18 September 2014

44 – Doing Matters Most

Last summer I wrote about why how you do things matter. This essay is simply about why doing matters. We’ll call it a sequel.

We all spend a lot of time talking about things we’d like to do. We also invest much time in planning to do those things. And yet many of us never end up doing those things.

Many of us are great at doing the planning. Many of us are great at doing the talking. But many of us are often terrible at doing the doing.

Talk isn’t good enough. And planning don’t cut it. We need to act on what we say. And we need to do what we plan.

That’s living life. And we need to do that as often as we can. Because our time for doing it is always getting shorter.

We often complain when we don’t do the things we’d planned for and talked about. We’ll spend even more time reviewing the variables that prevented us from doing them. Sometimes it’s justified. It’s hard to drive out to the cabin for the weekend when your car breaks down on a Friday. And it’s difficult to do yardwork when Nature unleashes rains all weekend long. Even the best plans have holes we can’t plug.

But sometimes the holes in our plans are something less. Sometimes they’re just poor excuses. And sometimes there is no real excuse. Sometimes the hole in our plans are all the talking and planning that we’re doing.

Talking and planning too often become poor disguises for a habit that too many of us are great at. They often become masks for procrastination, whether we realize it or not. And sometimes all our talking and planning are just signs that we don’t really want to do something. So we put it off. We talk and plan endlessly, trying to convince ourselves that we still want to do the thing.

I’ve known this feeling. It’s called 'The Final Year of my Never-to-be-completed-PhD-Thesis.' In my heart I knew I didn’t want to write that or anything remotely like it ever again. But I was afraid to leave it behind. I was afraid of being seen as a quitter and failure. So I spent many hours being ‘constructive’ by creating outlines for chapters that’ll never be written. Eventually I took this as a sign that I should just stop and quit. So I did. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

At one point I remember asking myself two questions: 1) If I don’t like this then shouldn’t I just stop? and 2) Shouldn’t I be planning and talking about things I want to do instead?

Don’t get me wrong. Planning is important. Talking things out is too. Some things require a lot time and preparation. But some things don’t. Evaluate the scope of whatever thing you’re planning to do. Then act accordingly.

Once you know what you’d like and want to do then invest your energies where you really need to. Focus on doing the thing. Plan no more than you need to. Talk about it no longer than is necessary. Or as Al Swearengen would probably put it: shut the fuck up, put the plan away, and go do the fucking thing. 

Brilliant planner. Articulate speaker. Ruthless doer.

I won’t offer tips on how to make better use of your time. I’m not into the “How-To” business. I’m into the “Why” business. And I know why we need to do as much with our time as we possibly can.

Once upon a time, you had a lifetime to do everything you were ever going to do. Once. When you were born.

You don’t have a lifetime left to do those things anymore. You’ve got something less than that now.

Each passing moment is one less you have to do the things you need to do. Every passing day is one less you get to wake up to and do something with. And each birthday should serve as a reminder that you’ve got one less year to live.

You are not the universe. You do not have an eternity. You’re human. Your time in this universe is finite, and you only get so much of it. Your time is always running out. So is mine. And nothing we plan for or talk ourselves into can ever change that fact.

We need to do more with less. It’s the only choice we have really. And spending more time doing and less time planning, and talking about, doing may be a good place to start.

Doing is action. It’s taking tangible measures to realize a plan or fulfill an impulse. It leaves a footprint. And people remember those who get shit done.

Planning is not action. It’s charting a course for potential action. And unpursued plans are quickly blown away like dusts by the winds of time. And people only remember planners and talkers for being full of shit.

John Lennon made several good points during his short life. This is one of his most profound. And while the man may have been a bit of a prick, he did give us some truth, and made our world better while being in it. Bob Dylan wrote a tribute to him. End of story. 

Simply one of the great humans.

John Lennon is also proof that you don’t need a lot of time to do things that matter. And that how a person leaves this world isn’t what really matters. It’s what they leave behind that counts.

And what we do while we’re here is what matters most.

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