Give up hope and embrace your limits. Everything you do means giving up something else. Say yes to less. He’s one of my favorite authors, so wonderfully thorough, but I already agree and am living this way. (My “Hell Yeah or No” was about this subject.) Still, I’d recommend it to anyone.
Think of this book as an extended argument for the empowering potential of giving up hope, and embracing your limits.
Can't rush natural life.
Doing a month’s milking in a single day to get it out of the way?
Try to make the harvest come sooner?
No anxious pressure to “get everything done” because a farmer’s work is infinite: there will always be another milking and another harvest, forever, so there’s no sense in racing toward some hypothetical moment of completion.
The rhythms of life emerge organically from the tasks themselves.
Babies are the ultimate “task-oriented” beings.
Some of the otherworldliness of those first few months with a newborn: You’re dragged from clock time into deep time.
Deep time: forgetting the watch and plunging back into the vividness of reality.
One thinks with a watch in one’s hand.
(The opposite of deep time.)
You won’t have time for everything you want to do, or that other people want you to do.
So stop beating yourself up for failing.
Once you become convinced that something you’ve been attempting is impossible, it’s a lot harder to keep on berating yourself for failing.
I derive so much of my sense of self-worth from work.
Surrender the craving for mastery and dive into the unknown instead.
Resist the seductive temptation to “keep your options open”, in favor of deliberately making big, daunting, irreversible commitments.
They prove more fulfilling in the end.
Meaningful productivity often comes not from hurrying things up but from letting them take the time they take.
When people stop believing in an afterlife, everything depends on making the most of this life.
The more firmly you believe it ought to be possible to find time for everything, the less pressure you’ll feel to ask whether any given activity is the best use for a portion of your time.
Whenever you encounter some potential new item for your to-do list or your social calendar, you’ll be strongly biased in favor of accepting it, because you’ll assume you needn’t sacrifice any other tasks or opportunities in order to make space for it.
Yet because your time is finite, doing anything requires sacrifice - the sacrifice of all the other things you could have been doing with that stretch of time.
If you never stop to ask yourself if the sacrifice is worth it, your days will automatically begin to fill not just with more things, but with more trivial or tedious things, because they’ve never had to clear the hurdle of being judged more important than something else.
Commonly, these will be things that other people want you to do, to make their lives easier, and which you didn’t think to try to resist.
Resist the urge to consume more and more experiences.
Fully enjoy the tiny slice of experiences you actually do have time for.
Choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.
Spend each day “as if” it were your last.
It always might be.
Don’t depend upon a single moment of the future.
Being alive is just happenstance, and not one more day of it is guaranteed.
If you actually could get everything done, you’d never have to choose among mutually exclusive possibilities.
Only by facing our finitude that we can step into a truly authentic relationship with life.
After the sudden and premature death of his friend David, he would find himself stuck in traffic, not clenching his fists in agitation, as per usual, but wondering: “What would David have given to be caught in this traffic jam?”
Embrace the fact that you’re forgoing certain pleasures, or neglecting certain obligations.
Philosophers who’ve pondered the subject of human finitude have been reluctant to translate their observations into practical advice, because that smacks of self-help.
Neglect the right things.
Make a hard upper limit on the number of things that you allow yourself to work on at any given time. No more than three items.
All other incoming demands on your time must wait until one of the three items has been completed or abandoned.
If I nominated “write book” or “move house” as one of my three tasks in progress, it would clog up the system for months, so I was naturally motivated to figure out the next achievable step in each case instead.
Learn how to start saying no to things you do want to do.
Any attempt to bring our ideas into concrete reality must inevitably fall short of our dreams.
He was indecisive in love, and in much else, because he yearned to live more than one life.
Dating? You should definitely settle. You will settle.
To refuse to settle - to spend a decade restlessly scouring online dating networks for the perfect person - is also a case of settling, because you’re opting to use up a decade of your limited time in a different sort of less-than-ideal situation.
Settle in a way that makes it harder to back out, such as moving in together, or getting married, or having a child.
When people finally do choose, in a relatively irreversible way, they’re usually much happier as a result
Careers: If you flit between them all, you’ll succeed in none of them.
The future is more appealing than the present because you get to indulge in all your hopes for it, even if they contradict each other.
There’s no possibility of a romantic relationship being truly fulfilling unless you’re willing to settle for that specific relationship, with all its imperfections - which means spurning the seductive lure of an infinite number of superior imaginary alternatives.
Your partner is (inevitably) finite, and thus deeply disappointing by comparison with the world of your fantasy, where the limiting rules of reality don’t apply.
The crucial point isn’t that it’s wrong to choose to spend your time relaxing.
It’s that the distracted person isn’t really choosing at all.
Their attention has been commandeered by forces that don’t have their highest interests at heart.
Allow your attention to be seized by a beautiful sunset, or a baby in distress.
Involuntary attention: “attention economy” : a giant machine for persuading you to make the wrong choices about what to do with your attention, and therefore with your finite life, by getting you to care about things you didn’t want to care about.
The attention economy is designed to prioritize whatever’s most compelling - instead of whatever’s most true, or most useful.
It distorts the picture of the world we carry in our heads at all times.
It influences our sense of what matters, what kinds of threats we face.
These distorted judgments also influence how we allocate our offline time.
They sabotage our capacity to “want what we want to want.”
Social media is a giant machine for getting you to spend your time caring about the wrong things - about too many things - even if they’re each indisputably worthwhile.
The logic of the attention economy obliges campaigners to present whatever crisis they’re addressing as uniquely urgent.
My newborn son would do something adorable, and I’d catch myself speculating about how I might describe it in a tweet, as if what mattered wasn’t the experience but my role as a provider of content for Twitter.
Twitter’s fire hose of anger and suffering: as if they were the norm, which meant being constantly braced for confrontation or disaster, or harboring a nebulous sense of foreboding.
Unsurprisingly, this rarely proved to be the basis for a fulfilling day.
Once the attention economy has rendered you sufficiently distracted, or annoyed, or on edge, it becomes easy to assume that this is just what life these days inevitably feels like.
Distraction: You’re eager for the slightest excuse to turn away from what you’re doing, in order to escape how disagreeable it feels to be doing it.
The internet make you feel unconstrained.
You never even get a single week, in the sense of being able to guarantee that it will arrive, or that you’ll be in a position to use it precisely as you wish.
Instead, you just find yourself in each moment as it comes.
Time isn’t in our possession and can’t be brought under our control.
We got to wherever we are in our lives without exerting much control over it at all.
Whatever you value most about your life can always be traced back to some jumble of chance occurrences you couldn’t possibly have planned for.
Don’t mind what happens.
Those irritating individuals who are a little too proud of their commitment to being spontaneous - who insist on their right to never make plans and to skip impulsively through life.
These ostentatiously free-and-easy types seem to feel confined by the very act of making plans, or trying to stick to them.
But planning is an essential tool for constructing a meaningful life, and for exercising our responsibilities toward other people.
A plan is a present-moment statement of intent.
It’s an expression of your current thoughts about how you’d ideally like to deploy your modest influence over the future.
The future, of course, is under no obligation to comply.
Treat every such experience with the reverence we’d show if it were the final instance of it.
Aristotle argued that true leisure - by which he meant self-reflection and philosophical contemplation - was among the very highest of virtues because it was worth choosing for its own sake, whereas other virtues, like courage in war, or noble behavior in government, were virtuous only because they led to something else.
Psychotherapists call it a “second-order change,” meaning that it’s not an incremental improvement but a change in perspective that reframes everything.
Patience has a terrible reputation.
It’s disturbingly passive.
Choose a painting or sculpture in a local museum, then go and look at it for three hours straight.
You: “I’ve never been able to fix those kinds of things!”
Him: “That’s because you don’t take the time.”
If you’re willing to endure the discomfort of not knowing, a solution will often present itself.
Develop a taste for having problems.
The most productive and successful made writing a smaller part of their daily routine than the others.
They cultivated the patience to tolerate the fact that they probably wouldn’t be producing very much on any individual day, with the result that they produced much more over the long term.
They wrote in brief daily sessions.
Originality lies on the far side of unoriginality.
The Finnish American photographer Arno Minkkinen dramatizes this deep truth about the power of patience with a parable about Helsinki’s main bus station. There are two dozen platforms there, he explains, with several different bus lines departing from each one - and for the first part of its journey, each bus leaving from any given platform takes the same route through the city as all the others, making identical stops. Think of each stop as representing one year of your career, Minkkinen advises photography students. You pick an artistic direction - perhaps you start working on platinum studies of nudes - and you begin to accumulate a portfolio of work. Three years (or bus stops) later, you proudly present it to the owner of a gallery. But you’re dismayed to be told that your pictures aren’t as original as you thought, because they look like knockoffs of the work of the photographer Irving Penn; Penn’s bus, it turns out, had been on the same route as yours. Annoyed at yourself for having wasted three years following somebody else’s path, you jump off that bus, hail a taxi, and return to where you started at the bus station. This time, you board a different bus, choosing a different genre of photography in which to specialize. But a few stops later, the same thing happens: you’re informed that your new body of work seems derivative, too. Back you go to the bus station. But the pattern keeps on repeating: nothing you produce ever gets recognized as being truly your own. What’s the solution? “It’s simple,” Minkkinen says. “Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.” A little farther out on their journeys through the city, Helsinki’s bus routes diverge, plunging off to unique destinations as they head through the suburbs and into the countryside beyond. That’s where the distinctive work begins. But it begins at all only for those who can muster the patience to immerse themselves in the earlier stage - the trial-and-error phase of copying others, learning new skills, and accumulating experience. The implications of this insight aren’t confined to creative work. In many areas of life, there’s strong cultural pressure to strike out in a unique direction - to spurn the conventional options of getting married, or having kids, or remaining in your hometown, or taking an office job, in favor of something apparently more exciting and original. Yet if you always pursue the unconventional in this way, you deny yourself the possibility of experiencing those other, richer forms of uniqueness that are reserved for those with the patience to travel the well-trodden path first.
To experience the profound mutual understanding of the long-married couple, you have to stay married to one person.
To know what it’s like to be deeply rooted in a particular community and place, you have to stop moving around.
Possibility shock: the startling understanding that things could be different, on a grand scale, if only we collectively wanted that enough.
Paralyzing grandiosity: as though it’s your duty to find something truly consequential to do with your time.
What you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much.
Overvaluing your existence gives rise to an unrealistic definition of what it would mean to use your finite time well.
It sets the bar much too high.
It suggests that in order to count as having been “well spent,” your life needs to involve deeply impressive accomplishments, or that it should have a lasting impact on future generations.
Many of the things you’re already doing with your life are more meaningful than you’d supposed.
Until now, you’d subconsciously been devaluing them, on the grounds that they weren’t “significant” enough.
Ask the following questions of your own life.
It doesn’t matter if answers aren’t immediately forthcoming.
The point is to live the questions.
Where in your life or your work are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort?
Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet?
In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?
In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?
How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about seeing your actions reach fruition?
Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today.
How to live: quietly do the next and most necessary thing.
If you do with conviction the next and most necessary thing, you are always doing something meaningful and intended by fate.
Do the next right thing.
Keep two to-do lists, one “open” and one “closed.”
The open list is for everything that’s on your plate and will doubtless be nightmarishly long.
Fortunately, it’s not your job to tackle it.
Instead, feed tasks from the open list to the closed one - that is, a list with a fixed number of entries, ten at most.
Establish predetermined time boundaries for your daily work.
Focus on one big project at a time and see it to completion before moving on to what’s next.
To make a difference, you must focus your finite capacity for care.
Whenever a generous impulse arises in your mind, act on the impulse right away, rather than putting it off.