How I manage the things I want to do


In the introduction to the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey writes “How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem enough time for all you can hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, do more in less time, to “work smarter, not harder”, as my dad is always telling me?”

This is forever the question, isn’t it? I have found that, that self knowledge helps me with this striving, this trying to do all that I want to, in the limited time allotted me.

The first thing I do is figuring out how I am wasting my time. Wasting as in spending time on something I don’t really enjoy. I don’t really enjoy gossiping with some colleagues or watching soaps on TV – and so, the time spent doing that is ‘wasted’ time. On the other hand, I love to climb. Spending two hours a day, three days a week, climbing is time well spent. Your criteria for wasted time might be different.

Next I analyze and categorize all the activities / projects / chores into ‘I really love to do’, ‘I need to do’ and ‘I want to do’ categories. This analysis helps make sure that I’m not just going with the flow. It ensures that I am aware of what I am doing with my time. It also ensures that I know the activities I engage in actually mean to me.

Of the three categories, the ‘I really love to do this’ stuff gets precedence in my life. If I absolutely love to do something, then I will make time to do it, no excuses. After all, why live life when given my privileges, I don’t make time to do the things that make my life worth living?

In the ‘I need to do this even though I don’t absolutely love to do this’ category, I try to figure out why do I ‘need’ to do this. ‘I need to cook today’ for food on the table, to provide healthy food for my family and to save money. On the other hand, the ‘I need to watch TV to relax’ is not really a need for me – because I can relax by reading a good book, or even better – by sleeping.

After this analysis of needs, comes the hard part – the analysis of my ‘I want to do this’ activities. This is hard because, even though by definition this category is nice-to-have-but-not-mandatory, this category is the one which causes havoc, which causes stress – because I want to do too many things.

I want to go cycle. I want to photograph every day. I want to cook everyday. And I want to learn Angular JS. I want to participate in that challenge. I want to eat out for lunch. I also want to workout at lunch. I want to go to that meetup. And then I want to read for an hour every day. Too many ‘want to do’ things in a 24 hour span. When this conflicts with the ‘love to’ and the ‘need to’, and I try to satisfy as many of the want to’s as I can, I run out of time and get stressed.

The solution then, for me, is to analyze these wants. Do I want to do X because I think it is cool? Or because it will help me later? Will it help my family? Will it help my career? Will it help towards my long term goals? Will it help other people? Will it make me happy just when I am doing it or will it contribute towards my long-term happiness?

This digging deep into why I want to do these things, and evaluating their long term impact on my life helps categorize these wants. Almost always they sort out into a prioritized list.

And so, it becomes easier to now allot time to the top things on my ‘wants’ list.

And then comes the hardest part – to let go of the rest of the stuff which didn’t make the cut.

This is hard for me because I am bowing down to reality saying I cannot do this. Accepting that though I might enjoy this, I don’t enjoy it as much as other things. Accepting that I am human, and my time is limited, my ability is limited. Accepting that because of this choice, I might not be able to hold down a water cooler conversation.

And so my life becomes manageable again. For a while.

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