Getting Stuff Done

Failing to get work done is an increasingly common experience. It took me six minutes to write that last sentence. I started, but then looked at an interesting Harvard study on how our inability to focus is making us miserable. So, I am now miserable and failing to get anything done.

Put your long-term self in charge

Behavioral economics tells us to think of ourselves as two selves: a weak-willed short-term self and a far-sighted long-term one. Your short-term self is like a rat in a maze: it will run in random directions, or wherever it smells food, with no regard for the bigger picture. The trick, apparently, is for your long-term self to take control by distracting your short-term self and channeling your primal, impulsive actions towards farsighted and thoughtful goals.

Do the important work

Then there is the 80/20 rule: 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. This is mostly wrong but has some insight. It is based on an empirical observation that shows vital work is done by a few people. This general concept is extremely useful – focus on the most important work and you’ll get most of the results. A large amount of trivial work doesn’t add up to very much at all.

Learn from others – it’s been done before

We have reached a stage in civilization where, no matter how weird, obscure or seemingly pointless the thing you’re trying to do is, somebody out there has already done it. In the last two decades, technology has provided you with the means to find out how.

Google the things you don’t know, bother others about the things you cannot Google, and aspire to have the wisdom to know the difference.

Find a reason why

Maybe the reason we find it so hard to get anything done is that most of the things we do just fundamentally don’t need to be done. All the productivity lifehacks out there are ultimately missing the point: we’re avoiding our work because our work is pointless.

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