the essentials

So much noise and clutter. It’s surprising we can still function at all, and this is surely much of the reason that suddenly we are seeking out “productivity systems” to help manage our daily lives. We are immersed in tiny decisions about what to look at or think about. And no matter how minuscule the decision may be, simply deciding takes a burst of brain energy. It’s no surprise that many of us feel tired all the time. Or depressed, or overwhelmed, or anxious. It seems to be pandemic.

So we try to fix ourselves. If I could just figure out how to stop being tired, depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, etc, I could surely do everything I want to do! We look for self-help books, for gurus, for blogs. A couple of the most popular productivity blogs around are 43 Folders (Merlin Mann) and Zen Habits (Leo Babuata). I’ve been reading them both fairly regularly for a couple of years, and I’ve seen an interesting thing happen. They have become less about how to get things done and more about discerning what is really essential.

And that’s the key. There’s not something wrong with me because I can’t do 73 things at once. There’s something wrong with the concept that it is either possible or desirable to do so. Accomplishing everything means energy is dispersed and shallow, rather than focused or deep.

So, essentially, it doesn’t matter what system I use to track my lists and my goals. What matters is honing in on the essential tasks and letting go of everything else. This is harder than it sounds. Especially when I have to let go of bad habits that I have had for many years that prevent me from honing in. Habits of distraction, mostly. Distraction that means I have decided to avoid these small, difficult decisions and just watch a tv show or have a drink. Those things are perfectly fine, if they are not getting in the way of the essentials.

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