This is the pile of unopened post that’s accumulated inside our front door over the last couple of months:
Usually I feel a sort of low-level nagging guilt about this, but actually I think it’s a good thing.
How do we get important things done?
By ignoring all the piffling little things that demand our attention.
I’m not saying that the post won’t eventually need dealing with. I do glance at each morning’s new crop and open anything that looks urgent or interesting, but the rest just gets left lying around until, well, some time. And “some time” will arrive — at some stage I’ll need to go through all my bank statements to prepare my accounts, for example.
But the thing is, it doesn’t need dealing with now; and now I can do something interesting: working on a paper, or a program, or a blog post. (Or, to be completely honest, looking at photos of Redditors’ cats.)
It’s too easy to let the tyranny of little jobs have its way. Because the thing is, there is always something that you ought to be doing. You’ll never clear the list. And yet something in us feels that we ought to clear the list of all the little things before we plough into the big stuff, the important stuff. It’s a terribly seductive notion, because it feels virtuous. And it feels — in the short term, anyway — productive. When you do things like sorting through your post or filing your bank statements, you get to tick off a job that needed doing and is now done. But this isn’t the stuff that you’re going to look back and reflect on proudly in a couple of decades’ time.
It just doesn’t matter that much.
Some of the stuff that does matters to me is writing palaeontology papers, writing programs, building up a body of blog posts, learning the songs for that jazz gig and hopefully some followups, and, well everything. We need to get into the habit of prioritising what we actually care about rather than what shouts for our attention.
If that means an unsightly pile of unopened post, I’m good with that.