One Important Question

Working on projects and goals, it’s really easy to become bogged down in a labyrinth of tasks and actions that aren’t as important as they seem. Some of these tasks are so time-sucking, their value so miniscule, that they aren’t even worth doing.

At the same time, they feel like they’re worth doing because, well, marking shit off the to-do list is a nice feeling. Call it inadvertent procrastination.

Completing these tasks provides a sense of accomplishment, a temporary boost in morale, even though its completion doesn’t have any bearing on the overall goal. This is like doing the wrong thing really well.

These tasks can be identified by asking the following question:

Does This Matter?

Let’s examine this phrase. “This” refers to any task, job, activity or step that ends up on your to-do list. “Matter” is a question of value: does the activity have any actual relationship to or bearing on your personal, professional, interior or financial life.

For example, imagine a person wants to write amazing fiction. They decide to write for a content mill (Associated Content, Demand Studios, etc.). The rationale: ‘I will make money and improve my writing.’ The problem? The content mill doesn’t do much to improve a person’s fiction writing, and the money is atrocious.

They find themselves bogged down in work that doesn’t help them achieve their goal of writing amazing fiction. They’d probably make more money (and generate more ideas for their writing) by working in fast food hell.

Look, I’m all for learning useless skills. This isn’t to deride activities of admittedly low utility. Neither am I saying ignore your responsibilities and obligations. We all have to do things we don’t like to do.

The idea here is to eliminate those elective tasks and actions that seem like they’re necessary but in reality are only vampires who prey upon your time and energy.

Every activity has some cost with it, and it’s not always financial. The cost could be paid in time, attention, or missed opportunities. The question is whether or not the activity or task will provide a benefit that outweighs the cost of doing it.

Sometimes, though, you have to start a task to figure out that it’s not worth doing. Once you realize a task or project has little or no utility for you, the challenge lies in knowing when to quit.

Choosing what not to do is just as important as what you choose to do.

Once you get in the habit of asking ‘does this matter?’ you’ll become more selective about how you spend your time and energy. By ignoring the things that don’t matter, you can take a less circuitous route toward your goal.

Here are some criteria for deciding if something matters:

  • Will this help me achieve my goals?
  • Will this improve my craft?
  • Will this make my life more awesome?
  • Is this necessary to meet my responsibilities?
  • For us married/family people: Will this be good for my family?

Now I want to hear from you. What are your criteria for deciding what matters? Do you have things you’ve quit doing because you realized they don’t matter?  Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jayne August 25, 2010, 6:56 am

    I liked this post and it just inspired an idea to score everything out of 5 on my to-do list and do those with a higher score first so I can see visually which chores I deem most important.

    as for long term activities this psot has given me much to think about!