This magical time of year I am reminded of an annual ritual called ‘inventory’. I worked at a small-town grocery store from fourth grade through high school, and beyond. Every December the staff gathered and literally counted everything in the store. No computers, just big sheets of paper taped to pieces of cardboard boxes. I always enjoyed math, so this was enjoyable. I also enjoyed singing – my coworkers liked my counting a lot more than my caroling.
Ironically, my wife also did inventory at her different small-town grocery store. During Christmas break while at college, I was invited to help with inventory at her store! This was a far better experience than in my hometown store. First, I got to spend time with my girlfriend/future wife. We also had better ‘inventory pay’. In my store we got a ‘jelly of the month’ card for doing inventory. At her store, we all went to the café at the bowling alley and had steak. Sweet!
Inventory provided the owners of our respective stores a snapshot of how successful they had been that year. It also provided the IRS the information they needed to levy some sort of tax. Consequently both store owners wanted their inventory to be as small as possible at the end of the year.
Taking inventory at the end of a year might also be an appropriate exercise for our personal and professional lives. One time-management/life balance writer suggested there are five key areas of life: personal, family, career, community, and spiritual. Achieving the proper balance of time and attention to each of these will generally result in a happy and fulfilled life.
Perhaps taking inventory of how things are going in these five areas might be useful. We can ask ourselves questions similar to the following:
- What went well this past year?
- What were the year’s disappointments?
- What happened that was a surprise?
- What activities did I value and enjoy doing?
- What discipline would I like to do more consistently?
- What gave me the most joy?
- What was the most fulfilling?
- How did I learn and grow?
- How did I add value to others?
- Is any area of my life taking more energy and time than is wise?
You get the idea. It’s not always an enjoyable exercise, but it can be powerful.
As we all look forward to next year, we may discover that some activities merit less attention; some may require more. We all have the same number of hours each year. No more. No less.
In our increasingly busy lives, it seems as if it becomes more and more difficult to squeeze in all the things we think we need to be doing. In a previous blog, “Doing More with Less”, I noted that one way to be more effective is to eliminate process waste. Inventory is one of the seven types of waste. As we take inventory of our lives, we may find that we have ‘inventory’ that simply wastes the hours we have for accomplishing more important things.
How can we reduce our personal inventory? What can we simply stop doing? What things do we need to do less frequently? How can we take less time doing ‘must do’ activities by doing them differently?
The results of this evaluation might mean changes are necessary. Change can be hard. John Maxwell suggests that when making a decision to change, we should adopt one critical discipline and start by devoting a few minutes each day to doing it. Things become easier once they have become a habit.
As I was writing this blog at a local cafe, a retired school teacher in the next booth named Terry Baty asked how my book was coming along. I assured him that it was not a book, just a blog. We visited a bit, and he shared that he’s been planning for years to write a book. Terry – good luck getting it started. I’m rooting for you!
I assume with scanning and computerized inventory control technologies, taking inventory ‘old school’ is perhaps a thing of the past. Yet, taking inventory of our personal lives is as valid and useful as ever.
My best wishes for you to have an accurate inventory and positive changes next year!
I’d write more, but I have the urge to go to the store and count some cans….for old time’s sake.