Be the change you want to see in the world.
This quote by Gandhi gets trotted out a lot by people with nothing but the best intentions. Suitable for bumper stickers, motivational posters, and sticking to the top of blog posts, it seems custom-made for all your feel-good occasions. But what does it really mean? And what would it look and feel like to really be the change you want to see in the world?Advertising
Sam Davidson and Stephen Moseley of Cool People Care try to answer these questions in their book New Day Revolution: How to Save the World in 24 Hours (hereafter “NDR”). Organized according to the typical activities we engage in over the course of a single day, NDR offers a wealth of tips, tricks, and hacks that help transform everyday activities ranging from drinking a cup of coffee to giving gifts into revolutionary ones that, in ways small or large, help create a healthier, safer, and more compassionate world.
Little changes lead to big differences
The central premise of NDR is that little changes can add up to huge differences — in your life and in the world as a whole. For instance, waking up 9 minutes earlier every day — which you can do by hitting “snooze” one less time — will give you over 50 extra hours a year to live your life with. Dropping a few minutes of sleep isn’t a difficult thing to do, but it could well have life-changing effects.Advertising
Most of the tips presented by Davidson and Moseley combine these personal benefits with world-changing benefits, such as the advice to line-dry your clothes instead of running them through the dryer. Line-drying isn’t nearly as inconvenient as you’d think — if you don’t have a yard, a collapsible drying rack that fits comfortably into a corner of your house or apartment will do just as well. That’s what I did for 5 years living in New York City in tiny apartments — anyone who has relied on laundromats for their laundry needs knows the frustration of paying 75 cents or more to dry a load and still ending up with a mess of soggy clothes! SKipping the dryer for a month can save you as much as $5 (and probably more with increasing energy costs since the book was published) as well as reducing the need for coal by 10 pounds (and reducing the carbon that coal would have released into the atmosphere accordingly).
Here’s a few more tips to give you a taste of NDR’s approach:Advertising
- Get your coffee inside instead of going through the drive-thru: It will probably take just as long, plus you’ll save the gas you’d have burnt waiting for them to serve the people in front of you, you’ll get some small amount of exercise, and you’ll get a chance to interact with customers and maybe flirt with the barrista, if that’s your thing.
- Buy extra canned goods: Grab one extra of each non-perishable food item you buy and drop them off at a local shelter on your way home from the store or into work the next day. If you have pets, grab an extra can of pet food and drop it off at the shelter. Make this a regular part of your life’s routine, so you’re constantly giving a little bit of help where it’s needed in your community.
- Carry a spoon: Turn down the plastic stirrer with your coffee, or the plastic spoon with your frozen yogurt. Instead, whip out your own spoon, have your drink or dessert, and take it home. Billions of plastic spoons and stirrers are thrown out every year — that’s a lot of plastic, which means a lot of oil, just taking up landfill space!
Putting it all together
In addition to a list of tips like the ones above, each chapter of NDR also includes a profile of a person (or sometimes several people) who have chosen to make a difference in the world. Consider, for example, Jody. Jody decided to spend one year using only what she had (barring consumables like food and toiletries). For 365 days, she pledged not to buy anything new: no new CDs, appliances, household furniture, electronic gadgets — nothing. If she found she really needed something, she tried to trade someone for it, or somehow get it for free.
(Bonus tip: Check out Freecycle to see if there’s a freecycling group in your neighborhood. Freecyclers post the things they don’t need anymore to an email list, allowing whoever wants it to come and pick it up for free.)Advertising
Obviously Jody saved a lot of money. And that would be a big difference in most people’s lives. But Jody didn’t stop with saving money — she took the money she wasn’t spending on consumer goods and gave it to charities that work to alleviate poverty in both her own community and abroad. Her idea was pretty simple: stop buying the cheap goods whose availability is premised on the exploitation of cheap labor around the world, and use the money she saved to help make up for the effects of that exploitation.
The final word
New Day Revolution is, for the most part, a worthy read. It’s beautifully designed, well-written, and engaging. The tips can be a mixed bag — most people will find at least some of them that are either distasteful to them or impractical in their own lives. That’s almost inevitable, though, since NDR doesn’t really hew to any particular political line — it’s hard to cover all the bases without occasionally hitting a sour note for at least some readers.
In the end, though, it’s not so much the content of NDR that’s important as the concept. NDR advocates drawing the lines between the way you’d like the world to be and your own individual practices. They even provide a blank chapter for you to add your own thoughts and ideas — and a website, New Day Revolution, where they’re posting more ideas and you can add your own (click “Chapters” and add comments under the relevant chapter heading).
New Day Revolution is a helpful, easy read. It would make a great gift for a recent high school or college graduate, or perhaps for a new parent or anyone who’s trying to bring their lives more in line with their values. While I can see re-reading it for inspiration now and again, none of the tips are so complex that you’d need it as a reference, so feel free to follow the authors’ own advice (on page 88) and check it out of your local library.
Last Updated on July 8, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Important and Urgent
- Important and Not Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- 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.
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
- How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster
- How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1
- The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life
Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com