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:
- Following the news
- Politics, beyond the basic issues
- Academic grades, beyond a minimum level of effort
- Religion (at all)
- Live Television
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.