Priorities: It’s not what you do, but what you don’t do. (Music and Thoughts)

I mentioned that one song was missing from my 30-Day Poem/Song Challenge. Well, here it is:

While you watch & listen, here are some of my thoughts from the past few days. I’ve had some interesting conversations and listened to more of Steve Pavlina’s podcasts (such as this one on achieving goals) and I’ve started thinking about my goals. I’m notorious for not setting any, so this list is not very long, but if you’ve been following my blog you’ll have seen that I have at least one:

I will develop awesome time-management skills and habits. -Me, several weeks ago.

Well, I started thinking about ways in which I could try to accomplish that goal. One of Steve’s strategies is to become the person who has already achieved it. As I thought more about what sort of person has amazing time-management skills, I realized that the person I was imagining was not very spontaneous or adventuresome, two traits I hold in high esteem. With that realization came questions: Then who do I want to be? What skills and habits do I want to have?

I began to redefine the problem, from “not managing my time well enough” to “not managing my activities well enough”. What I realized is that my main problem isn’t with missing deadlines but with wasting time. It’s not that I feel like I need to procrastinate less. On the contrary, Parkinson’s Law (Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.) makes a fairly strong argument for procrastination. If I do things earlier than they need to be done, I’ll likely spend more time doing them then they really need.

A New Approach

Today I decided I would try a different tactic: I made a list of all of the things that I wanted to potentially spend my time doing today, and tried to do only things on that list. I added some things as the day progressed, but the point of the exercise was to be doing only things that I consciously wanted to do. I have a strong tendency to get sidetracked by activities that in retrospect I judge to be wasteful. These include reading shallow blog articles, wandering around on Facebook, and having long circular arguments with my friends. These activities are entrancing but not engaging — tempting but not really worthwhile. Instead, I want to do more reading, writing, exercising, and having deep and meaningful conversations with people.

The today-plan worked out alright. I had two items on my list that I had marked as high priority (see below) and I got both of them done. The flexible schedule I gave myself worked particularly well today because the two high-priority tasks were ones I wanted to do anyway and knew I would enjoy (recording the video above was one). I’m not sure how well this would work in a circumstance where I have a large unpleasant task with a faraway deadline. We’ll see, though. I’ve managed to get those things done before though.

This is how I've been making my todo lists for several years. The bottom item type · is new, but necessary for my new paradigm as it allows for items I'm allowed to do that are infinite, eg. read.

In working through this new strategy, I’ve come to realize:

It’s not what you do, but what you don’t do.

That is, as long as I’m not doing anything wasteful, then I’m either doing something valuable or doing nothing. If I define the latter to be meditation, then it’s still worthwhile. Exactly what I do isn’t really that important – as deadlines approach, enough pressure will build that the things that need to get done will get done.

I’ve yet to determine exactly how this will affect my spontaneity, but for now my rules will be as follows:

Rules

  1. I will keep a daily list of activities I may engage in.
  2. I may modify the list at any time during the day.
  3. There is no limit to how long the list can be.
  4. I will not spend a significant amount of time engaging in other activities.

Rule 2 lets me be spontaneous, because if I discover an interesting activity I feel is worthwhile, I can take part in it… as soon as I add it to the list. This forces me to make a conscious decision “Yes, this activity/event will add value to my life” before I undertake it. Otherwise, it’s all to easy to just do it without truly considering if I really want to.

For rule 4, I haven’t decided exactly what the threshold for significance is, but I think probably about 10 minutes on any one activity per 3 hours, and 30 minutes total on any extra activities within the 3 hours. I should probably use some sort of timer that I set every time I start one of these activities, that will sound after 5-10 minutes to force me to either decide that what I’m doing is meaningful or stop. The former case would apply to finding a really captivating article or something on the internet.

I’ve created a new page titled “My Life“, that will keep a current record of exactly what rules I’m following as I live my life. The link ought to stay at the top, so if you find myself on my blog in the future you can see what challenges and so on I’m currently engaged in.

One final remark: I’m observing with some interest that while I seemed to be taking a blacklist approach, what I’ll actually be creating daily is a whitelist. I suppose because otherwise, if I wanted to permit myself to have half an hour of Facebooking, I’d have to take it off a list, which seems strange. Would I then put it back on the list when I decided I’d had enough? I’m going to try it like this for now, and see how it goes!

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

Stay focused on what matters
Check out Complice, a web-app that I built to help people achieve their personal & professional goals. Complice logo
Follow me on Twitter!
496 feed subscribers