Sunday, November 4, 2012

five hours a day and the most vulgar but productive question ever

You know how sometimes we get so busy with the day-to-day things of life, we forget the big picture? It's that whole seeing the forest through the trees thing, right? Somewhere in the mire of daily life, we forget that our lives are supposed to be building toward something, toward happiness or fulfillment or accomplishment or, you know, something outside of complete abject misery.

I went through this recently and it was incredibly frustrating. As someone who is almost a year out of undergrad (ugh, it's already been almost a year?), it was annoying to already see my priorities falling out of order and my life dictated by silly daily tasks that weren't actually getting me anywhere. I still don't know how to get to happiness or fulfillment or accomplishment, but I have started to figure out how to not get lost in the chaos.

This is something that is so hard to keep in mind: A lot of these things we think we "have" to do are things that don't actually put us any closer to our dreams, they're just time wasters. And we don't even realize they're time wasters until we think about the amount of time we actually have.

We have to start by accepting that our time is limited. If we go to work 8 hours a day and need another 8 hours of sleep, that only leaves us with 8 hours to do things not work and sleep related. You have to eat and bathe during that time (right, guys?), and if you live in DC you should probably allow for a minimum of one hour of your time that WMATA will waste.

After the math, we're working with about five hours. (That's all?) We've got five-ish hours a week day to accomplish the things that matter to us. So we have to build our lives in a way that allows us to maximize those five hours with the things that matter the absolute most. We have to prioritize - and by that I mean, actually prioritize, not the kind of prioritize where we convince ourselves that everything is a priority and we can DO ALL THE THINGS.

It isn't easy, by any means. My first list of "priorities" was approximately eleventy-billion things long, and included things that aren't really priorities, but things I thought I should be doing, or just kind sorta want to do. So I pared it down one by one, asking myself over and over again "Okay, why the fuck is this on the list?"

I started asking this awesome question after I read this wildly fantastic article. I learned that getting things done isn't about being busy, because being busy is kind of bullshit. The kind of "busy" I was was just procrastination, it didn't move me anywhere. As Francisco Dao writes, "the key is honesty;" you have to be honest about your priorities, or this won't work.

What's left on my list today covers 5 things that are extremely important to me. They're things that when I ask the question "Why the fuck...?" I have a solid answer, because they're fundamental to my happiness. After those five things, there are some things that are Tier Two - important but not necessary, then everything else that just happens when it can. And the beauty of this system is it allows room for values - my answers are never going to be the same as anyone elses'. Sometimes my answer to the question is "Well, because my dad wants me to." And while that may not be a good enough reason for some people, it is for me. And that's totally okay because they're my priorities, no one else's. 

These days, I use this question for every decision I make, and I'm radically more productive because of it. And, frankly, I'm radically happier because of it. I'm less stressed. I've removed the crap from my life that's not a priority, that didn't have a good answer to the "Why the fuck...?" question, and all that's left are the things that really do matter. And I can use those five hours in a way that allows me to see both the forest and the trees.


  1. Wow, I'm definitely going to be doing some thinking about this today!

  2. I really love this Valorie! I've been doing a lot of soul searching, and even took an entire week off from work last week. If anything, it taught me that my time is valuable, and I will never have enough of it! Prioritizing and asking yourself those honest questions are the only way you'll ever really find what you want in life. Thanks for the reminder :) xoxo

  3. I have been going through a similar phase, where I just have so much to do and I just can't handle it at times. I too did a calculation how I need like 35% of day to sleep, 10% for my workout, 20% for my classes, 15% for eating bathing etc and I'm just left with 20% of the day to study and do any other important work. Which is like even less than 5 hours, during which I have to study and work on my assignments too. So, everything else kind of falls back, and it is so frustrating.


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