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> Methods of Choosing

Methods of Choosing


Now, supposing that different approaches don't get us anywhere, that there really is a problem, and that we do have to choose among alternatives, what are some methods we can apply?

Well, for starters, there's the stupid method I often use, which is to do all the quick and easy things first, so that I don't feel quite so overwhelmed with possibilities. For example, part of the reason I like washing dishes is because it's a quick, simple task that has a definite end. So, it's a satisfying method, at least for me, but I still think it's stupid, because being quick and easy is not a very good indicator of how worthwhile a thing is.

If the goal is to do things that are worthwhile, or important, well, maybe the right method is to work on things in descending order of importance. That seems simple enough.

Speaking of things that are important, the above reminds me of an unfortunate time allocation behavior I read about somewhere or other, namely, working on things that are urgent to the exclusion of things that are important.

So, anyway … I don't actually find the idea of working on things in descending order of importance to be a very satisfying one, but I'm not sure why. The best explanation I can come up with right now is that leaving behind a mess of things I wanted to do and didn't have time for would be untidy … and we can't have that, can we?

The second-best explanation is that working on things in descending order of importance amounts to putting off the less important things, and I find it terribly oppressive to know that there are all these things I've put off.

That thought suggests an improvement to the method. If I don't want to put things off, maybe I just should get rid of them … accept that I'm never going to get around to them, and then forget about them. The correct word, I think, is “triage”; I'll quote the dictionary definition here because I think the wording may provide further insight.

  1. A system designed to produce the greatest benefit from limited treatment facilities for battlefield casualties by giving full treatment to those who may survive and not to those who have no chance of survival and those who will survive without it.
  2. A system used to allocate a scarce commodity, such as food, only to those capable of deriving the greatest benefit from it.

I'm slowly getting better at triage. For example, I recently got rid of some books, unread. On the other hand, I still find it very difficult. When I'm writing, for example, it is hard to look at something and think, “that's a neat thought, but it is never going to be important enough to bother explaining to anybody else”.

(If I'd left that last sentence out, it would have been self-referential.)

The last point I wanted to bring up is that it's good to be aware of all the choices you already make about what to spend your time on. I was reminded of this recently when someone asked why I wasn't signed up for a frequent-flier program. I have been, in the past, but eventually I came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time, a distraction. It didn't take a lot of time to keep track of my frequent-flier number, make sure I got credit for all my trips, remember how many miles I had, understand how they could be applied, and decide when and how to apply them, but it did take time, and all those little bits of time add up.

I'm not sure that's quite the same thing as voluntary simplicity, but it's certainly closely related.

As a more serious example, if you do sit back and observe how you spend your time, you may well find that you spend a lot of it at work. Now, I was going to say that whether you think of it that way or not, spending time at work is a choice you make, but that's not exactly right. For any living being, staying alive takes effort, or consumes resources, so, unless you're a parasite, it is necessary to work, or produce. On the other hand, you can choose how much you want to consume, and so choose how much you need to produce … which leads into the whole anti-consumerism thing.



  See Also

  No Eking
  Not Enough Time
  Urgent vs. Important
  Voluntary Simplicity

@ October (2001)