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Doing Less Better

Image from Hall’s (2021) article “5 ways to secure productive efficiency in 2021”

This post runs a little inductive; I’ll make my point at the end.

Every week, since March 14th of 2020, I’ve looked at my task-list, and deferred the task “Write a blog post.” By my count, I’ve deferred that task 45 consecutive times. Many of those deferrals were easy to justify: we sold a house, we moved to Chattanooga, we bought a house, I got two promotions in that timeframe, we had Christmas and New Year, and there was this pandemic to deal with. Other times, those deferrals felt more like a spiraling cycle of guilt and dread: just one more thing that I should be doing better about doing.

My task-list has also featured a host of home-projects. When we decided to sell our home (about the time of my last post), I had a tick-list of things that needed repair or upgrade. When we purchased our new home, we discovered that while it may not have been a money-pit, it needed a lot of work (we bought our home with about 30 minutes of deliberation!). I’ve had to replace all of the doors, the counter-tops, and sinks, most of the light fixtures and electrical outlets and switches, remove fencing in the yard, clear brush along the creek, and replace flooring in the bathrooms and closets. Those tasks didn’t include the projects I had planned to do, like building my bookshelves and office, making furniture for the home, and making new cabinets.

The projects and tasks related to work have been difficult to organize over the past year. I have often discovered that I have priorities that don’t fit anyone “project” but have fallen into the general container I use for misfit tasks called “Admin.” That list has been longer — by far — than my other projects put together. Some projects have had to go on hold; all of my scholarship has been on hold for the past year, and I’ve paused a host of things that still feel like priorities. I’m not able or willing to just delete them; so I’ve just paused them.

I’m not complaining about all of this; I have — for the most part — enjoyed having so much to do. I addicted to that mirco-hit of endorphins that comes with clicking the “done” button on my task manager.

The end of the Trump administration has been a relief for me. I had grown weary of so much, but one thing that I had grown especially weary of was the constant “value” attached to the behavior of markets. A constant argument of the administration, and those who supported the administration, was that good markets are a sign of good policy. It is as if the only thing our culture values is growing profits, increased efficiency, and maximized capital. Nevermind that the institution of our democracy depends upon decency, empathy, compassion, and compromise. Our national experience of the pandemic has been a direct reflection of our prioritization of market-concerns over people-concerns.

And so I found myself extremely frustrated by the headline and image depicted above. This was in my inbox this morning. John Hall’s (2021) article 5 Ways to Secure Productive Efficiency in 2021 — and the image of a computer demanding its user to “Do More” — has found me in a context where I don’t need to do any more. I’m not interested in “doing more.” My family doesn’t need for me to do more. While I would always like a bit more cash, I’m having to discern wether “doing more” is really in my best interest.

Productivity and efficiencies are big priorities for me right now, but they’re not priorities so that I can “do more.” Instead, I need to create space for silence, for playing with the grandchildren or taking a walk with my wife. Even at work, I don’t need to be able to do more in terms of quantity; I am in a place where I want to focus upon quality.

My focus this year is to resist the cultural value that insists that “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Instead, I intend to look at the tasks and projects that I currently have. If I can find more efficiency, I don’t plan to fill up that space with more frenzy. I plan to use that space to be better at what I am doing.

My goal and focus for this year can be characterized by Pirsig’s (2005) description of camping with Chris…

After a while I reach into my pack for the paperback by Thoreau, find it and have to strain a little to read it to Chris in the grey raining light. I guess I’ve explained that we’ve done this before with other books in the past, advanced books that he wouldn’t normally understand. What happens is I read a sentence, he comes up with a long series of questions about it and then, when he’s satisfied, I read the next sentence. (p. 226)

I am committing to doing less better: to reading fewer books but deeper, to starting fewer projects but with more clarity, to checking fewer tasks off my list but with more pride of accomplishment, and to focussing on fewer priorities but with more intensity.

And I’m not gonna let my ding-dang computer, or my culture’s priority on growth, or my own instinct toward feeling insufficiently productive tell me I gotta do more.

Hall, J. (2021, January 26). 5 ways to secure productive efficiency in 2021. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-ways-secure-productive-efficiency-2021-john-hall/?trk=eml-email_series_follow_newsletter_01-hero-1-title_link&midToken=AQHCJ6_DGsasrw&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=2m-Kp_QFa3TVA1

Pirsig, R. M. (2005). Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance: An inquiry into values. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, p. 226

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