It’s just before New Year’s Eve now, and everyone and their grandma is talking about goal setting. What exciting new things to accomplish, which habits to develop, and which mindset shifts to create. And all of these things are fantastic.
But what we often forget is that success at anything does not only depend on what you do, but also on what you don’t do.
We are all given the same 24 hours each day, but somehow a select few manage to accomplish so much more in a day than others in entire weeks. The reason for that, I have come to believe, is focus.
It has become so common in our culture to waste countless hours every day on facebook, netflix, and snapchat that it’s almost daunting to think about what we could actually accomplish in our lives if we just gave up on all the apps and tools that are designed with one purpose only: Grab your attention and hold it for as long as possible.
I recently read Seneca’s 2000-year-old treatise On The Shortness Of Life, which was a great reminder of what we all intuitively know but fail so miserably to practice:
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”
With our constantly rising life expectancy, and the ability to connect with anyone and learn anything in an instant, this is the greatest time in history to achieve virtually any goal you may have.
But at the same time, social media, TVs, and the constant bombardment with emails and text messages also make it harder to focus on anything productive than ever before.
It is, in my opinion, the great paradox and danger of technology: Designed to make our lives easier, it has now made us so addicted to the constant rush of adrenaline that comes from someone “liking” our picture or sending us a message that the ability to shut yourself off from the world and focus on what truly matters may be the number one competitive advantage anyone can develop.
As Cal Newport wrote in his book Deep Work, “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
Based on this idea that we all have enough time but simply waste it doing useless stuff, I decided to create a give-up list of things I will stop doing over the next year:
Will I regret this decision a week from now when I am bored and desperately crave some immediate gratification? Certainly!
But it will also allow me to create more free time in my life than ever before, to improve my relationships with the people I love, and accomplish more in a day than I used to achieve in a week. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?
Now, I know that these rules are certainly not for everyone. You may have to check your emails more frequently than I do, watch the latest news for your work, or use movies to relax at night. But for most of us, all of these things have simply become a distraction from life and the fact that we are not where we want to be yet. It is easy to turn on the TV and forget that you are not living up to your full potential. Not so easy to get up and do something about it.
I’m a big fan of simplifying life, both in big ways and small ones. Whether it’s minimizing the daily decisions I have to make or designing my life for laziness, there are many ways to improve life by simplifying it.
Creating a give-up list is another such way that will increase my free time, improve my productivity, and simply make me a better and happier human being. Now my question to you: What are you willing to give up?
Originally published at medium.com