Today I decided to just handle everything that's been backing up, but hasn't been a top priority. I set up invoicing for the island and began to collect money from everyone to pay for upcoming expenses. I bought socks. I listed a bunch of stuff on ebay that had been collecting dust for months on my "to sell" shelf. I began the process of switching banks for the island, to avoid monthly fees. I vacuumed. Once I write this, I'll start dealing with the mountain of emails I haven't responded to.
These things have to get done, and it's nice to bring them to a close for their own rewards, but the real benefit is how smoothly everything else goes afterwards. What a feeling it is to work on a big project with no collection of minor tasks nagging in the back of your mind.
Besides the low-level nagging, these unimportant tasks can unexpectedly become top priority. If your sock suddenly has a big hole in it, you have to interrupt your work to buy new socks. This interruption of big blocks of time is toxic.
That's the important thing to remember when considering taking one day to consolidate and deal with buildup. It's not that any of these things in isolation, or even in combination, are more important than your big projects, it's that by getting them out of the way, you can give your big projects the time, focus, and attention they need.
I should probably do it more often, maybe every week or two, but my trigger is when I feel stressed out by things that normally don't stress me. I examine why, and it's always the same thing: I feel overwhelmed by little things that I'm not prioritizing.
Make the time to handle these little things. Maybe today, or maybe this weekend when other people aren't working. Make a big list of everything that, if completed, would make you feel great, and just start chunking through them. Don't worry about whether they're worth doing or not, just keep going.
Pay attention to how you feel afterwards, or the next day. How long does the momentum of the psychic benefit last? Remember that and use it as motivation to have another consolidation day a few weeks from now.
Photo is a reproduction of a Korean house in the British Museum. I love it.
I think I'm going to switch back to posting just once per week for the rest of the year. My writing hasn't been very inspired lately, and I'd rather just have one good post per week.
Saw this quote and thought of your post:
“Arrears of small things to be attended to, if allowed to accumulate, worry and depress like unpaid debts. The main work should always stand aside for these, not these for the main work, as large debts should stand aside for small ones, or truth for common charity and good feeling. If we attend continually and promptly to the little that we can do, we shall ere long be surprised to find how little remains that we cannot do.”
- Samuel Butler, The Notebooks of Samuel Butler
Tynan, several of your posts in the last few weeks have been outstanding. Why I Salted the Chocolate Mousse and Aging Gracefully are stand-out posts. Selfishly, I hope you keep up the post schedule. Or make the once a week posts really count which I know you will. Thanks for what you do to help give us perspective on this crazy thing called life.
Good post. I would like to see what is behind the doors on the back wall in the picture. I'm very interested in hiding things not used during the day. Thanks!
Tynan! I am going to Japan! I would love to go see some of rural japan or parts that most people don't get to see. Nature in particular. The place I will be staying will be in Tokyo but I am not scared to ask around and stay at someones house if need be. Hope to hear some advice on any cool places to see or go. Thanks!
Since when does a hole in your sock justify stopping anything? Wear sandals! I accumulate my errands in lists according to where I have to go to fulfil them to minimize travel time, and then I walk or bike. I schedule my errands mainly according to the sales.
Totally agree Tynan, but when I do clear out things that have been bugging me the benefits seem short lived. Once I have a group of items cleared out I, almost immediately, start thinking about the new things I need to get done now that the cleared space has shown light on the next level little things (a bit bigger than the little things, but not big projects).
I've talked a lot before about priorities in a macro sense-- that it's a good idea to have one large overriding first priority. In my case, that priority is SETT. So when another really exciting project comes across my desk, I can easily turn it down and just focus on SETT. On a daily basis, though, SETT isn't actually my top momentary priority at all times. If it was, I wouldn't ever eat or sleep, because working on SETT would be more important.
One of the keys to high efficiency (which translates directly to high productivity) is knowing what you're doing next. The biggest indicator on whether or not I'll have a productive day is whether or not I know exactly what I should be working on. When there's one big fix that needs to be created or one big feature that needs to be built, I have no problem putting in a 12-14 hour day. On the other hand, when I have ten low priority things I could work on, I tend to get much less done.
These deliberations happen outside of SETT, too. If I have a good block of SETT work to do, should I skip my daily blog post? What if a friend invites me to tea?
Without a clear hierarchy of priorities, it's easy to succumb to decision paralysis. I might start a paragraph of a blog post, but then when it's not coming together well, go answer some emails. To combat this, I decided to take the time and write out my micropriorities. Here they are with notes:
It's particularly challenging with tasks that require intense bursts of time and energy. Coding, writing, inteking strange new behaviors and worldviews. These are things that require intense focus, energy, and enthusiasm and just the right mental state. That can be very hard to maintain, and in fact, is often not even beneficial to maintain in other areas of your life that you have a higher degree of mastery and require less arousal to reach your optimal performance. So I think it's natural to fall into and out of this "high-energy" mode, which many of us associate with exponential productivity.
But there are some easy traps to fall into here.
One of the biggest is ignoring the skill of putting yourself in this mode at will. There is not actually a magic genie in your walls. You need to be able to say, tomorrow morning I have time to write, and I will write, and a part of that is getting yourself into "the zone." If you are failing to get yourself into "the zone," then you need to step back and work on that skill independently. Maybe that means re-awakening your original inspiration (thinking about all the people you will help with this book) or maybe it is preparing your vessel (low-fat, high fiber diet the day before, 6 hours of sleep, wake up, run, then get right to work... or whatever ritual ends up working). But these are factors that need to be evaluated.
I think another big one is denial. Thinking that you can maintain this state longer than you can, physio/psychologically or just within the constraints of the rest of your life. It's important to "pump yourself up" to the very high levels necessary to achieve your goals. It's also important to deal with the realities and interruptions and diversions of life as they come, then be able to return to that state.
Anyway, with regard to myself and my major goals, this week was largely a wash.