Leave Unimportant Things Undone

One way of moving forward toward what is important for us is to realize that time is limited.

The problem is that even knowing that time is finite, we tend to organize our hours and days as if time were flexible by cramming even more things we want to accomplish. We should be explicitly aware of the hard limits of time. We need to acknowledge that we don’t have time for everything we want to do. Once we do, we can choose which balls are we going to drop to focus on what we value most.

From Oliver Burkeman, 4,000 Weeks:

The more firmly you believe it ought to be possible to find time for everything, the less pressure you’ll feel to ask whether any given activity is the best use for a portion of your time.

Becoming more efficient helps to a point, but then works against us. Being more efficient usually increases the demand of new things to do. However, few of us are in a position to avoid this trap because we are expected to be efficient at work.

Also from Burkeman’s book:

Because in reality your time is finite, doing anything requires sacrifice—the sacrifice of all the other things you could have been doing with that stretch of time. If you never stop to ask yourself if the sacrifice is worth it, your days will automatically begin to fill not just with more things, but with more trivial or tedious things, because they’ve never had to clear the hurdle of being judged more important than something else. Commonly, these will be things that other people want you to do, to make their lives easier, and which you didn’t think to try to resist. The more efficient you get, the more you become “a limitless reservoir for other people’s expectations,” in the words of the management expert Jim Benson.

Resist the urge to be on top of everything. Accept the discomfort of unimportant things getting not done, and focus instead on what’s truly important.

PS: The title of Burkeman’s book, 4,000 weeks, comes from the number of weeks in 80 years.

productivity gtd The One Thing time finitude goals

Join my free newsletter and receive updates directly to your inbox.