🌞Earlywork #75: Be More Selective With Your Time
Isaac Joshi uncovers the underlying reasons why we often spend time on the wrong things
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💡Weekly Cheeky Tip
The most valuable commodity in your career is time.
But in an attempt to impress managers, follow an existing system, emulate co-workers, or ‘feel’ productive, it’s easy to fall into the trap of spending time on output over outcomes.
So how do you avoid this pattern and prioritise the right things?
Community member Isaac Joshi (Software Developer at Accenture) thinks there’s an underlying mindset issue we need to change.
Here’s what he had to say:
The TL;DR 👀
Trying to do everything is exhausting and inefficient, so prioritise the activities that have the highest net positive impact on your life. We all have limited resources: time, money, attention and drive.
Avoid the ‘Any Benefit Mindset’, where you do any beneficial activity regardless of its relative benefit to other possible activities.
Be mindful of when you’re doing activities because they’re easy, habitual or the default option presented
Some activities might be high value for others but low value for you
We all want to do things that will bring value to our lives. In doing this, you could be tempted to follow every helpful suggestion: learn to code, meditate every day, network, read a book, do yoga, start a side hustle, eat turmeric, and so on.
All of these things are good (especially eating turmeric) and will benefit you in life.
But trying to do everything fails to acknowledge you have limited resources, money, willpower, attention, and most importantly, time.
The key is to proactively evaluate ‘opportunity cost’: when evaluating a potential action, you shouldn’t just look at the benefit of that action, but consider the benefit of the next best alternatives.
If you fail to account for opportunity cost, you will fall into the ‘Any Benefit Mindset’…
The ‘Any Benefit Mindset’ 🧠
Beware the mindset where you chase any beneficial activity.
Most likely, you will spend too much time on low-value activities that have some benefit, rather than focusing on the things that have the most benefit.
And despite mixed outcomes, you still end up feeling like your calendar is overloaded.
This applies not just to work, but social activities, health & learning.
The key is to avoid the trap of thinking:
“Am I doing something valuable with my time?"
"Am I doing the MOST valuable thing I can be doing with my time?".
It’s a subtle but important difference that can easily be forgotten.
Take the case of starting a business:
You could spend weeks building a super-stylish website to showcase your product, and this would definitely bring some value to your business.
But at the very beginning? You are probably better off talking to potential customers and testing prototypes of your product. Just because an activity has some benefits, doesn't mean you should do it.
Why do we fall into this mindset? 🤔
Here are the four biggest reasons why it’s easy to slip into the Any Benefit Mindset:
1. Doing something because it’s easy 🟢
For instance, you might have a desire to be productive, but it’s easier to spend time watching videos about productivity than actually being productive.
This doesn't mean that you should never watch productivity videos. Rather, consider the amount of time you’re spending on them and whether that’s proportional to the value of watching them.
Certain ‘pseudo-productive’ activities are easy to start and feel like they deliver value, but get in the way of doing the slightly harder version that tangibly moves your life forward.
2. Doing something because it’s a habit 💪
When low-value activities become a habit, there is a resistance to change.
They’re great creators, but as I got older I started to realise I didn't find their videos that entertaining or useful anymore but would still sink time into watching them because it was a familiar, comfortable practice.
Eventually, I made the call to unsubscribe when I realised the time I was spending on these videos wasn’t enriching my life as much as other activities.
3. Doing something that works well for others but not for you 🤷
The same activity can be valuable for one person and counterproductive for another.
There’s a common trope in self-improvement circles about the benefits of waking up at 5am (or some absurdly early time) every day to get a ‘headstart’ on the competition or carve out quiet time for goal-setting, meditation or fitness.
Curious, I tried this approach for a few weeks and found that it didn't work for me at all. Just because friends tell you something is really valuable for them, doesn’t mean you should do it, even if there may be some benefit.
It’s helpful to test new ways of doing things but listen to your body and mind as to what works for you.
4. Doing something because it looks like the default option 📖
In some situations, there’s a clear expected path or path of least resistance, but this doesn’t neatly correlate with benefit.
For example, you sit down to watch one episode of a show on Netflix while you eat lunch. Immediately after it finishes, another episode is cued for autoplay.
In this situation, the choice that involves taking the least action, i.e. the default, is to let the next episode play and then watch it.
Whether it’s the addictive nature of technology or the powerful sway of incumbent systems like university and the workplace, life presents us with situations where the default is already chosen for us.
You need to be keenly aware of when this happens so you can step back and think critically about whether that’s the most beneficial option for you.
So what can we do about it? 🔧
To break free of the ‘Any Benefit Mindset’, we first need to build self-awareness around motivations for the way we spend our time.
If you’re getting caught up in the hustle and feeling busy, it’s important to pause before the next ‘urgent’ thing and consider questions like:
Am I watching this coding video because it’s easy and feels productive, even though I know that working on that side project on the back burner will be more valuable?
Am I spending a ton of time finishing this book because my friends said it was good, even though I’m not finding it particularly useful?
Once we understand our motivations and triggers, we’re then in a better position to critically manage and analyse our time spend.
For me personally, tracking my time via calendar blocking helps me understand where it’s going and what’s contributing to the quality of my life, but any method of reflecting on where your time is going will go a long way.
To-do lists and calendars are all useful tools, but without grounding them in the practice of self-reflection, they can be more harmful than helpful.
The most important question is not how you’re going to do everything you feel you need to do. It’s whether you need to be doing some of these things in the first place.
Final Thoughts 👇
You can do anything you want in life, but not everything you want.
Even if an activity has some benefit, it may not be the best use of your time; be ruthless about where your time is going.
If you feel like you don’t have enough time for the things you care most about, start reviewing how you spend your time and reflect on why you spend it that way.
Isaac is a content creator who makes videos about social skills, mindsets, happiness, motivation and productivity. You can check out more of his work at The Perfect Life.
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