There’s never a bad time to try to take stock of what lies ahead. But it can be particularly helpful as demands mount, as free time in your schedule wanes, or as it looks like either of these might be on the horizon..
How can you stay afloat? How can you avoid dropping balls as challenges ramp up?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. But, a helpful question to begin asking regularly is “What is essential?”
The question “What is essential?” pushes in the direction of minimizing the excess in life. But it does so in a way that also asks us to keep hold of what has higher priority.
Rather than trying to fit more and more into a life with less and less margin, the question “What is essential?” asks us to reckon with the reality of limits—both as humans in general and as particular humans who each hold particular things to be important.
When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people … will choose for us, and before long, we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important. We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives. (16)
Of course, some of what we should choose deliberately is connecting with, enjoying relationships with, and serving our families, close friends, and others.
The point isn’t that we shouldn’t do this. But for instance, the quite definite forces in the modern “attention economy” have very certain “agendas” that we can unwittingly “allow … to control our lives” in ways we wouldn’t choose if we were being deliberate.
And just by virtue of faithfulness to whatever calling we find on our lives or in a particular season, it behooves us to be mindful about the choices that we make and what we allow to become a priority such that it excludes or squeezes other important relationships, activities, and practices.
Whatever we’re called to do in any circumstance, it pretty safely isn’t, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, to be “always forced to decide between alternatives [we] have not chosen” because we’ve not exercised our responsibility to live intentionally (Prisoner for God, 175).
What questions or criteria do you find helpful in minimizing the non-essential?
The folks at Freedom have a helpful tutorial about “how to be more productive in the afternoon.” The same principles, though, will apply also to the mornings or whenever one’s preferred time is for focused work.
A recent study commissioned by Microsoft Canada found, disturbingly, that the human participants’ average attention spans had fallen to 8 seconds, a shorter time frame than measured for goldfish (Evernote, New York Times). One of the major suspected drivers of these results is the propensity of the participants to use a mobile device while “paying attention” to something else.
Even comparatively minor distractions apparently have a compound effect on concentration and productivity (Computers in Human Behavior, Evernote). What is required to avoid this effect will be different in different contexts ([email protected]). But, being as “present” as possible in or to whatever situation we’re engaged in should be helpful in at least raising for ourselves the question of whether the amount of time and life invested into something—e.g., a ding, chirp, buzz, beep, or blink—is actually worth the return that might be expected from that thing.