Confessions of a Recovering Efficiency Nut
Hello! I’m Aaron Kardell. In my newsletter, I pick one random topic to go deep on and have some disparate quick hits at the end.
Anyone who knows me knows I pride myself on efficiency and getting things done. Apart from spending more time on my phone playing games than I should sometimes, I usually try to squeeze as much completed work out of every moment as possible.
Looking back at this past week, I had 37 calendar events involving other people. (That’s not including the events I put on my calendar to get tasks done.) Some events were <15 minutes, and one was 5 hours long. Most were Monday-Friday and were work-focused. But a couple events were things like meeting with the builders of our new house or going to my daughter’s hockey game on Saturday.
During the same week, I completed 38 activities on my to-do list.
Usually, on Sunday or Monday of every week, I open a fresh entry in my Apple Notes app and try to put the shortest list of “top priorities” for the week ahead. This is what I return to during the week to know if I’m making progress. I add lines as they come up and note things that are done so I can celebrate progress.
Before my current system, I tried many task/to-do apps and usually just gave up. The lists get too long and too overwhelming. With my new note-per-week system, I’m forced to re-orient each week on where I should spend my time.
And, while parts of the current system are working, others just aren’t.
I have 9 things on my to-do list that feel like pretty big priorities I didn’t get to this week. I have an additional 10 other things on my to-do list that accumulated over the week that may get lost as we go into next week.
More importantly, when I look at the 75 calendar events and completed to-dos for the last week, I see maybe a few – at best – that I’ll remember or care about three years from now.
A recent book I’ve been listening to is Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. While the book may sound like it’s for Type A people to help them cram more time into their day, its focus is actually much the opposite – it’s more of a philosophical exploration of how to live meaningfully within the time we have.
One thing that really struck me while listening to the book was the suggestion to engage in simple tasks like washing the dishes with full presence and attention without the need to be doing or thinking about anything else. It hit home because I heard it listening to the audiobook at >1.5x playback speed while washing the dishes. With my extreme desire for efficiency, the idea that I could just wash the dishes without listening to a podcast, audiobook, or Netflix show seemed abnormal.
Burkeman highlighted the importance of being present and finding value in the here and now rather than always looking ahead to the next thing on our to-do list or trying to multitask. He suggests this approach can transform routine activities into moments of mindfulness, helping us to appreciate the richness of the present moment and counteract the constant striving for productivity that characterizes much of contemporary life.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to entirely turn “this” off. But I see the value.
The moments I show up, fully present, with my friends and family are the ones I most care about later.
Even in a work context, sometimes you just need to give your mind space and flexibility to breathe to let the best ideas come out. I had the idea for HomeSpotter’s most successful second product, Boost, while I was staring at a lake and not trying to jam a bunch of meetings or podcasts into the day.
I keep looking for small steps to change the over-efficiency narrative for myself. On a recent road trip, I spent a couple of hours just driving. I couldn’t quite hack it the whole time … I listened to something for other parts of the drive. But it was freeing to let my mind wander in those moments.
This week, I will add a section to my weekly notes app to-do list to celebrate what I decided not to do. We’ll see if it sticks.
This Week’s Quick Hits
You may have noticed I took numerous weeks off from writing. I’m still trying to figure out where this newsletter sits on my priority stack of activities moving forward. It may need to move off my list for a season. On the other hand, one of my favorite podcasters seems to post a new episode whenever he feels like it and with no rhyme or reason. Maybe that’s where I need to land for now.
I was well into the new year before I sketched out my annual Plus, Minus, Next list. I still find this process beneficial and way more conducive to change than the typical new years resolution thing. Kudos to Nate Kadlac and Anne-Laure Le Cunff on this.
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