Self-help: No shortcuts. No secret passwords.

Before I close the college library for the two-week Christmas holiday, I always grab a dozen or so books to be certain I have good things to read over the break. I’d like to tell you that my stack of holiday reads is a carefully thought out list. It isn’t. The stack is more of a smash-and-grab operation.

A week into my vacation I was surprised to notice that my stack had a dominant theme: cultivating habits of greater focus. A few of the books I randomly grabbed:

  • Getting to It! Accomplishing the Important, Handling the Urgent, and Removing the Unnecessary by Jones Loflin & Todd Musig (library near you)
  • Driven to Distraction at Work by Edward Hallowell (library near you)
  • Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchin Rubin (library near you)
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (library near you)

I realized this a few moments are reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (library near you).

I won’t need my therapist to help me decipher what this means. I waste a lot of time worrying about prioritizing my time and whether or not I am well-focused on the most useful things. A related anxiety: many of the things I do in my daily life are done on a kind of autopilot without deep attention or thought.

Intrigued by this non-accidental accretion of books, I thumbed through several to get a sense of what I was up against. The first chapter of Getting to It! is an assault of questions:

  • “At any time of day, do you find yourself saying ‘When I get the time I will…’ or ‘One day when things are different…’ and then realizing how familiar that sounds? Do you reflect on the past five years and become frustrated..?”
  • “What if a high percentage of your tasks and actions were actually contributing to accomplishing those things that matter to you?”
  • “What if you felt you actually had time..?”
  • “What if you actually enjoyed…?”
  • “What if some of the chores on your list…?”
  • and on and on ad naseum

I put the book aside. The questions were annoying and the cadence familiar. It was the steady, rhythmic incantation of the infomercial man. Time management. Clearer priorities. A tidier, better organized life-space. Close cousins to Kaboom! Cleaner and Oxyclean laundry detergent.

I piled the self-help books together in a bag to take back to work. I’m all for a bit of ass-kicking inspiration now and then. Sometimes I need a quick recap of things I already know. But, for the most part, I already know what needs to be done. Less time thinking; more time doing. And reading about the thinking about the doing isn’t very helpful.

To paraphase the sage George Carlin: if you read a book that somebody else wrote about self-help, isn’t that just help?

So I begin my new year by setting the self-help books aside. I am one step closer to spending my time the way it actually needs to be spent.

Worry less. Do more.

Rinse. Repeat.

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