The easy vs. the important

The hardest thing about getting through a prioritized list is to stick to the order of priority.

Because whatever is highest priority isn’t always easy. It isn’t always a “quick-win”, a “low-hanging fruit” or whatever jargon we choose to call it. And when we sit down to do the difficult work, the universe seems to conspire against us.

That is why when we sit down to write that important report, we clean our desk. That is why instead of studying for an important test, we day-dream about curing world hunger. That is why we pick off the easy items in our to-do list, while never getting to the important tasks. That is why we procrastinate.

And procrastination isn’t as much a conspiracy of the universe, as it is of our own minds. When we encounter a difficult task, we activate the insular cortex – a part of the brain that experiences pain. Our brain mistakes doing difficult work with being physically attacked. Therefore, our response is to shift our attention to something easier – like a quick item on our to-do list or a sugary snack. This confusion, this bug in our cerebral programming is the conspiracy. When we do get to the work itself, we realize that it wasn’t as hard or unpleasant as we thought it to be. Starting is the difficult part.

The easiest way to get around this is to trick our brain. When we do not feel like running on a cold morning, we could promise the brain that we could turn back after 200m. Another excellent trick is to use the Pomodoro technique, for every 8 hour report can start with 25 minutes of focused attention. All of these are methods to trick our brains to merely start. Once we start, it is easier to keep things rolling.

What is easy isn’t always important, and what is important isn’t always easy.

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