Ever since I decided to make 2009 my best year ever I’ve known that I need a simple, consistent system to stay organized and a set of “safety nets” to keep things that way. Here, briefly, is my methodology:
I was a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, which I discovered about four years ago in high school. There’s more “productivity porn” on the Web these days than anyone knows what to do with, so if you’re looking to jump in to Allen’s system it’s worth having a knowledgeable guide. That link should help you out!
But there are a fair amount of problems with GTD, not the least of which being how narrow its focus is. It requires a LOT of thought and attention every day in order to function the way it’s designed to, and it won’t give you a whole lot of feedback on how much real progress you’re making (everything becomes splintered into bilions and billions of tiny tasks). It’s always much easier (and tempting) to let things slide, and that’s never a good idea.
New Years’ Eve always fills me with optimism: the chance to look back and pick apart the year and decide where to focus next. The tradition of New Years’ resolutions certainly isn’t new, but I try to treat each New Year as a totally blank slate, cut off from past events and energies. Doing so has two advantages: one, that you define exactly what you want first, and allow that vision to sustain itself (and change, if necessary) through the events of the year. The second advantage is that it immediately places control in your hands, rather than in the vagaries of time. You’re entirely responsible for what happens.
This year seems particularly conducive to optimism: with the election of Obama, the global economic avalanche, and (on a more personal note) my graduation from college, the future is anything but certain. With all that ambiguity comes a special kind of potential: anything can happen now. I’ve also had a special feeling about the year 2009 for as long as I can remember, so I hope that intuition holds true.
I realize now that living in New York has instilled in me a sense of impending doom.
Not doom in the sense of the world ending (sure, we have those issues with planes blowing up the neighborhood); I mean doom in the context of going somewhere with one’s life. Doom in the very real sense that every second we have is valuable (and, potentially, profitable).
New York breeds some of the most determined and hardest-working people on earth. From the street cleaners to CEOs, everyone is trying to get ahead, and the only way to do that (given that we all live a roughly equal number of days) is to work harder, or faster, or better. Being surrounded by this energy, especially living somewhere like Wall Street, gave me the constant signal that everything should be very very important. Work when you’re on break. Work when you’re on the train. Every second you aren’t working is a second someone else is.
The thing is, far from being neurotic (though my friends might beg to differ), I think this energy helps me prioritize. It’s true, I always claim to be busy. It’s also true that I always claim to be having fun. This is no accident.
In truth, people become more lazy and more unmotivated the more “breaks” they take. Why go back to work at all, after a certain point? If your work requires you to stop so often, it’s probably not something you want to be doing. If it was really tailored to your energy levels and tapped into your real drive, hours would go by before you even considered stopping. The fact is that 99% of what we do is irrelevant to our core motives, detached from our real passions. But this is something you can change. You can choose to move forward towards your goals, or you can choose to have the same day over and over again until you die. Which do you choose?
Next time you’re faced with a decision about what to do next, which “next action” to cover, ask yourself this:
Which choice will put me in a position of greater knowing? Which choice will I look back on and say, ‘that was important’?
You’d be surprised at how much that clears up.
Most of our lives, we’re caught up in an endless loop of consistently choosing the least-useful path, simply because it requires less effort. We’re not just creatures of habit, we’re creatures of laziness. What did you do today that was dramatically different from yesterday? Can you name five things? Three? Even one?
It takes courage to do something unique, something difficult, every single day. But damn, is it worthwhile.
Every morning when I wake up, I ask myself if I’m truly moving forward. If I’m not, I want to know it as soon as my day starts, and address it right then and there–not after 14 hours are wasted on projects I don’t care about, or whose outcomes don’t affect me.
New York may be a hell of a bizarre place to live, but at least it’s been a good teacher.
Are you better prepared today than you were yesterday? Are you closer to the things you want? Are you working, or just surviving?
No matter how overworked you might be, or how tired you feel, or how much you hate the idea of challenging yourself with new directions, there’s still time to learn something new today. This is the internet. Read something worthwhile. Just one new piece of information a day will mean you’ve learned 30 new things in a month. And at least one of those things might completely change your ideas about yourself and your career.
It’s worth the effort.
Fantastic post by Jason Kester of Expat Software, Laid off? The one thing you absolutely need to do on the first day offers one fantastic suggestion of what to do with your first day of freedom.
“When you get right down to it, you’ll probably find a way to talk yourself out of [doing this]. You’ll come up with some pretty believable excuses, but really it will come down to the fact that you’re scared.”
Well worth the read.
The great and terrible secret of our culture–indeed, of the world–is that our financial and social rewards are directly proportional to the percentage of our lives that we “hand over”. Long before we are able to conceive of the future, we are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Long before we are able to understand why or how we’ll get there, we are asked, “where do you want to go to college?”. And at some seemingly-random point, we are asked “what are you going to do?”
What am I going to do? I’m going to be alive; to dream and explore and experience as much as possible. Is that not good enough? Is that not a life lived richly?
Today, notice what goes unnoticed.
Notice the reflections in your spoon. Notice the exact sound your feet make on your bedroom floor. Try to hear every nuance of a dripping faucet. Find a color that exactly represents the word “movement”. Unfocus your eyes and feel just how much air there is between you and the objects around you; all moving, pulsating, yet totally invisible to our eyes.
Or think of larger ideas, even if the answers are impossible. How many children are speaking their first word right now? How many paintings were created today? Why are we speaking English? How many electromagnetic signals are crisscrossing your body right now?
Our world has been accelerated to such an incomprehensible blur that these gestures may seem meaningless or even boring. But I’m convinced that attention is everything. By really paying attention to those aspects of your daily life that were once ignored, you’re training your brain to create finer distinctions, sharpening your senses and invigorating what is otherwise a monotonous series of events (otherwise, you would have remembered them vividly… right?).
I’m going to reveal something that might radically change your life.
It may be simple, but it’s absurdly significant. Once I discovered it, I was forced -- literally forced! -- to re-examine everything I did. More to the point, it’s what distinguishes those who do from those who wish. It’s a momentum-booster and boredom cure all in one. And it’ll take less than ten minutes. You can use it a thousand times a day, if you like-- the more you do, the more effective it (and you) will become.