Finding the Time and Place to Do What’s Important

urgent importantMy life is too complicated. As happy as my life is, it would be happier, and much more productive, if it were simpler.

What complicates it most is that I’m trying to do too many things, and hence don’t have enough time to do them all properly. Often I don’t even have enough time to think about how to do them properly before I start to do them. I keep advising other people: Don’t try to do too much. Do one or two things really well. I need to start taking my own advice.

Like everyone else, I do what I must, then I do what’s easy, and then I do what’s fun. The urgent stuff gets done, while the important stuff (the important conversations, the important expressions of love, the important creating of community) keeps getting deferred. We all need to have some time for ourselves, just for fun, time to recharge, or we’ll burn out.

Our world has two critical scarcities: Shortage of time (enough to think and talk and understand what we need to do to make the world a better place), and shortage of space (enough land to be home to Model Intentional Communities that can help us experiment and learn a better way to live and make a living). My biggest challenge for the next few months at least will be striving to address these two scarcities

The only way to address a scarcity of time is to stop doing some things, to free up time for others. When I got sick eighteen months ago I learned, of necessity, how to stop doing some things. I gave myself time to heal, to do what was important instead of what was most urgent. I learned to just say ‘no’ to urgent, unimportant things. I have to learn to do that again. 

One way to do this is to allocate time in each day for things that are important, and squeeze the amount of time allotted for urgent unimportant things, to discover whether they’re urgent after all, to discover what will happen if these urgent things — housekeeping, responding to administrative messages, minutes of meetings, attending meetings, polite but unimportant social obligations etc. — just don’t get done at all.

So, for example, a 24-hour day might be allocated to the following important activities:

  • 9 hours a day for sleeping and personal hygiene
  • 2 hours a day for physical exercise — running, meditation, working out, yoga, hiking etc.
  • 3 hours a day for play — learning things you love, having non-competitive fun, just paying attention and being in the moment, and expressing love and joy in different ways
  • 3 hours a day for conversation — not small-talk, conversations with intention (this time could include meal-times)
  • 2 hours a day for reflection — thinking, reading/watching/listening to actionable information and stimulating entertainment content, and deciding, thinking ahead, considering what it all means and what needs to be done as a result
  • 2 hours a day for creation — writing, model-building, sketching, composing
  • 3 hours a day for action — first/next steps towards doing important things, productive actions that make the world a better place

This leaves no time at all for urgent, unimportant actions:

  • 0 hours a day doing work that isn’t one of the above types of activities
  • 0 hours a day for administration, paperwork, ‘non-value-added’ work
  • 0 hours a day driving to and from places
  • 0 hours a day shopping
  • 0 hours a day waiting
  • 0 hours a day for chores
  • 0 hours a day for small talk
  • 0 hours a day for reading/watching/listening to mindless, unactionable stuff

Some people spend their entire waking lives doing these urgent, unimportant things, things they are expected to do. Thinks that everybody else does.

How do we stop doing these things? Here are a few ideas, things I’m working on:

  1. If your work isn’t about conversation, reflection, creation and action on important things, be entrepreneurial and make work that is.
  2. Find someone else to do the administrative stuff — some people actually enjoy it: for them it’s play.
  3. Drive less, or at least do other (non-distracting) stuff while you’re driving — converse (hands free), record your thoughts, reflect.
  4. Buy less, so you have to shop less. Buy stuff that lasts longer. Make it yourself instead of buying (an act of creation, play, and sometimes even exercise).
  5. If you have to wait, read, reflect, converse, meditate, or create while you wait. Don’t just stand there.
  6. Own less, so you have fewer chores. Find other things you can do while you do whatever chores are left. Do them manually, so they count as exercise.
  7. Swear off small talk. Instead, converse about something important. Or pay attention and play (flirt, for example) instead. Or dance and sing (creative and good exercise).
  8. Entertain yourself. Don’t go to the movies or watch TV or read headlines. Improvise. Make something. Do something. Innovate. 
  9. Share chores. They’ll be done faster, and you can do other things together while you do them. Collaborate.
  10. Learn to say ‘no’. You can’t be everything to everyone, and you can’t do everything. Clear everything off your Getting Things Done list that isn’t really important to you. All those e-mails awaiting a response from you? Say ‘thank you’ if they’re useful; phone or set up an appointment if that would be useful; otherwise file them away forever or delete them, done.
  11. Move the important things closer together so you can do more than one of them at a time. Find or found a community of people you love, work with, and learn from all at the same time. 
  12. Practice being better at what’s important: Learn to become a better conversationalist, a better player, a better actor, a better thinker, a better reader, a better lover, a better friend.

That’s it for finding the time to do what’s important. In future articles I’ll look at how to find the space for what’s important (specifically, land for intentional communities and space for Open Space), and how to find the people to do important things with (as soon as I figure that out myself).

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3 Responses to Finding the Time and Place to Do What’s Important

  1. David Parkinson says:

    Thanks for this timely one. After two weeks spent during the holidays with my father in suburban Toronto, I’m back to work & feeling almost instantly overwhelmed by the ridiculous number of small things I have to try to keep track of. I’m good at that, luckily or unluckily, so I tend to take on too much and have people drop things on me. It’s a fine line between good and busy and too damn busy, and I’m not always sure I can tell with certainty which side of the line I’m on.If I didn’t work so few hours, I’d be in real trouble. The key for me is: need less, therefore work less.

  2. Jim Camasto says:

    You’ve got sleeping and exercise and hygiene… But, where’s the food? Specifically, where’s the hrs/day alloted to procuring, preparing, and eating each day? I presume it’s accounted within some of the other items – to be multi-tasked – but it seems to important to leave out or subsume under something else (like “chores”?).How we get our (healthy) food is elemental. It is the foundation for everything that makes satisfying, self-sufficient, sustainable, non-hierarchical, loving lifestyles. -Jim

  3. These are good thoughts to start the year with, too.As for buying less, one great outcome of having less money, we’ve found, is that we have less trash going to the landfill. We recycle more, both by using things a second time at home, and then by sending them out to recycle. Sometimes we even let a trash day go by without having anything to be picked up. We’re also driving a lot less. We have a rich, busy, full life. We take joy in things like weather changes and sunrises, even a beautiful rock we find in the yard or a new bird that visits. Things we would miss entirely if we were in spending/landfill-ing mode.

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