Should you get everything done?

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You know the old saying – if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.

But what if you are that busy person, how are things working out for you?

John Cutler takes an interesting approach to this issue, using the word “promise” instead of action to describe what we commit to doing every day.

You probably take down lots of actions every day. Even a few a day quickly mounts up. In a year, you might commit to 600-900 action items.

Even if you get 20% of them done, that still leaves hundreds left incomplete at the end of the year.

This is the problem with productivity systems such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done. You could collect everything that has your attention and get it onto a list and out of your mind. But very quickly, the overhead of collecting and listing and processing can get overwhelming.

When the difficulty of managing the list outweighs the benefit of having it, you have two options. Either abandon the system or get very tired.

This isn’t how things were meant to be.

John Maynard Keynes, writing in 1930, imagined a future where technology would be so advanced that people would have little to do. They might work just because they wanted to, and surely no one would want to work more than three hours a day – and so he projected a 15 hour work week for most of us.

Instead, we now work longer hours than ever. Why is this?

There are two reasons.

First, some jobs don’t pay enough to live. Some people are trapped in low wage jobs where they are paid by the hour and so they have to put in the hours to get enough to get by.

The second is that some jobs pay too much. For many people, being paid a lot per hour makes it hard to give up that hour of work and the associated money that comes with it.

For example, you could perhaps work two days less and live comfortably. If the lost day’s pay is high enough, however, you might be reluctant to lose it and so the amount of money creates a real disincentive to working less.

Going back to John Cutler, one way to manage life better is to be more choosy about the promises you agree to. Make less. Keep more.

A more radical solution is Rutger Bregman’s proposal to give everyone a minimum basic income and change the rules to a 15 hour working week and open borders and let anyone move anywhere.

You may instinctively shy away from such ideas, especially the part about open borders. But many people, including Elon Musk, support initiatives like a minimum basic income and it is being trialled in places.

The thing to notice is that the way we live and what we do is results from choices we make as individuals and societies.

You can choose what to get done.

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