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Bringing in the Harvest

Bringing in the Harvest

Bringing in the Harvest

    To all our American readers, I and the rest of the Lifehack team wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings today.

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    I wanted to avoid the typical, clichéd, count-your-blessings-what-are-you-thankful-for posts. You all know that. Grade school kids know that. Heck, the unborn already know that. So let’s take it as a given that you’re deeply considering your blessings and what you have to be thankful for today. At least during the commercials, if nobody’s yelling.

    (Non-US’ers may not be aware of how we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US. First, there’s enough food to feed a small country – weird food, though, food we don’t eat any other time of the year except maybe Christmas: turkey – deep-fried, roasted, or stuffed with a chicken that’s stuffed with a duck – stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, and something odd that an aunt or great-grandmother comes out of retirement once a year to cook. While that’s all getting magically cooked by our mothers, aunts, and grannies, the rest of the family either a) watches a big American football game, b) argues viciously, or c) alternates between “a” and “b”.)

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    But what’s got me thinking today is not so much the “thanksy” part of Thanksgiving, but the timing. Thanksgiving is, first and foremost, a harvest festival. That’s what the Pilgrims were supposedly giving thanks for – their first harvest in this new land. Every agricultural society in the world has a similar festival. After the crops are in and the hay laid up and the grain stored and the herds brought in and the work of the farm is done, there’s a festival, an opportunity to thank whatever god or gods a people consults on such matters and to celebrate the end of another year’s hard work and to prepare for the quiet months to come.

    Ironically, Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the US just as the agrarian lifestyle it celebrates was entering its final decline. It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, as the Civil War which gave the US’s industrial revolution its running start raged. After the Civil War, farming would be increasingly industrialized, and the vast bulk of America’s population would leave the farm and migrate to the city, to lives of factory and service work. Today, fewer than 2% of Americans work in agriculture.

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    Which is to say that the majority of us lead lives that are no longer defined by the annual cycle of planting and harvesting, summer bustle and winter quietude. Our harvests are no longer brought in every Autumn; instead, we sow and we reap throughout the year.

    What strikes me about Thanksgiving, then, is that this is a holiday about finishing, about congratulating yourself and your community for a job well done. The Thanksgiving story with the Pilgrims and the Indians is a myth, of course, a story we tell ourselves to give ourselves some kind of grounding in the world, to explain who we are. But it’s a good myth – it tells of a people who looked at what they’d done and realized that they’d accomplished something. They were so excited about what they’d done that they couldn’t resist showing off a little, inviting their neighboring Indians to see (much like thousands of Americans will spend tonight giddy with excitement over the new widescreen television they’ve installed in the living room for tomorrow’s game, knowing that there friends and family will see that they’ve accomplished something).

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    It’s important to celebrate our accomplishments like that. It’s too bad that in today’s world of cool reserve and ironic detachment, too often we downplay our achievements, even to ourselves. We resist sharing our triumphs with others, for fear of being seen as bragging, boastful, “too big for our britches”, a show-off.

    This is unfortunate because the festival not only marked the end of the harvest, it gave farmers the energy and incentive they needed to slog though the dreadfully difficult work of tending and reaping their crops. We should allow ourselves the same benefit, but instead we sap away our motivation by downplaying the things that are most important to us.

    I guess what I’m saying boils down to this: while we’re giving thanks tomorrow for a harvest that we didn’t bring in tomorrow, maybe we should be thinking of the harvest we did bring in. And maybe we should be giving ourselves permission to have a little Thanksgiving throughout the year, to learn from the Pilgrims and mark our achievements as they happen – and share the bounty with our families and neighbors. Count your blessings if you must, but be sure to count your successes in the list, the projects you’ve completed, the steps both large and small you’ve taken towards your goals, and yes, your own harvests.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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