THREE THINGS, EVERY DAY
6 MIN READ
Flagstaff is an idyllic town surrounded by pine forest. It was my first time living at elevation - about 7000 feet. Significantly higher than Denver. When I started riding my bike on the forest trails I was humbled at how difficult it was to make due with the thin air. I would gasp for oxygen on the flattest and easiest trails.
I kept at it because good heart health is important to me. The beautiful scenery was a nice motivator too.
Eventually my cardio capacity got to parity with where it was at sea level, then slowly, over months, improved.
I didn’t brutalize myself to adapt. These things take months or years. What I realized though is that my body could become more with less.
Just as my cardiovascular system must become more efficient when there is less oxygen, my mind must become more powerful when there are less tasks.
A Tale of Ordinary Self-Management
You make to-do lists because you’re “organized” and that’s what “organized people” do. The List grows in intensity and complexity and you are in an unusually positive and ambitious mindset when writing it - believing yourself to be capable of performing daily miracles.
On the days that you don’t forget your todo list, what percentage of your items are completed - 20%, 10%, less? These items persist into the future. One day you wake up and begin to copy “refill windshield wiper fluid” from yesterday’s list to today’s because it didn’t get done. You realize this is the third, no, fifth time you’ve copied it over. You mutter “ f••• it” and leave it off the list. More useless nonsense is jotted and the cycle begins again.
After a few days of keeping your todo list habit, Saturday rolls around. Subconsciously you hate yourself for being such an evil taskmaster that imposes so much bullshit work on you. You reject the todo list today, it is the weekend after all. It feels good. You accomplish nothing on Saturday. You revel in your video games, Taco Bell, and beer on Sunday. There’s a guilty feeling in your stomach but you just call it “Sunday Scaries” and don’t think about why you feel it. If you had dig into that feeling what would you realize — that you hate your job, or that you could have used your Sunday better, or that you’re getting fat and ignoring it?
These are nothing-days. Sure, maybe you needed Sunday to veg out and play video games BUT you fell into doing that instead of making it a priority for your day.
Choosing three things is intentionally limiting. It requires saying no to almost everything else.
This only works if you know what you’re about. I know what I want and what’s good for me more days than not (work in progress). I choose the three things that will move the biggest blocks out of my way to get to the ends I’m seeking. That makes my priorities for the day crystal clear. When the “interesting meeting” or mediocre relationship makes demands on my time it’s easy to say no because I know that this clears up my day for the meetings that yeet my team towards completion of a project and the relationships that invigorate and empower me.
Do I usually do more than three things? Absolutely. Things come up throughout the day but these impositions defer to my list of three. I also have a deep belief that doing the right three things every day is enough.
If I accomplish all three things my day is a success.
If I start to miss an item or two for a few days running - I either need to be more realistic when choosing my three tasks OR it’s time to only shoot for two things a day.
Here are a couple of real examples from today and yesterday.
- Refill windshield wiper fluid
- Learn how to load new camera with film
- Drop off Goodwill stuff
Yesterday (with work stuff and people anonymized)
- Fill out blocking section of widget code in PR and ping Marcus and Julius for reviews
- Set a meeting with Cato and Nero to finalize details of wodget architecture.
- Create pull request to add wingding to wadget code.
In addition to just being kinder and more sensitive to your self, I believe that this approach gets more net things done. You become excellent at identifying the important things while others are dragged down by tangents. The person that has a burgeoning todo list, burns out, and has a few “nothing-days” gets more done than you on some days, but at the end of a quarter there is no contest, your consistent and sustainable effort accomplishes more with less fuss. I know this deeply because I have been Type-A Rambo before, it was a way of being that was hard for me to let go of.
God has been replaced with self in the west. We think too highly of ourselves. The self esteem movement has made us entirely delusional. We are mortal and we are sinners. This is no reason for self hatred (which is of the devil - to engage in self hatred is to, by extension, hate God) but it is a reason for humility. We aim to be more like Christ but we also know that we are not Christ. All we can ask of ourselves is to strive for salvation but to accept ourselves lovingly as God does when we come up short - because we always will. We'd do well to remember this in an age where we often compare ourselves to the assumed perfection of digital machines.
We cannot accomplish everything just some things.
We cannot be perfect but we can be our authentic selves.
We cannot be great at everything though we can probably be good.
I know a modern hippie who looks down upon the world of structure as is popular to do in our culture. He says that "freedom" is more important. He has a lot of nothing days filled with idle pursuits. He is stressed at the end of most months because he needs to find enough food delivery work to make the rent payment. He is stressed when he needs medical care because he will have to find the money to pay for it. Despite these stressors he hasn’t changed anything to improve his life situation for years. If being at the behest of the rent payment and any other financial need that crops up is freedom it’s definitely not the kind I’m interested in.
The planner is more free than the free spirit. When the planner decides that they would enjoy playing a video game, they balance this against the other potential tasks of the day. If they decide that some video game time is one of the top priorities, they play it and don't feel even slightly guilty about it because they know they aren't using it as a de facto time waster to avoid the important things. Furthermore, they grow a sensitivity towards when they need to do something relaxing or enjoyable before their body forcefully lets them know much too late.
In this way they build confidence that they have their best interests in mind and are doing their part to manifest these interests in the world.
In this way true self-love grows.
I like cutesy office things though so I’ve settled on some equipment I really like for this. None of this is necessary, a notebook works fine but these are the things I like and all can be had for less than $25.
I like blank business cards (3.5" x 2") with rounded edges. They’re the perfect size in portrait orientation for writing three things.
I like putting the cards on a wooden holder on my desk. It’s easy to grab a card off and get to planning when I sit down in the morning.
I like Pilot G2 black ink pens in 0.7mm diameter. The ink contrasts really nicely on the cards.
I’m looking for some kind of long vertical spear I can stab the cards onto at the end of each day, kinda neat. Let me know if you have a cool suggestion for this.