“I am getting worried. Lethargic is not your usual self.”
This was the response I got when I canceled yet another engagement. This time I told the truth: I am having a hard time keeping my eyes open, I feel exhausted. I don’t want to do this right now.
I told the truth. And yes, it is not usual for me to be like this, but this (this exhaustion, this stress, this feeling of defeat) is quite common among the modern city folks.
Do you have to force yourself out of bed too?
I ran into a colleague in the lift the other day. (Yes, yes, the elevator.) Of course it was snowing again, and of course, I had to say something about how I was tired of this weather. He agreed: “I can’t even get out of bed. Every morning it’s the same thing. I was wondering what it was, but …” Then he made this gesture, referring to the cold weather.
You and I already agreed last week that winter makes me miserable. Perhaps my colleague is like me. I mean, who is not looking forward to summer anyway?
But that’s not the only thing we have in common.
Let me ask you this. Remember that blog post about insecurity where I asked you to list your accomplishments every day? Think about the most important accomplishments on that list. Think about what you have on your calendar. Think also about the most important things you still need to do. And then think about what you would rather be doing. The list is getting longer, isn’t it?
I suggest that THIS is why we do not want to get out of bed! Because we have too much on our mind, on our calendars, on our plates. Job-related, health-related, family, diet, volunteering, the furry babies, friends, things to buy, to sell; get a haircut, the nails done, learn a language, go back to the gym, learn how to play the violin, and visit Japan, but when, and with what money. The constant thinking.
How to solve this problem, then? Some suggest meditation, and I will definitely get back to that too! But see? That’s one other thing to add to the list! Do you hear my silent screams?
What is the solution? It is this One Thing
In The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller provides a strong argument for prioritizing. Keller says that we should narrow the concentration to one thing and go as small as possible. In order for achievements to add up, you need to take out- subtract, not add, to your list of should’s.
The book’s main point is that things are not equal. You might have tons of things to do on your list, on your mind, on the calendar. The longer the list, the more stressed you get. The more items get checked, however, the happier you are. After all, the more time you spend, the busier you get, the closer you will be to success and happiness. Right? Wrong.
This is wrong because a to-do list is a survival list. It pulls you in all directions. You think you are accomplishing a lot, but years pass and you realize that you have not been able to focus on what really -really- matters to you the most.
“I really should work on my portfolio. I should also finish writing the book chapter today and submit it to the publisher, and try to connect with more people in the field. But I promised my girlfriend to get our nails done this morning, and I also need to edit my boyfriend’s blog post and call my parents and grade papers for work.” Sounds familiar? With so many things you want to do and need to do, there is not enough time for what you should do. Then you feel guilty: If only I had more self-discipline. If only I knew how to time-manage. How do the others are doing it?!
How do they do it?
Two responses to the question: “But how do the others do it?!”
- They don’t “do it”. They might accomplish a lot, but not the ones that matter the most.
- Or, they prioritize.
Basically, my dear internet friends, I suggest that we do this from now on:
List 20-30 things you want to, need to and should do.
Keep asking yourself what matters most until the list gets shorter and shorter. Leave 3 shoulds and 2 wants/needs. Within the wants/needs think about that one thing you should focus on. And, forget the rest of the list until you achieve these 5 which are the most important to you.
So it’s something like this
- Should work on the portfolio.
- Should write the book chapter.
- Should spend more time with my family.
- I want to get better at German—> I should practice modal verbs until I am excellent at that. Then I should move on to the next subject.
- I need to get together with friends more often—> I should get together with them once every two weeks, no matter what.
Again: Advice for success suggests that you forget the other items you want to do until you accomplish these most important items that have made it to your “success list”. And if you get distracted? You will have to do the laundry, cook, or help babysit. But nothing should dominate your day, except for the things that matter the most. Learn to say no to anything else until your most important work is done. Because, when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. I mean, there are only 24 hours in one day! You are not being selfish, you are being rational. Remember that it is scientifically impossible to actually multitask. What we see work is switching tasks. The focus alternates quickly from one task to another, such as when you walk while talking, or chew gum while watching TV. But other than these, can we please stop punishing ourselves for not being able to do something (multitask) that is scientifically impossible?
last but not least
One crucial factor that will cost you the entire success list is the question of “why?”. You should always keep in mind the reason why you picked that one item instead of another from your to-do list. As long as you remember the ‘why’, you will have the motivation to move on.
I recommend that you have a look at Keller’s book if you are struggling with focusing, managing your time, and subtracting from the to-do list!
Quotes to live by on the importance of focus and priorities
“Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.” Gary Keller, from The One Thing:
“An experienced factory manager once said to me, ‘Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.'” Charles E. Hummel, in Tyranny of the Urgent