Sometimes we get so busy working, going, doing, that we kind of forget why.
Dragging Around Dead Weight
Productivity for the sake of productivity is a terrible waste of a life. There is no real reward in simply checking things off of a list unless that list means something to you.
Does your list mean something to you? Or is it full of dead weight? You’re dragging around meaningless stuff and obligations because somewhere, somehow, they got added to your list… And now you’re not sure how to get them off.
Forgetting About Yourself
Sometimes I find myself staring at a list full of stuff that does mean something to me. I’ve chosen these duties, these responsibilities, these goals.
They matter to me.
But I find myself not caring.
This usually happens because I get things a bit backward. I start believing that I am my list. I start valuing my goals – and reaching them – more than I value life itself. And then I start pushing myself, too much.
I neglect the maintenance of the body and the soul; you know, things like rest, breathing, looking up at the sky, reading a great poem, having an actual conversation.
Productivity is a Means
Being productive is something I enjoy. By itself, for its own sake. And while that’s not bad, it can be confusing.
Because productivity itself is not an end, but a means. It’s a way of getting somewhere. If the somewhere isn’t a place you want to be, maybe you should stop rushing so hard to get there.
Maybe you should put down the list for a minute. Maybe you should pause and consider.
Maybe you should pull over and build a campfire, sit down with a beer and some friends, and give your self time to catch up with your list.
Task Management is Not the Goal
When I’m busy, and especially when I’m so busy that I am overwhelmed, my ideal day is simple: I want to get all the items on the list checked off.
But that’s not a good picture of me. That’s a one-sided glimpse, a half-image.
When I’m sitting still, I know better.
My ideal day is…
an early morning alone at my desk, creating something with words…
…and then it is unhurried time: time with family, time outside, time with friends, time to breathe, to read, to think, to help, to rest. Time to plan, perhaps, or finish something I started.
The appeal of ideal time has nothing to do with scratching tasks off a list. It has everything to do with getting the meaningless tasks out of the way so I have room for the stuff that matters to me.
When I think, “I wish I had time to get all this crap done,” what I’m really after is what comes after. The relief and the freedom to focus on the important stuff.
Not so much the crap.
An Alternative Approach
Here’s the trap: in order to get to the ideal day, to the important stuff, we have to scurry through this list.
We have to get all this crap done before we can get there. Doing these tasks is how we buy our own freedom. So we do them, we rush, we hurry, we are like little mice chasing bits of cheese.
But the list is a Hydra, and for every task we complete, two more appear.
We keep trying to conquer the list so we can win, and get through to what we care about. It doesn’t work that way. The list expands, and we use up all our time and energy before we even get close.
We need a different approach. A better approach.
An Exercise in Idealism
That’s what I’m going to talk about this week (you have been warned!) – how to approach the list, the burden, the obligations, the crap of life, and manage to get through/over/around it to the good stuff, the real, the ideal, the treasure of life.
Sorry for using the word ‘treasure’.
What I hope you will do is spend a little time thinking about your ideal day. But in order to do that, you have to avoid the two extremes that people tend to believe in.
The first extreme is the do-it-all ideal. You’re so overwhelmed and busy and burdened that your ideal is just a day long enough and productive enough to get through every single item on that never-ending list.
The second extreme is the do-nothing-at-all ideal. You’re so overwhelmed and tired and discouraged that your ideal is a day of nothing, no obligations, no interactions, no work of any kind, no effort, just rest.
We all need days like that, but neither one is your ideal day. Your ideal day is something in the middle. It’s getting things done, but the right things. It’s not pointless productivity, but it’s also not endless siestas poolside.
To get yourself where you can picture the true ideal day, give yourself the fantasy of the other two.
Ask Yourself: If I had a day when I got simply everything done, and then I had a day when I didn’t have to do anything at all, what would be next? What would I want next? What kind of day would I be looking for after I had cleared all my obligations and quit feeling sleep-deprived and resentful?
What’s your answer?