I slept in today. Or, rather, I lay in bed, listening to the birds, smelling the Spring air, daydreaming, thinking about what I would write about today, trying to shut out of my mind all the other things I ‘had to do’. As a seasoned procrastinator, I knew that when those other things became urgent enough, I would haul my ass out of bed and get to them.
There is method to this madness. The decision on What To Do Next is the one we are most practiced at, and if we don’t get very good at it, we end up making a mess of our lives. I thought about the things from my Getting Things Done list. The list isn’t that long, and most of what’s on it has been there awhile and is etched in my memory), I thought about the ones I would try to get accomplished today. In the order I will probably start working on them they are:
I know myself pretty well. I will accomplish #1, #2, either #3 or #4 (the other will get done tomorrow), and a part of #5 or #6. Eight hours’ ‘work’ in total. I’ll reward myself by reading or listening to music this evening.
But what subconscious criteria did I use to make these decisions? And how did I decide not to do anything today about any of the other 35 items on my GTD list, which include:
In the spirit of my recent posts on self-experimentation, I tried to come up with a quantitative measure of the factors I would have considered in making these decisions to see what ‘rules’ I was using for deciding what to do next. The factors included:
L = How much I like doing these things
G = How good I am at doing these things (or how good they are for me)
N = How much this work is needed by someone other than me
A = How much this work is appreciated by someone other than me
These factors correspond to the three circles above, reflecting our Passion, our Gift and our Purpose, which to some extent determine how we ultimately ‘choose’ to make a living. The critical factors in my Getting Things Done list (in deciding what to do next) are:
U = How urgent it is that this work get done today
I = How important it is to me, ultimately, that this task or project get accomplished eventually
E = How easy it will be (will I be in the right place with the right people, energy & tools) to do this today
Time demand (how long it will take) is also a factor, but long tasks can always be broken up into shorter ones if they meet all the other criteria. What’s more, I will also do a whole bunch of other small, short tasks today, that won’t ever make it to the list. So while I didn’t want to lose track of time demand, I didn’t include it as a factor.
I looked at the 14 tasks that I had decided to do (or not do) today, and assigned them a score (2=high, 1=moderate, 0=low) for each of the seven factors above. I added in ‘reading and listening to music’ as task #15, because that’s what I know I will do this evening. Here’s what the scores looked like:
I already suspected that these seven factors didn’t have equal ‘weight’ in the decision on what I will do next. It isn’t as simple as adding up the totals for each row and picking the largest total. But I was surprised to discover how simple the rule was for determining what I would do today:
If U=2, do it today. If (U+E)>1, do it today if time permits. If (U+E)<2, defer it to tomorrow.
This may only be true for me. If you’re sufficiently anal to try the above exercise for yourself, I’d be interested in your findings. If it is true, that we do what’s urgent or easy, and defer everything else, this has some sobering implications. It means we don’t (until/unless it becomes urgent or easy) do what we most like doing, or what’s needed by others, or even what ultimately on our deathbeds we will consider our most important accomplishments.
The art of procrastination is pushing off difficult tasks (i.e. E=0) until they become urgent (i.e. U=2). That can require some considerable rationalization, and even some dread as U moves from 0 to 1 and then inexorably to 2. Thinking about some of the all-nighters and 16-hour-days I’ve pulled, they were usually situations where there was one large task, or a whole bunch of smaller ones, all with U=2 and no tomorrow. Of course it would be logical to see these coming and plan your time so that you didn’t face that crisis, but then we’re not logical, are we?
Some of you may wonder why I consider my daily blog post (task #1) to be urgent. I’m not sure of the answer to that, but I know I really sweat if I miss a day, and I rarely do, even if there are other urgent tasks on the agenda. Likewise, you might argue that if the blog (task #1) is urgent, then the related blog comment responses and e-mails (task #5) are urgent as well. But e-mail is one of those perverse tasks that can actually become less urgent if you procrastinate and put it off. People will eventually give up expecting a response. When I do get my e-mails and blog comment responses up to date, then it become urgent to keep them that way. But sometimes, like now, I relapse. I’m only human.
So what use is all this? I’m not sure if it makes me feel better about myself (I’m just being who I am), or worse (that string of N=0 for everything I will do today makes me look awfully selfish). If it’s true, though, at least for procrastinators, what could we do to increase the sense of urgency or ease, for the things that make us happy, for the things we’re good at, for the things that are needed or at least appreciated by others, for important things, so that they actually get done? Before blogs came along, writing a daily column and engaging with hundreds of people on the issues it covers would have been impossible. Then, the 2-3 hours we now spend blogging were spent doing other urgent or easy things — in my case mainly wasting time watching TV or reading newspapers. By increasing the ease of writing and sharing your ideas with others, blogs and other social network tools have arguably enabled us to make ‘better’ use of our time.
I’ve suggested before that the best way to make a difficult (E=0) but important (I=2) job easier (increase E to 1) is to break it down into manageable tasks, or to collaborate with others and share the load. That sleight-of-hand works sometimes, but often we can still see how difficult the whole task is, and if it’s not urgent (U=0) that still won’t be enough to get it done.
If we suddenly discover we only have a few months to live, then doing all the important things (I=2), the needed things (N=2), the appreciated things (A=2), the things that make us happy (L=2), immediately becomes urgent (U=2), and then we do these things (if we can). Why should it take such a horrible revelation to make us start doing the things that make us happy, make us follow our passion, do what we were arguably meant to do? Just as the Shangri-La Diet ‘fools’ our bodies to believe we are less hungry than we really are, is there a trick that could ‘fool’ our minds to believe that everything that makes us happy is urgent? Living every day as if it were our last is a nice homily, but how could we actually learn, or trick ourselves, to do it? To start doing the things that are not ‘merely’ urgent?
Or are we so accustomed to urgent tasks being onerous and unpleasant that if the things that make us happy were suddenly urgent, they wouldn’tmake us happy anymore anyway?
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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