I have been experimenting in the past couple of weeks and also have been observing my day to day activities both at work and home. I realized that in default mode of life, I am always going for “Low hanging fruit” of either work or other day to day activities. I usually end up making a list of things to do on any given day and then try to knock them off from my list. As day passes, I try to clean up as many as I can. But behind all this, there was more to it. I watched to my horror how I would nicely avoid the most difficult and tough activities and finish up the easy tasks. This has bought some quite new insights into my psyche.
I used to think that it’s ok to clear off the small things first. That it is ok to get the low hanging fruit first. I thought that this would build in me enough confidence as I would go on with my bigger tasks of the day. I was a big fan of “baby steps”. What the hell was I thinking? So, basically what happened over a period of time (I am sure this has happened over quite a number of years) is that I got addicted to the act of clearing the low hanging fruit a lot. I was lured into taking up the job of perennial fruit picker! To my astonishment this is such an automatic action for me, I never stopped to think about it.
Now once I realized this, I started to prioritize stuff. But my mind is such a slave of my senses that everything I come across looks high priority to me. I made a huge list of priorities. Then I decided that I would go and make categories out of it. I realized that those categories can also have context and devices attached to it. Oh my my. Did you see what I have started again? I have become the fruit picker again – only this time it’s all about bettering the priority system I was trying to create.
Then I took my clue bat and whacked myself. I realized that this has been solved long time back by a great logician called “Occam”. His principle which is very famously called “Occam’s Razor” states:
All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best – Occam’s Razor
So, now I sat down with my pen and paper, made a list of all the priority things I want to complete and cut it off after 3. Yes after 3. I made a promise to myself that if I can finish the top 3 priority things on my list then I am happy for the day. You won’t believe me that this did not go well me my old fruit picking self. After a lot of practice and self control I am working on only top 3 things at work and top 3 things at home. You would think that this has filled up my day with a lot of time. Wrong. I actually have a lot of difficulty in finishing all the top 3 important things in a day decently.
You see all these top 3 things have quite a high bar to cross. These are, sometimes, the toughest choices I have to make in a day or toughest meetings I have to do or mind wrenching work, inconvenient truths about me. I have come across couple of observations about these though.
- We are often encouraged in the name of “Efficiency” to adopt a life style of “fruit picker”. Followed over a period of time we turn into a professional low hanging fruit picker where we are continuously self gratifying by doing the things that matter a little to us. To over come this we have to look at “Effectiveness” instead of Efficiency. This focus would be very hard to do as it has become our habit to empathise with the mediocre me.
- The low hanging fruit habit develops because we lower our gratification level and there by also lower the achievement level. So, as we continue to do this, our view of ourselves and the world also goes down. We stop to have stellar thoughts. Creative ideas would be once a year thing.
- This creates the stupid competition of all the fruit pickers. There are a lot of low hanging fruit pickers around you. So what do you expect? There is a tremendous competition to get all the low valued tasks. And believe me that we usually get lost in this race and forget ourselves. That’s why the saying, “Theres’ always more room at the top“(sic) makes sense.
- This is employed very cleverly by modern technology. I have been working in Web technologies from past 9 years. Believe me when I say, we actually use the term “the customer is dumb, he doesn’t know anything” in our meetings and use it as a ruse to dumb down the application. We bring the bar so low that it’s easier for people to become addicted to low priority activities. Want proof?
- Twitter (this one actually has the fruit lying on the floor)
- Boo yah.
- I also believe that our thinking of prioritizing and then saving the important and hard items to the end comes from our thinking which is heavily influenced by Hollywood. We save the best for the end. We wait for the climax and the anti-climax. We coin terms like “good ending“, “Save the best for the last“. We have custom grown a whole culture based up on thinking where the best thing in the dinner is a dessert!
- We should also remember that we cannot apply this top 3 priority methodology to everything else we do. This works very well in a high performance work job. This would work well in a well organized event. This may not work very well in some very important things of your life. Try doing the top 3 things in the beginning next time you have sex.
- Now that I think of it, I am pretty sure that the Forbidden Fruit was a low hanging one. Adam started it all!
So, from what I learned in these past couple of weeks – all I could say is, if you are stuck with information overload and are confused about GTD, prioritizing and “remember the milk”. Just close your eyes, trust yourself more than anything or anyone else and then get the top 3 important things from your point of view done. See how by the end of day your courage level kicks up. You might actually start to enjoy it.