Unusual Subroutines

The blog and musings of Christopher Allen-Poole

Priority is the Key

If you want to be productive, then you need to know your priorities. It's a fact of life. Without prioritization, then people (including me and you) start defaulting to "whatever seems the most urgent right at this very moment." That leads to increased rate of re-tooling, which leads to waste. This also means you have a perpetual "work in progress" list, causing all sorts of slow-down, confusion, and pile-up.

"OK," you say, "What if I don't care about productivity?" Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you want to be happy, then you need to know your priorities, too. If you don't say, "family is a priority", then you'll be stuck with the whims of an annoying, PHB (you know the type). Your boss might not like that, but if that's the case, you may need a new boss.

I've been studying productivity recently, and the first real question I had was "what does productivity even mean?" Does it mean that I write more lines of code than someone else? Does it mean that my code is more stable, more verbose? Does it mean that I close more Jira tickets? And the only answer I could find was that productivity does not exist for itself.

You can't just go out and "be productive." Intending to "be productive" without some greater context is just about nonsensical. No, when we say we're trying for that magical p-word, we're really saying that we want to be more efficient, we want to be better at accomplishing some thing, and whatever thing you're trying to improve at also does not exist for its own.

Well, not to get Aristotelian on everyone, but realistically, we're all aiming for happiness. We're all aiming for the feeling of contentment, the feeling that we have interesting opportunities, that we can improve ourselves, grow ourselves. This means that the best productivity… is there to facilitate our happiness.

SO… taking this a step further, if our goal is happiness, then we need to determine which path will lead us there, and we need to walk it. If we choose the wrong one, if we are confused over the path, then we're still far better off than sitting back and making no choice. The non-choice leads us back in front of the ultimate PHB: urgency. In an unprioritized life, whatever is loudest wins. It gets our attention and holds us to it. It drags us from goal to goal, unable to truly pursue anything meaningful because of the constant shifts in direction. Instead of trying to accomplish something in the current, a gust pulls of into another course.

And yes, it is possible that we will find ourselves pulled into the most productive approach. It's quite likely that we will find a way, or, at least the beginning of a way, to our own particular greatness without learning this lesson, but it's not likely. Even if we somehow manage to approach some form of success, the slightest whim will draw us with their siren-song, upsetting our path and sending us down one which may be less promising.

At some point we need to learn to shun the bad and choose the good, otherwise when we do find ourselves stumbling onto that path, we'll lose it before we make it more than a few paces. Although, who knows, maybe with all of those urgent unimportant things yelling in our ears and minds, maybe we'd just never notice.

Personally? I'm hoping to go with a modification of another Greek: the unprioritized life is not worth living.

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