How Do You Know Something Is Worth Doing?


Tuesday, 9.26pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I’ve tried todo lists, and they don’t work for me.

The lists of actions fill up faster than I can tick them off. Then, all of a sudden, I have fifteen pages of todos and no real plan for dealing with them.

And I think it would be a mistake to force myself to do them in order. Or rank them in some way. Or work out some kind of process for managing them.

Because that leads down a rabbit hole of list holders and Filofaxes and text files and apps and all that kind of stuff.

The kinds of tools and books and stationery that are everywhere, tempting you away from doing the work.

And they have a seductive siren song – if you use them you will get better, more productive, more beautiful, more sexy.

Maybe that works for some people.

I just know I’ve spent many hours thinking about how to do things rather than actually doing them.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Scott Fitzgerald once wrote “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Maybe I can use that as an excuse…

So, on the one hand you have the idea of sharpening your axe. If you have an hour to cut down a tree, spend the first 50 minutes getting it sharp and then get to work.

On the other hand you have the school of long hours and hard work. The workplaces where facetime matters more than anything else.

Doesn’t matter if your axe is blunt – just get on with it and work harder.

Which is problematic. As Scott Adams writes, the reward for doing good work is usually more work.

Promotion doesn’t help. Robert Frost suggested that if you worked hard 8 hours a day you could eventually become a boss and work 12 hours a day.

For many of us, we should make better choices about what is worth doing. How should we spend our time?

Warren Buffett writes about how he constantly looks for ways to make large investments but tries to avoid small commitments.

Your time is the greatest asset you have and investing it wisely is the biggest job you have to do.

Should you be spending it on minor tasks or focusing it where you can make a big difference?

Buffett says – if something’s not worth doing at all, it’s not worth doing well.

For those of us that work as consultants or any other profession where our time is what makes us an income, this is crucial to learn.

There are lots of things that are important. Tasks that are important to us, and tasks that are important to others.

We’ll get satisfaction out of accomplishing important tasks. Others will only pay us if they believe that we can accomplish an important task for them.

But that’s not enough.

If we want to do things that move us closer to our goals, the tasks also need to be well defined.

We need to be clear on the shape and size of what we’re doing. We need to know how long we’ll do it and at what price.

With knowledge work, this can be hard.

But we need to get rid of the fuzziness and be clear on what we’re doing. That’s the only way to build a business instead of having a hobby.

The task for us is to try and spend our time in the zone – the magic zone – where the majority of what we do is both important and well-defined.

The rest is not worth doing at all.


Karthik Suresh

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