A bad system will beat a good person every time.
– W. Edwards Deming

Tuesday was my first day back after a couple of weeks of stay-cating here in London. Doing London-y things, some of which I’ve been meaning to do since arriving 21 years ago.

It was a delicious time, and we got a ton of things done. Met with friends, swam in the ponds on Hampstead Heath, explored some of the cycle superhighways, took in the new Tate Modern extension, and discovered the silver vaults under Chancery Lane, to name just a few. Oh, and ate great food in great places. Fabulous.

Much of it cost nothing, and some things needed paying for. But independent of monetary cost, doing those things was not ‘free’ in terms of the effort to make them happen. We needed to do things – sometimes quite a lot – to make those lovely/inspiring/enriching things happen during the holiday.

I mention it because it was a useful reminder of why I prefer to run only one system for my entire life – as opposed to separating work from personal – and to run my whole life with the same approach that I take to my work.

To some, the idea of running one system for everything seems dangerous. Many are concerned that if they mix their personal life in with their work life, their personal life will be taken over by their work. That has sometimes been their experience to date, so the fear is understandable. I’m pretty sure it is misplaced, but it is understandable. I think the fear comes from a feeling of being out of control more generally, and not from any inherent incompatibility of having both work and personal mixed in one place.

The strange thing is, that by separating out work and personal it actually lessens the chances that the personal life gets appropriate attention. Why? Well, most people struggle initially to maintain one system at anything like the level we suggest, so maintaining two is – at least – doubly challenging.

Clarifying two sets of stuff each day? Two Weekly Reviews? You gotta be kidding me. I couldn’t do that. And if I was trying, I guarantee one of those systems would get more of my attention than the other, and it wouldn’t be the one for my personal life. It’s not wrong to run two systems, but it is more effort. Effort you probably don’t need when you are learning something new.

If you want to have a great holiday, a great weekend, or even a great evening, you are going to want to do some things that look a lot like ‘work’. You can’t just put your brain in a jar and hope things are going to work out. To have a truly great holiday on the beach or elsewhere, it is helpful to have done some serious prep. Much of that can be done ahead of time, but even spontaneity needs a bit of organising to make it truly special. Getting into good restaurants or getting massages booked requires some ‘work’, but the ROI is very high. Running those lists on holiday is no hardship whatsoever.

The idea that I need to do NOTHING during holidays is – I think – coming from a place of unsustainable work practices. If you are working in a sustainable way most of the time, there is no need to completely unhook when ‘on holiday’. You can be completely unhooking many times each day. That may sound like a fantasy, but it is what I see many of the world’s most successful people doing. They work very hard when they are on, and then they are off. Completely, until they are back on again.

I’m not suggesting that one should never disengage completely. Some of my richest thinking has been done while disconnected and on longer breaks. My take is that we need a full spectrum of options for how we choose to live our holidays, because our lives change and the circumstances of each holiday will be different.

It is not about having lists – work or personal – take over your life. This is not about lists. It is about living a rich and full life. The lists are simply there to support that, and to help you be more present while enjoying a restaurant in Roma, the beach in Rio – or a pond in north London.

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