Think about the list of things done and undone on your ToDo list for the last few weeks. How many of those things, done and undone, were really worth doing?
If you can look at that list and honestly articulate why you intended to do the items on it, you’re a long way toward being able to answer the question of whether it was worth doing. If you can’t attach a meaningful “why” to each of the items, then the reality is that it probably wasn’t worth it.
But there’s more to it than that. If there’s a mismatch between the task/action level and higher levels of perspective, then the item in question probably wasn’t worth it, either. If a task was related to a project that wasn’t worth doing, then the task itself wasn’t worth doing. If a task that wasn’t worth doing doesn’t relate to anything worth doing, then, guess what, the task wasn’t worth doing.
I generally sum up the last two paragraphs with the encompassing statement begin with the end in mind. If you’ve heard me speak or have worked with me, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard me say that statement because it’s one of those ideas that is so simple in theory yet so hard in practice. (Note: “end” here is not so much the conclusion of something, but more the desired result of any action – Covey’s discussion of ‘end’ relating to the “end of one’s life” is a misunderstanding that’s getting in the way of thinking about the concept.)
If we’ve done a good job of figuring out what we’re trying to accomplish, then it’s just a matter of practical wisdom to figure out the best means to get there. Yet, all too often, we end up running from task to task without thinking about it, only to wonder later why we didn’t make progress towards the ends we wanted. And therein lies the rub: we can only have a meaningful, cohesive life worth living if we act in cohesive, meaningful ways, although luck is a component to our flourishing.
If our resources were infinite, maybe, just maybe, we’d have a shot at living a life worth living without worrying about how our actions fit in with our goals, but the grim reality is that our resources are finite. Every action we choose isn’t chosen in a vacuum – it’s chosen in the context of everything else we could be doing. By choosing this action, we’ve chosen not to do anything else (for now). Everything we do that’s not worth doing comes at the cost of something worth doing.
Now look over that list again. Don’t fret about the things undone that weren’t worth doing, for even if they were done, you wouldn’t be better off. Appreciate what was done, but hone in on those things that made a difference. And when it’s time to commit to acting again, commit to the things that are worth doing and drop the rest.
The essence of the message: Begin with the end in mind and connect action with intention. If it’s not worth doing, doing it will be at the cost of something worth doing.