Scott H Young

Decide What’s Unimportant to You


A lot of goal-setting advice focuses on deciding what matters to you. People exclaim, “follow your passions!” or “set priorities.” This is fine, but it misses the opposite, but equally important question: what doesn’t matter to you.

Importance is relative, so in deciding to make something a priority or importance in your life, you need to make something else unimportant. Unfortunately, few people deliberately select the things they aren’t going to care about. As a result, they end up trying to do everything and accomplish nothing.

What’s Unimportant to Me

Here are a few things I’ve decided are a low priority for my life:

  • Fashion
  • Following the news
  • Politics, beyond the basic issues
  • Academic grades, beyond a minimum level of effort
  • Sports
  • Religion (at all)
  • Live Television
  • Games

Now, I half expect to receive at least one or two comments from people attacking my list. “How can you not follow the news, care about grades or be involved in any religion?” Obviously, one of the things I’ve mentioned is extremely important to them.

I want to point out my list isn’t universal. I’m not saying the above things are always unimportant. I’m simply saying I’ve deliberately selected them to be low priorities in my life. Their absence from my schedule allows me to set time for the things I do find important such as, socializing, running a business, and staying healthy.

I’m also not implying that I’m necessarily poorly dressed, completely uninformed about world events or that I get lousy grades. Simply that, when directing my conscious activities, I put a lower weight on those things in my life. I’d rather fail at each of the things in my list, if it meant my truly important pursuits succeeded.

Deciding What’s Unimportant For You

It’s easier to color outside the lines than within them. It’s easier to try to focus on everything evenly, rather than intentionally leave parts of your life blank. But, without constraints, a picture is just a blur of colors, and life is undirected chaos.

I’d suggest trying to come up with a list of things you consider low priorities. If your list is short (or you have difficulty picking anything), you might want to take a deeper look at where you spent your time. Ask yourself questions like, “If I had to pick 4-5 things to fail at, what would I sacrifice?”

Simplicity demands constraints, and trying to do everything is more like doing nothing.

Unimportant Doesn’t Mean Disaster

Declaring something as unimportant doesn’t mean it will immediately fail. Simply that you aren’t going to invest tons of resources to ensure it succeeds. Sometimes the area of your life will just remain neutral, without getting significantly worse or better, over time.

For example, I’ve put fashion as a low priority for my life. I buy new clothes infrequently, and I have a limited wardrobe. But, every several months or year, I’ll buy new clothes and try to look presentable. Fashion, for me, is mostly in neutral territory. I put in an extremely low amount of effort which allows me to coast by.

Other times, low priority items crash and burn. When I decided advertising was a low-priority for my business, the revenue I generated plummeted. Without dedicating the best webspace real estate and working to increase revenues, my income went down by a factor of 10 over a few months.

However, the sacrifice of low priority items is usually made up by the extra effort you can put into high-priority pursuits. When my advertising revenue crashed, I was also making 3-5x the lost income in additional sales of guides and ebooks. So, even when your unimportant issues fail, they allow your truly important work to flourish.

You Can’t Do Everything

Either you declare your unimportant tasks, or the world does it for you. If you choose not to label anything as trivial, you’ll run out of time and energy. And when that happens, something has to give, and it might end up being something you actually care about.

I have a maximizing personality. Which is great, because it allows me to drag myself off the couch to pursue adventures and new opportunities. But the downside is that I like to do everything. Without spending some time deliberately omitting focuses from my life, I’d try to do everything. Indeed, often I have, and it usually goes poorly.

Pick the things that don’t matter. Or, at the very least, decide your maximum input level for those pursuits. If you stop yourself from overcommitting on the small things, you can ensure you have the opportunity to pursue the big things.


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14 Responses to “Decide What’s Unimportant to You”

  1. Absolutely. Everyone has different standards, and will not have the same “unimportances”=P. People always bug me that I don’t follow the news, but hey, I have more urgent things to do! Thanks, great post.

  2. Anthony says:

    This is a pretty important point – I also agree with you about news. Here is a post on 5 reasons to do something more useful that watching or reading the news:

    http://anthny.com/2009/09/05/5-reasons-to-do-something-more-useful-than-watching-or-reading-the-news/

  3. I also came up with a similar list as I was undergoing a difficult time in my life. When things are rough, you learn to prioritize, and you learn to prioritize the things that really matter. What are these things? These things are those that last, that give you joy and that makes you a better person. All other things can be considered less priority or unimportant ;-)

  4. This is quite a though provoking post – i think everyone should probably take a look at their lives and cut out entirely what is not important. At the same time you need to decide what is really important

  5. Colin Wright says:

    Interesting; I often think about what’s most important for me to focus on, but very seldom to I consider what is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

    I think my list is very similar to yours, though. I think fashion might be a little bit higher up on my concern list (because of the amount of branding I do and how being fairly stylish is part of MY brand), but otherwise I could care less about religion or TV or sports or arbitrary politics.

    This is something I’ll have to consider further. You’ve given me something good to stew over! Thanks!

  6. BeTrulyHappy says:

    Hey,

    First time browsing through your website and I really like the great content you have. I can relate to your list of unimportant things….I thought I was the only one.

    Thanks.

  7. Eugene says:

    Not to sound like Spock, but atheism and theism are illogical.

    Either end of the spectrum lacks proof.

    Agnosticism (http://tinyurl.com/b3azx) is the only logical explanation.

    I succumbed to illogic when I became a Christian theist, because the illogic of my atheism was too painful. I traded illogic for illogic. For lack of a better way of putting it, I figured, “If I was God looking in to this universe, I would view life in this tiny universe like an animal loving scientist respects and even cherishes exotic species of rain-forest life.” I would want life in that universe to evolve freely and thrive in abundance.

    For many years I maintained my sense of spiritual equilibrium by channeling faith into that general concept, because I disliked atheism as too cold and nihilistic. I figured everyone will die in the flesh and their life force is destined for some unknown “place” (in existence or non-existence) and so what does it matter what we believe? Let me suggest an intrinsic reason why it might matter.

    Sharing a thought experiment, envision a sphere with one-way mirrored inner surface as representative of this universe as a closed timelike curve or loop (http://tinyurl.com/3xuq4k).

    Observers outside this sphere can “see” into the sphere, but observers within the sphere experience a grand illusion that it goes on forever. Perhaps if they are advanced enough technologically, their physicists measure infinite “reflections” of the sphere’s interior.

    If the sphere contains trillions of galaxies, for instance, what viewing instrument is powerful enough to see far enough out to measure the demarcation of the universe’s curvature? Measuring such a massive closed timelike looping universe may take millions of years of developed technology and even then its scientific interpretation is subject to distortion, illusion and yes, delusion. Observers outside the sphere might consider it as one of an infinite number of particles. Each of those particles may contain laws of physics so different from ours that the human imagination in incapable of conceiving even primitive mental imagery of such wonders.

    Yes, perhaps we are inside such a sphere, and we may die believing it goes on forever, with a bang and crunch, reinvention of physics, bang and crunch, ad infinitum.

    Who is outside the sphere looking in? Perhaps nobody; we may never know. We are like captives born inside a box, like birds whose universe is the bars of their cage (not even having enough evolved intelligence to know the outer boundaries of our universe are in fact bars). More jarring of a thought is that like birds out of their native habitat, we may live and die in our “cage” because there is no life for us (in our primitive material form) outside these confines.

    Observers outside the sphere, if there are observers at all, are holding all the cards. I accept the possibility our universe is one spherical particle in a vast desert of sand, on a world within a universe that is a quantum particle in a vast ocean of water, in a universe that is one particle of a massive black hole at the center of a galaxy in a universe… And I equally give probabilistic weight, with a good dose of wishful thinking (and they say that “thoughts are things”) that our consciousness is moving up an evolutionary “escalator” where something wonderful awaits us at the top of the escalator, like going up an escalator in a gloomy subway station to suddenly enter a vibrant modern mall filled with music and life.

  8. Scott Young says:

    Eugene,

    Bayesian rationality is a better rationality model than one that requires 100% proof, of which your expectations are adjusted compared to the volume of evidence for or against a particular theory. Atheism for me isn’t an absolute, I’d guess there is a small, but not zero, chance that there is a higher power, simply that all of the hard evidence I’ve seen makes atheism more likely.

    So, no, atheism is not illogical, nor is theism (if you truly believe the evidence you’ve been given demonstrates a higher power). It may not be correct, but that doesn’t mean it is an irrational belief to hold.

    -Scott

  9. Anthony says:

    I don’t think there’s one chance of “God” existing, as there’s no one definition (same with “higher power”). Often it changes from person to person.

  10. hirokln says:

    u r absolutely right Scott. Many people waste time by doing things which are unimportant.

    Our life is a graph with 4 quadrants.

    1) Urgent but not important
    2) Not urgent but important
    3) Urgent and important
    4) Neither urgent nor important.

    Only we h’ve to enlist and decide what is important and to carry on with that work. People fail to enlist things because they are either sluggish or apathetic.

    If we put on writing, that itself gives more clarity. Clarity is the key for success. One should always know “what you want”. Find what is important to you.

  11. Noel says:

    With the exception of the art of fashion, not the materialism of fashion, I have to agree that the remaining items on your list are also equally unimportant to me. I get it. I’m glad you have a blog.

  12. […] Decide What’s Unimportant to You [Scott H Young] […]

  13. […]  That is still good advice, but there is more than one way to approach this exercise.  Scott H. Young proposes articulating what you don’t care about.  He writes, “Figuring out what does […]

  14. shreevidya says:

    Yes, prioritizing really helps in doing the work. But sometimes it happens that the event is unavoidable. In my case, I don’t like to sit a long time with guest and chat, when they come to visit. But it really feels odd, me just leaving them and doing my work. Many a time I decided to cut short the gossip and concentrate my work, but couldn’t do it actually.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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