Kill your lists and be happy in 2014

Mon Jan 6, 2014

I have a confession to make: I have too many lists. And I’m not just talking about to-do lists and shopping lists. I’m talking about lists of books to read, movies to watch, and games to play. Netflix queues. Amazon wishlists. App wishlists. Pocket queues.

These lists have become somewhat oppressive because there’s no way I have time to check off all these things to consume. And because new items are being added all the time, they’re basically neverending. Also, lists are great at killing spontaneity. For example, I actually feel uneasy watching a movie that’s not on my list, and has not been vetted with a decent Rotten Tomatoes score.

I read other lists which are even more useless - Facebook news feeds, twitter (which is basically a neverending list of tweets), RSS feeds, etc. Reading these lists isn’t very satisfying because these are other people’s moments, not my moments.

All these lists revolve around media consumption in some form, which is entertaining, sure. Interesting, yes. But consuming things does not make us happy. You know what makes us happy? Being productive. Creating. Building. There is nothing as satisfying and rewarding than working hard to produce something tangible. It’s in our human nature to engage in that creative process of tinkering, discovering, thinking, analyzing, organizing, and marshalling our thoughts in the laser-focused act of creation. This is why time simply melts away when you are truly engaged in that music you’re composing, or website you’re designing, or sculpture you’re carving. It’s why I love to write and edit and perfect the ebb and flow of words on a page.

So I guess my new year’s resolution for 2014 is to write more, which sounds pretty trite, I’ll admit. But sometimes I get lost in the lists and forget that I have my own voice. And I never want that voice to fade.

But where to find the time to work on that novel, or other creative project? Every day, people get caught up in their own lists. How many times have you asked somebody how they’re doing, and they just say they’ve been “busy”? Then you’re compelled to reply “me too”, or risk sounding like a lazy slacker. When it comes down to it, most people are busy with things that don’t really matter. They’re just trying to whittle down their email unread count or trying to survive another boardroom meeting. Being busy gives people a false sense of importance, but doesn’t make them happy.

I remember when I was a student at university. I didn’t have a TV, a computer, a cellphone,or a car. I couldn’t afford to go to the cinema. I rode my bicycle to the library and searched dusty tomes for the information I needed to write my essays. I had lots of time to think. My thoughts were lucid and my concentration sustained. There were no distractions to interrupt this focus. I kind of miss those days, which, despite not having much to consume, were some of the most carefree of my life. When I look back, I can honestly say I wasn’t busy at all, and happier for it.

Being truly productive in your work and home life means saying “no” more than saying “yes”. Forget multitasking. Focus on what’s essential and eliminate the fluff so that you can engage in quality time with friends, family, and co-workers. Make your free time free again. Kill those lists. Just do the only thing that matters and do it with every fibre of your being - engaged and in the moment.

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