By Shane Parrish
February 27, 2015
IDEAS
Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

It’s interesting to think about the things you want to accomplish in life and work towards those goals.

This is, after all, what we’ve been taught to do since birth. But over time we accumulate other habits and end up spending our time on things that aren’t important to us.

Jim Collins, author of the cult business classics Good to Great and Great by Choice, suggests an interesting thought experiment (reminiscent of Alan Watts) to help clean the windshield so-to-speak.

What would you stop doing?

In his book How To Avoid Work, William J. Reilly offers the three most common reasons we give for not doing what we want.

Each of these, Reilly argues, “melts away as an imaginary obstacle when we shine the light of intelligence upon it.” Time is the key. “Without time nothing is possible.”

We invest time consciously and unconsciously. If you believe the advice of the wisest Americans many of us think about how our time is spent at the end of our lives, only to find regret about how our precious resource was squandered on the meaningless.

Collins’ thought experiment is an attempt to help us think about how we’re spending our time today, when we can still do something about it to change our ways. We don’t want to wake up when we’re 80, for instance, and realize that we unconsciously allocated all of our thought and effort.

But the value of this experiment applies not only to people but to organizations. The velocity and complexity of problems is increasing. In part, to ward off this pressure and delegate decisions to lower levels, organizations respond with a perpetually increasing internal information velocity. New policies and procedures are easily added while legacy ones are slowly removed. Culturally we value decisions to add things more than we value decisions to remove things.

Echoing the words of Steve Jobs on focus, Collins writes:

A lot of people wait until the start of the New Year to pause and reflect but there is no better time than now.

Collins also suggests that you ask yourself these three questions as “a personal guidance mechanism.” The answers can be used to course-correct.

Question 3 is the most complicated, perhaps because in the ‘find your passion’ movement doing what you love will not necessarily lead to a living. Cal Newport argues the counter-point: following your passion is horrible advice.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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