More thoughts on Bergman’s “Two Lists”

I’ve spent the day thinking more about Bergman’s “Two Lists You Should Look at Every Day” post and realize I took the easy way out yesterday. The focus list of things I want to achieve is kind of a no-brainer. Of course, it helps to have a list of things that inspire me and carry me forward. That first list helps me better define my own understanding of success.

The second list is essential but far more difficult. Few people, Bergman claims, ever make the second list. The second list isn’t just a list of unpleasant or unimportant distractions to be avoided. The second list is hard because it may well contain things that are important, things that are worthwhile priorities, but which, I am consciously choosing to avoid.

What Bergman is talking about here is opportunity cost. For every opportunity I follow up on, I am trading the time and energy I might have made available for some other worthwhile opportunity. This isn’t an easy choice between things I like and things I don’t like. The second list involves guts. The second list involves disappointing people, letting things go, admitting my limits.

This second list strikes me as a very powerful idea. It actually scares me a little. I can’t quite get my head around it. I know I have a hundred things that belong on that second list but I don’t know how to start naming them.

Here is the generosity of Bergman’s suggestion: this isn’t a facile proclamation of what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. This is a public admission that, even if my talents were unlimited (they are not), my time and energy are finite. I can’t do everything I want to do or think I should do. I have to pick and choose.

The second list is about being mindful of one’s limits to avoid the trap of constant reaction. Our mobile, hyper-informed, web-laden lives are brimming with opportunity costs. Activities, projects and notions call for more than our attention. They call for our time. We cannot give them time without sacrificing time from somewhere else.

All of this brings me back to an idea I picked up a few weeks ago about reactionary workflow, the idea that our use of information technologies only make us more productive if we can harness them mindfully to accomplish specific things we wish to accomplish. Otherwise, we spend all our time reacting to other people’s agendas.

Success is spending time making the things you care most about. I’ve got to make these lists. I’m just not sure how to start.

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