Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Three Most Important Things

This morning I woke up feeling great---that is until I started going through my mental "to-do" list. Like most people between the ages of 10 and 80, I felt inundated by the litany of tasks I felt responsible for carrying out. Then, I heard a little voice in my head that said, "How much of this really matters? At the end of your life, what will have mattered?" Wow, man....heavvvy.

But this thought was not a startling revelation or brilliantly insightful. We all ask ourselves these questions periodically---it's an existential exercise, and a valuable one at that. But this morning as I considered my answers, I found myself wanting to dig deeper than usual, and the internal conversation went something like this:

Q:   At the end of my life, will it matter that I had a cluttered house?
A:   Well, it wouldn't matter that I had a cluttered house if it didn't bother me everyday and cause me to me feel disorganized and lazy. But it does bother me, so that means it really does matter.

Q:   In the final analysis, will it matter that I had a tendency to procrastinate and was not always as productive as I could have been?
A:   No, not really. As long as I got the most important things done, I could accept not being as productive as I could have been. I don't need to be perfect.

Q:   When all is said and done, would it matter whether or not I exercised my body today?
A:   It might not matter whether or not I exercised my body today, but making health a priority in my life would matter a great deal in the long run, so what I decide to do today matters.

What I learned from this inquiry was that when we project forward in time and consider the long-term effects of our habits, we can gain tremendous clarity and focus. For instance, my answers to the first two questions actually surprised me. Stepping back and seeing a bigger picture gave me a perspective that would help me focus on how to spend my efforts, and what areas I could back off on..

So, let's look at your "to-do" list and prioritize it based on the above criteria. When you consider the long-term ripple effects, which of your tasks become important, and which can you move off the "nag" page temporarily or altogether? For the sake of focus and simplicity, which are the three most important things for you to do today?

 If we take a couple minutes every day to check in with ourselves and get our priorities straight, I think we'll find that life becomes less stressful and much more manageable. It's not how much we get done that matters, but how much value we get out of what we've done.