10 THINGS TO MAKE THE BEST OF YOUR LIFE FROM OLIVER BURKEMAN
1. Adopt a fixed volume approach to productivity.
Much advice on getting things done implicitly promises that itll help you get everything important donebut thats impossible, and struggling to get there will only make you busier (see chapter 2). Its better to begin from the assumption that tough choices are inevitable and to focus on making them consciously and well. A complementary strategy is to establish predetermined time boundaries for your daily work. To whatever extent your job situation permits, decide in advance how much time youll dedicate to workyou might resolve to start by 8:30 a.m., and finish no later than 5:30 p.m., saythen make all other time-related decisions in light of those predetermined limits.
2. Serialize, serialize, serialize.
Focus on one big project at a time (or at most, one work project and one nonwork project) and see it to completion before moving on to whats next. Its alluring to try to alleviate the anxiety of having too many responsibilities or ambitions by getting started on them all at once, but youll make little progress that way; instead, train yourself to get incrementally better at tolerating that anxiety, by consciously postponing everything you possibly can, except for one thing. Soon, the satisfaction of completing important projects will make the anxiety seem worthwhileand since youll be finishing more and more of them, youll have less to feel anxious about anyway.
3. Decide in advance what to fail at.
Youll inevitably end up underachieving at something, simply because your time and energy are finite. But the great benefit of strategic underachievementthat is, nominating in advance whole areas of life in which you wont expect excellence of yourselfis that you focus that time and energy more effectively. Nor will you be dismayed when you fail at what youd planned to fail at all along.
4. Focus on what youve already completed, not just on whats left to complete.
Keep a done list, which starts empty first thing in the morning, and which you then gradually fill with whatever you accomplish through the day. Each entry is another cheering reminder that you could, after all, have spent the day doing nothing remotely constructiveand look what you did instead! (If youre in a serious psychological rut, lower the bar for what gets to count as an accomplishment: nobody else need ever know that you added brushed teeth or made coffee to the list.)
5. Consolidate your caring.
Social media is a giant machine for getting you to spend your time caring about the wrong things , but for the same reason, its also a machine for getting you to care about too many things, even if theyre each indisputably worthwhile. Were exposed, these days, to an unending stream of atrocities and injusticeeach of which might have a legitimate claim on our time and our charitable donations, but which in aggregate are more than any one human could ever effectively address.
Once you grasp the mechanisms operating here, it becomes easier to consciously pick your battles in charity, activism, and politics: to decide that your spare time, for the next couple of years, will be spent lobbying for prison reform and helping at a local food pantrynot because fires in the Amazon or the fate of refugees dont matter, but because you understand that to make a difference, you must focus your finite capacity for care.Once you grasp the mechanisms operating here, it becomes easier to consciously pick your battles in charity, activism, and politics: to decide that your spare time, for the next couple of years, will be spent lobbying for prison reform and helping at a local food pantrynot because fires in the Amazon or the fate of refugees dont matter, but because you understand that to make a difference, you must focus your finite capacity for care.
6. Embrace boring and single-purpose technology.
Digital distractions are so seductive because they seem to offer the chance of escape to a realm where painful human limitations dont apply: you need never feel bored or constrained in your freedom of action, which isnt the case when it comes to work that matters
7. Seek out novelty in the mundane.
If you have a job or children, much of life will necessarily be somewhat routine, and opportunities for exotic travel may be limited. An alternative, Shinzen Young explains, is to pay more attention to every moment, however mundane: to find novelty not by doing radically different things but by plunging more deeply into the life you already have. Experience life with twice the usual intensity, and your experience of life would be twice as full as it currently isand any period of life would be remembered as having lasted twice as long. Meditation helps here. But so does going on unplanned walks to see where they lead you, using a different route to get to work, taking up photography or birdwatching or nature drawing or journaling, playing I Spy with a child: anything that draws your attention more fully into what youre doing in the present.
8. Be a researcher in relationships.
Try deliberately adopting an attitude of curiosity, in which your goal isnt to achieve any particular outcome, or successfully explain your position, but, as Hobson puts it, to figure out who this human being is that were with. Curiosity is a stance well suited to the inherent unpredictability of life with others, because it can be satisfied by their behaving in ways you like or dislikewhereas the stance of demanding a certain result is frustrated each time things fail to go your way.
9. Cultivate instantaneous generosity.
Whenever a generous impulse arises in your mindto give money, check in on a friend, send an email praising someones workact on the impulse right away, rather than putting it off until later. When we fail to act on such urges, its rarely out of mean-spiritedness, or because we have second thoughts about whether the prospective recipient deserves it. More often, its because of some attitude stemming from our efforts to feel in control of our time.
10. Practice doing nothing.
I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber, Blaise Pascal wrote.