and, in the end, fail to reach the heights of success or else crash because they ignored their limitations.
My Key Information Areas
(rough draft; don't worry if it's not polished
"In order to maximize your life, you have to minimize your load."3
By the way, your short list will change over time, and that's fine and necessary. My list 20 years ago, when I edited curriculum for youth groups, read like this: youth ministry, adolescent development, educational approaches, writing. I studied youth ministry and education. I stayed up to date on the trends, key thinkers, important developments. Now I ignore most information on youth ministry or education—not because those subjects are unimportant, but because they're not my current areas for learning.
Today, my list reads: paid-content online, leadership, new-product development, and preaching. Notice the vast realms of knowledge not on my list. For example, I don't study writing in depth as I once did. But at this stage of my life, writing is not the information area I need to study most.
Final check: If your list holds more than five key information areas, you probably are still not giving up enough. Remember the powerful premise of this chapter: you do not need to know everything. Less is more.
Refuse to be pulled out of your key areas by insecurity over what other people know—or claim they know. Alan Nelson, who pastors a church in Scottsdale, says, "It's easy to get intimidated by leaders who tell you about 12 books they've just read. But I have to ask, If I were to read those books, how would I really benefit? How would my people benefit? What good comes of it?"4