How To Stop Wasting Your Time on Things That Don’t Matter
Like everyone else, I want to learn new skills, achieve long-term goals, and become a better version of myself. I even know the important activities that will let me move in those directions. But I lose sight of these activities in the daily grind.
This is not because I’m incapable of working on what’s important. Nor am I alone in this. Many people struggle with this challenge because of the way our minds are wired. Left to their own devices, our minds default to what’s easy.
But what’s easy often doesn’t take us in the direction we want to move in.
We often ask ourselves, “What should I do now?” And the mind replies with suggestions like, “You should check your emails,” “You should schedule a meeting to address that totally trivial aspect,” or “You should be online 24/7 to avoid FOMO.” These activities keep us busy, but they also make us run in circles instead of moving forward.
A better question to ask yourself, according to late management consultant Peter Drucker, is “What has to be done?” In his book, The Effective Executive, Drucker wrote,
“The first practice is to ask what needs to be done. Note that the question is not ‘What do I want to do?’ Asking what has to be done, and taking the question seriously, is crucial for managerial success. Failure to ask this question will render even the ablest executive ineffectual.”
This question shifted my focus from urgent, unimportant tasks to important ones that yield exponential results.
Each morning, I ask myself what needs to be done. The answers include inviting guests to my podcast and editing the existing episodes, following up with team members about their action points, and investing a portion of my earnings each month before I start spending. Then I reserve chunks of my day to work on the important tasks and schedule the unavoidable ones — like email and meetings — at the peripherals.
Once I complete the important tasks, I give myself the freedom to work in a chilled-out mode, hang out with friends while intermittently working from my phone, or even watch Netflix.
I may not check 10 tasks off my to-do list every day. My days might seem boring, like nothing worth mention is happening for weeks. But I feel emotionally fulfilled because the activities put me in a state of flow and stretch my cognitive capacities to their limit. And in the long term, such consistency with such activities yields remarkable results.
Being busy is not the same as being productive. In fact, busyness is a sign of laziness — of lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. “It’s not enough to be busy,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. “So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
Going with the flow all the time turns you into a prisoner of events. Instead, control the flow. Focus on important tasks. You’ll become productive in the true sense, which means you’ll do more of the right things instead of doing more things right. You’ll conserve your energy, nurture your mental health, and feel happier overall.
The first step to this is changing the question you ask yourself each day from “What should I do?” to “What has to be done?”
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