What’s Important?

I’m currently trying, albeit somewhat haphazardly, to simplify my life. I’ve tried this before with varying success. One aspect is dealing with information, of which there are mammoth amounts these days (in a way it’s effectively infinite).

However time isn’t so unconstrained. Consequently I’m once again trying to improve my handling of to-do items, capturing and storing information (so that I can actually find it when I need it) and using all this to make better and faster decisions to hopefully release more free time etc etc.

However some of this I actually like doing for it’s own sake as it gives me pleasure eg reading reviews of clever new software, getting to virtually ‘know’ the developers, trying out and using it and being (occasionally) delighted at what it can do.

Some of this activity is patently useful as it keeps me up-to-date with developments in an area where things are moving fast but some of it is just going round in circles which can then be a bit dispiriting eg did I really just spend 3 hours to eventually come back to what I was doing anyway? If I was bored or needed a break, why didn’t I just go out for a walk in the fresh air? I even live near a nature reserve!

This is a good example of focusing on tactics rather than strategy and of easy fun versus discipline.

This point, together with it’s concomitant emotional triggers, is perceptively discussed by Ed Batista in a recent blog post:

The first step is to reframe the issue. Viewing a full inbox, unfinished to-do lists, and a line of disappointed people at the door as a sign of our failure is profoundly unhelpful. This perspective may motivate us to work harder in the hopes of someday achieving victory, but this is futile. We will never win these battles, not in any meaningful sense, because at a certain point in our careers the potential demands facing us will always outstrip our capacity, no matter how much effort we dedicate to work.

So the inbox, the list, the line at the door are in fact signs of success, evidence that people want our time and attention. And ultimate victory lies not in winning tactical battles but in winning the war: Not an empty inbox, but an inbox emptied of all truly important messages. Not a completed to-do list, but a list with all truly important items scratched off. Not the absence of a line at our door, but a line with no truly important people remaining in it.

The next step is to stop using the wrong tools. We expend vast amounts of energy on “time management” and “personal productivity,” and while these efforts can yield results at the tactical level, they’re futile when it comes to the strategic task of triage. Remember: this is not about making a list but deciding where the cut-off point is and sticking to it.

Finally, we need to address the emotional aspect of triage, because it’s not merely a cognitive process.

So, it makes you think, what have you encountered or addressed today that is actually important? Important may of course be something intangible like getting an insight for something that has been germinating for a while, or having an inspiring conversation that changes your mood or viewpoint completely. It doesn’t just have to be a task.


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