Doing Nothing at All – 3

Confusion, complacency, and dissillusionment

One thing I’m working on a lot lately is clearing up confusion in my life. Not confusion in general, which is a pretty much my norm,  but  confusion around hierarchy: what is important and what isn’t.

Like everyone else, I have way too many “inputs” and not enough “outputs”. Every day there are a ton of e-mails to answer, phone calls to return, as well as administrative work, scheduling, and cat videos to watch. These “to-dos” creates a haze around what’s important. In fact, what actually is important–in the grand scheme of things–probably isn’t even on the to-do list.

So how does this confusion screw us up? For one thing, we humans pretty much suck at multi-tasking, so we don’t get much done when we’re being tugged in many different directions. Adding to this drag, there’s a natural tendency is to try to “plan” and “act” at the same time – while we’re taking care of one task we think about what’s next or what else we could be doing. This is great because we get to feel busy and stressed without having to face the fear of actually doing something that would be truly meaningful.

So flowing naturally from this confusion comes another sort of state: complacency. We develop a habitual lack of urgency around the things that would really create a better life for us. Why? Because what is actually important in the long run almost always lacks urgency in the moment. Sure, as an intellectual exercise, I know that I need to write daily blog posts to create a great blog. But nothing really bad happens if I don’t. Life goes on if I sleep in. And sleeping in feels awesome.

Our cloud of “to-do’s” also serves as a ready-made avoidance mechanism that will quickly spiral to nowhere. I mean I do need to get to work on that blog post, but really how can I be expected to work with my desk so messy? Don’t productive people have clean desks??! Not to mention I should refill my coffee cup – wouldn’t want to be interrupted in the middle of my super productive writing with that. Oh damn there’s that one e-mail I should reply to, not to mention that scheduling thing I should work out this weekend. Did I pay that bill? Let me just pull up the website and see. Now wait what was I looking for? Oh check out that cat video!

Whenever I have a feeling that I spent my day busy accomplishing nothing at all, this is almost always the situation.

What happens when you’re confused about hierarchy and lack urgency for long stretches of time? Disillusionment. I sort of tried some stuff. Some sort of worked and some didn’t. I never really followed through. Something must be wrong with me, I guess I’m just mediocre. I should go to the gym and eat healthy. I mean BLAH, it’s like 10th grade teen angst all over again.

I think a lot of good people have this sense not because they don’t have goals, or work hard, or try, but because they naturally flow into this state out of confusion around hierarchy. It isn’t that they’ve given up, it’s just that the system they’re using is flawed.

The solution is to ward off this confusion – to create clarity, hierarchy and urgency. This means knowing what is really important, what is secondary, and what useless crap needs deferred forever. It also means making the things that are really important seem incredibly important at an emotional level. It means finding a way to feel like: “I’ve really got to get this blog post finished”, and relegating watching the cat video to the eternal “do it later” pile.

Here are some habits I’m working on to make this happen:

  • Pick one goal. Only one. What is the one thing that 5 years from now would make my life far superior? Is it a thriving coffee shop, a new trade, marketing my product. What? This doesn’t mean you don’t get to have other goals, but it does mean you pick one thing that takes precedence.
  • Set incentives–especially negative incentives–surrounding your goal. What will you lose if you don’t get to the gym? is wonderful in this regard. If I lose $50 every day I don’t get to the gym, you better believe I’ll get to that gym.
  • Regularly review your goal, plan, steps, etc. Allot ample time once a week to revisit what is most important in the long run and the steps you need to get there.
  • Plan your days out the evening ahead of time-the night before. Write the one-single-thing-I-must-accomplish-tomorrow, followed by three things I want to accomplish, followed by odds and ends. This one is tough for me – watching Netflix always seems more important than planning out tomorrow.
  • Do the most important work first thing. Just get over it and do it. No e-mail, no Facebook, no nothing. I just open my computer and write first thing while I drink my coffee. My one single thing is first, my three things are next, and my odds and ends are at the end.
  • Simplify – What can someone else do that is taking up time? What can I simply not do. Usually a lot of our “to-do” list is optional. What crap don’t I need on my desk? What crap don’t I need on my computer screen?

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