Determining Possibilities

You can do many things in this life. Your actions do not have to be your job. You can do fun activities, hobbies, training, education development, build a family, and all sorts of other things. You can work your butt off and also do nothing.

The hardest thing is wanting to do hundreds and thousands of things and not having enough resources (usually time) to do them. I hate saying no. “Yes!,” feels right. I want to do everything good. I want to be a factotum.

You can’t do everything in life. I burnt out and became distressed trying to do everything. Finally, I’m feeling productive, happy, and am doing more than I’ve ever done before.

Making decisions on what I can/can’t or should do was tough. Here’s how you can do it. By ‘you,’ I also mean me.

Essentials first

Centering your life around key elements keeps you grounded. You have things in your life that are absolutely invaluable. You will not feel happy or accomplished if these are ill cared for or given lackluster attention.

Two elements are key to every person in life: health and family.

Keeping Your Health

Have you ever heard, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”? It’s from the movie Princess Bride, along with 4+ people quoting it in different manners.

The quote is true!

We cannot do what we want when we have no capacity to use our resources. Becoming a 5-star restaurant chef doesn’t work if you have debilitating weight problems.

I found sleep one of the main factors in determining health. I have run with low sleep for so long it’s crazy. All I needed was 5 to 6 hours of sleep since I was little. I slow down way too much on less than 5 hours of sleep.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get to 7 or 8 hours of sleep, but to my dismay; I want to do too many things and keep waking up 6 hours in. Maybe it’s time to go all nerd and apply formulas of economics to my sleeping.

I doubt you can control your health if you can’t control your sleep.

Addressing Family Ties

Your immediate family ties are paramount to long-term happiness. I’ll let you determine what immediate family means.

Family ties impact our lives. Families help shape our perspective of the world; they can cause pain and strife as well as gratitude and contentment.

You should take care of any lingering worries or stress with family.

I’m not saying to go buddy-up with your spiteful brother. I’m suggesting to stop negative influences when it comes to family. They are likely the people you relate or associate with the most.

My brother recently cut-off ties with his sister completely. He felt a negative influence in his life and resolved to fix it. Others in our family are walking on egg-shells with worry and stress weighing on them. My brother has no regrets, having made a clean decision along with his spouse… that’s what he should do.

Other Core Values

I’m guessing health and family are not the only essential things in your life. You may be suffering from mental depression, psychiatric disorders, or other critical factors. Your values may include religion or donating to charity.

Satisfy values high on your priority list first.

Don’t step on your own toes. Take care of the essentials then include more and more tasks to build a more satisfying life.

Simple Measurements and Models

scale for comparing mass of two objects

Computers do specific tasks far better than humans. Artificial intelligence has machines performing complex reasoning and learning.

Humans are irrational and take in too many factors into their decisions, even accidentally. Machines use simple measurements and models without random input.

One example of computer dominance is their ability to out-diagnose humans. Society has yet to accept this, but computers do better by asking simple questions and creating a non-biased judgment.

You should take all new tasks and perform simple measurements of weighted average to determine their value. No cheating.

The weighted average should include the areas mentioned below along with your own.

How Productive Can I Be?

Humans are terrible at gauging productivity. Ask the simple question, is it efficient, is it effective? Answering this will help us better understand our productivity.

Efficiency is how well resources are doing their job based on their cost. The resources can be time, money,  or even emotional baggage.

Effectiveness is if the thing you are trying to do is actually getting done. The needle needs to be moving in the right direction.

I had heard efficiency is doing things right, and effectiveness is doing the right things.

Does it Impact Society?

The American Dream is to become famous. Ask any 5-12 year old.

The most likely response to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is not a specific job or imitating a close relative. The most likely response is to be famous. You can call this bad or good. I see both.

You will value things more if they positively influence more people

You are happier when more people view and comment on your cute pictures on Facebook than if no one sees or cares.

Can I Produce Quality Work?

Have you ever done something for hours on end only to turn it in and realize or think about how bad it was?

I think back on my school days when I procrastinated my papers for English class. I didn’t want to do them. I’d spend a lot of time the night before and I turned in work that comes back at a B-.

Now, some of you might say, “Well, B-, that’s alright!” For me, I don’t feel a b- is my level of work. I am a professional procrastinator.

The next paper rolls around and I still procrastinate. However, I think of different ways to make the paper better. When the paper comes back an A-, I fist pump. I am so happy that I spent the same amount of time and effort in the task but the quality was better.

Increasing perceived quality increases pleasure.

How Much Time Will it Take?

The biggest fall back we have for saying we can’t do something is time. “I don’t have enough time.” “I don’t know when I could do that.”

It’s amazing how many things we do when we tell others we don’t have much time.

  • How many movies have you watched in the last month?
  • How many TV shows have you watched?
  • Have you watched any football games?
  • How many news stories have you followed?
  • How many Facebook game levels have you attempted?

Some of these things may be essential for your business, especially if you’re a sports writer. The idea behind it is you have more time than you think you do. You also have less time than you think.

If there’s one thing I learned from project management in college it is humans, people, you, me, are terrible at understanding time.

What’s the Overall Investment?

The previous questions allow you to gain a specific sense into each category of your endeavor.

We see a broader picture with this question.

Investments are how much we are willing to put into a project. They do not have to be monetary. Investments can go back to our emotional or mental or physical or other sorts of states that we have.

Frankly, anything can be an investment, so long as it can be quantified empirically or quantitatively.

Everything you do requires investment. People, in general, are happier when they invest in something.

Cake mixes have evolved over time. Previously, you only needed water to make a cake. All ingredients were in the mix. Water + Mix = voilà, a cake.

Cake mixes sold well for a long time. However, people felt little investment into their creations.

People wanted to invest more in making a cake to make it theirs. Removing powdered eggs accomplished two things. First, people had to invest more. They felt more ownership in their creation. Second, the cake actually tasted/baked better with real eggs rather than powdered.

People were more happy when buying a mix they had to invest more into.

Conclusion: tl;dr

You can do millions of things in your life, but you don’t have the resources to accomplish all of them.

You optimize your priorities if you list out what you want to do and give subjective values to each one. Weigh each task against many factors including time, social impact, and output quality. Ask questions and give each criterion a value for each endeavor.

Sorting and weighing your decisions will help you make optimal decisions in your life; optimal for yourself and others.