Busy: A Fault of Clarity

I’m a fan of simplicity.

When I have too many choices I tend to internally freak out and make a worse choice than I would have with less options–if I even make one.

If we compare two stores, say a grocery store and an Apple store, they feel very different. I find the grocery store to be overwhelming–there’s so much stuff! While it might initially feel nice to have options, any attempt to look at many things in the store becomes a slog. I end up buying more than I intended to, I buy different things than what I wanted, I come in with a clear plan and walk out much later having done only some of what I wanted to do and many things that were irrelevant.

Then we walk into an Apple store. It’s simple. It’s so simple. It’s almost comical how many people crowd into that place to try to play with so few samples. That part has more to do with the specific product, but it’s almost impossible to go in and NOT do what you intended. Sure the employees might try to up-sell you, but you’re still there to buy the one product.

Now here’s the cheesy metaphor: is your life a supermarket or an apple store?

Most likely, it’s somewhere in between. And just as likely, it fluctuates between the two. When put under hard deadlines, our lives tend to become the apple store. With the big immediate goal looming over us, we know exactly what to do. However, with a little more free time, it’s less clear. And yet, in times when it’s less clear, the big goal is still there–its just less immediate and looming over us.

Then why is it that thing become clearer under tight deadlines?

In my opinion, we simply give things too much importance.

In my room at school I use thumbtacks to attach quotes that I’ve printed out on the walls. When I mention it, it feels pretty cliche. I like to think it’s not because I don’t hang up “You can do it!” type of quotes. I hang up the things I read or hear that make me think “Damn…” (in a good way).

The quote I’ve had on my wall for about two months that’s related to this comes from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism.

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

Want to take a guess as to why I didn’t finish this post for last week and am writing it at 4:40pm on the day I told my self I’d publish it? If you said that I gave other things undue importance–you’re right.

For me, this usually takes the form of things that I think I “should” do. You know, “I should go for a run. I should clean my room. I should email that person back.” Yet somehow most of them never get done. As I briefly mentioned last post, they sit there and create mental clutter.

Mental clutter that might seem justified because many things feel important. And many of those things are important–just maybe not to you at this specific time. Making this concession seems to be a fault that most of us have. Most of us don’t even consider it a fault or realize that it happens at all! We just feel like there’s so much to do.

I don’t know where this quote came from but it describes this very well:
“The world priority came into the english language at about 1500 B.C. and it stayed singular for the next 400 years.”

The fault of clarity is that there’s not ten or twelve important things to do. There’s one. Maybe two. The rest aren’t as important as you or I think they are. The rest are a product of what everyone has pushed upon themselves and each other. I think we’re afraid of what happens when we have to do hard focused work on one thing. But that’s a discussion for another time.

There’s a lot to be said about how to whittle down that huge list of “priorities” to the one or two real priorities, but I think the best advice is simple:

Just stop and think about it.

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