Better Things

Now that you and I have agreed that the best place for the things you intend to do are on a calendar, I wanted to take some time to talk about what that means.

You see, when the things you hope to do are on some long wish list of things you hope to do, they are telling you a lie. They are telling you that you that every single thing on there is of equal importance. They are telling you that you have infinite capacity and infinite time. They are telling you everything needs to be there and should, at some point, warrant 100% of your attention. That it is completely possible and reasonable that you will do all of these things and have all the time in the world to do them.

The beauty of forcing the essential question of "When?" is that it also forces you (and the things) to face a hard and undeniable truth — time is finite. Each day has 24 hours. Six-to-Eight of those you are sleeping. You have many other obligations that will take away from the rest of your waking time — both on your calendar and not. My guess is that for a lot of us, at most and on the best days, we have about 2 hours to honestly dedicate to any of the things on our list. Most days, that is much, much, less.

Now that you are going to make those things part of your day, week, or month by taking a look at your calendar and deciding when you plan to do those things and scheduling those things at a time, you can see exactly how much time you have to work with. Suddenly, you go from having the lie of infinite capacity to the truth of having known constraints. With this knowledge, and only with this knowledge, you can focus on doing better things with that time.

Time is an instant prioritizer. Looking at a thing you need to do and asking "when" returns an answer that is a priority as much as a time. For instance, if some thing should be done "Now" then it is more important than anything else that might be done now. If some thing should be done today, and slotted into a free spot on your calendar to be done today, then it’s as important as anything else you will do today. It also follows that some thing that you put on the calendar to do tomorrow is less important than the things you need to do today or right now.

Now that you have recognized that the time and capacity you have for this long list of things is, in fact, limited you might also start to look at the things on that list and ask, "Is this worth my time doing?"

That is to say, if you know you only have a limited amount of time to work on the things you wish to do, don’t you want to make sure you are only doing the things you should be doing? Don’t you want to do better things? Things that really matter and make an impact? You have maybe a half-hour, hour, etc. Is that short amount of time going to be spent doing the best things you can?

I know I do. And, I know the first step to deciding the best thing I can do with the time I have is ensuring that the things on my list are all things that matter to me. Anything else I, literally, don’t have time for.

A Time For Things

You have a thing you need to do. So you put the thing on a list. The list is where you put the things. What things? The things you need to do. This is a thing so it belongs there.

But this thing will stay there on the list — forever if you let it. To get removed from the “Things I Need To Do” list and get placed on the “Things I have Done” list, a crucial question needs to get answered. This thing will stay there indefinitely until you decide when this thing will get done. And, if you never decide when the thing will get done the thing will never get done. And, you will decide that when. You may not decide it until the moment you do the thing. But, in advance or not, in order to do the thing you must pick a when.

Everything — EVERY THING — happens within the boundaries of time. Even if you don’t decide the time up front, even if you don’t schedule the time, the thing gets done at a time or not at all. And, when it comes to things, capturing is not committing. Capturing is parking. Capturing is waiting. Capturing is wishing. Deciding the when — scheduling the time — is committing. Doing the thing, is completing.

So, the thing — the one on the list — is going to happen at a time. It is the only way it can happen. It is the only way anything happens.

Agreed? Good.

Let’s talk about time for a second. You remember time, right? That thing that EVERY THING happens in? That thing that you and I have relatively little of. The most precious non-renewable resource in the Universe? Yes, that time. Well, my guess is that, for really important things — things you intend to do — you schedule those things. You carve out a small bit of that most precious non-renewable resource and say, “Hey, I care about this thing so much I’m going to spend time on this.” And, my guess is, you do this on a calendar of some sort, right? The less busy of us might just remember a few items in our head but, I would argue, even in that case you are still keeping a calendar — a this thing happens at this time schedule — in your head. Right?

We calendar keepers, we happy many, we band of brothers and sisters, we’ve been rightfully told that, because time is the most precious non-renewable resource in the Universe, the calendar is sacred hallowed space. That you should only put things on there that you plan to do or that must be done at a particular time. Things like meetings and doctors appointments and conferences and birthdays and anniversaries and…

Now, here’s the part that will likely make many uncomfortable. I’m going to tell you you should put tasks there too. I’m going to argue that, for many things, you should decide the when up front. That you commit. That you give the things on your list a bit of this most precious non-renewable resource in the same place you give all those other things — because you already are. You are just not, maybe, planning ahead for them or scheduling them or putting them in a box marked Today or Tomorrow or Next Week. But every single one of those things, to get done, will happen at a particular time anyway — so, why not be honest and intentional about it?

Think of it like this: A wish list is a list of things we hope will happen one day. Let’s just say it is a list of things you want for Christmas. Well, guess what, you will get nothing on that list under that tree until Santa decides the time to go buy the thing, the time to wrap the thing, and the time to put it under the tree. And, that list comes with a pre-determined due-date of December 25th. Those things that are not under the tree remain on your wish list until and unless Santa decides this is the time for you to get that thing. Any list of things without time attached to it is, functionally, a wish list just like this until you make them important enough to actually deserve your time. Until you play Santa.

That list of things is a wish list, a someday-maybe list, but it is not a task list until you commit a time for those things getting done. Those are things you hope to do — not things you are going to do. Know how I know you are not “going” to do them? Going is an action verb. It means you are in the act of committing a forward movement. Anything staying motionless on a list is not forward movement. Putting a time on something to be done in the future, then moving towards that time, means going to do something. And you are not going to do any of those things unless you do.

I’m not saying you should do this with all of the things on your list of things. It’s useful to have a place for the things that you wish to do. Having a wish list of all the things is actually good. Doing so means you can look at all the things out in the open, take each one, and evaluate if that is something worth your precious time. Ask each thing the question of when. I’m saying you should do it with the things you want to move from a wish to something you actually mean to do. Decide when you are going to do them.

Start with the “Big Rocks” or “Today List” or “Next Actions” or whatever list system du jour your are praying to at the moment. Take those things, look at them, and commit to them — ask yourself the when. When today will you do these things? Are you serious? Then put it on the calendar, schedule, planner, — whatever. Even if it is just to carve out a couple of hours and call it, “A Time for Things”. Now, you have committed. Now, you are serious.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

The Not Too Smart Home

Those that have followed me for a while know I live in a large Victorian home. And, as one would expect, we have a fairly large basement as well. If I had to guess it is about 900 square feet. Being it is a basement there are a half dozen lights spread throughout. Just simple ceramic bases to screw a bare bulb into with a short ball chain to turn them off and on. For the whole time I’ve lived in the house, if one wanted to go to the far corner of the basement they would have to snake through the dark, knowing where these lights were located, find the little pull chain, and turn on each one needed. It was kind of dangerous and so, therefore, we generally left at least a couple on all the time. It was a bit of an energy waster but it was the only logical choice.

One of the things that has improved our daily life greatly in a subtle way this year was the installation of some simple and inexpensive motion detectors into those lights. They screw in between the light and the socket. There is a simple dial to set the sensitivity level and distance so it does not go off when, say, the cat runs in front of it but still does when we do. So now, we simply walk down the stairs to the basement and the lights automatically turn on in front of us a few feet ahead we approach. Then, they automatically turn off a few minutes after we leave.

I think of this every time I see some new “smart home” product. Especially one related to lights. Because here was the sort of problem that many so called smart devices promise to solve, yet I can solve it today for under $50 (I got my detectors on sale) and a few minutes time. I don’t have to buy some fancy wi-fi enabled bulbs — I can use any bulb I want. And, the fact is, I can’t currently think of a single area of my home where I would want or need a light I can control from my phone. Or a use case that can’t be solved with technology that has already been around for years. Like the one I just solved.

This is not to say that all such technology is bad. I bought a Nest when they came out and have been happy with it. It manages the energy in our home mindfully. I barely ever have to interact with it but can get detailed reports about our heating usage if I want. It makes setting and forgetting our home temperature easy. All things that were either not available or needlessly complicated on our old thermostat. It’s a perfect example of where “smart” technology has made things better and easier. Where there was no existing non-smart product on the market that could deliver the same solution just as well or with a minimum of technology.

I think there an increasingly prevailing notion that the internet, wifi, or some other new technology automatically makes everything better. That adding more technology means convenience or ease of use. It doesn’t. And, in many cases it means the exact opposite. It means one more point of failure or one more thing to manage or one more corporation to be beholden to. In many cases, sticking the internet into the middle of things makes them worse.

What I am saying most is that I don’t want my home, or anything for that matter to be too smart. I want to be more mindful and intentional about adopting technology in a smart way. Before bringing today’s technology in as a solution, I want to make sure it is not a problem more easily solved without it. And, I want companies that consider such technology to do the same.

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