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What Makes Life Worth Living?

What Makes Life Worth Living?

My partner is taking a class in psychology and one assignment asks her to write a paper answering the question “What makes life worth living?”

For the past few days, she’s been asking the people around her – kids, friends, co-workers – what they think makes life worth living, and the answers have been pretty much of a sort: family, friends, work, music, some possession or other, faith, maybe health. Computer games.

Although these answers aren’t necessarily trivial, they strike me as very unsatisfying answers to the question “What makes life wort living?” What about family, friends, work, etc. makes life worth living? Just having them?

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Then why aren’t most people – who generally have families, friends, and jobs – happier than they are? Why, indeed, do we live in a society where anti-depressants are among the most profitable medications? Why are the bookstore shelves packed with books explaining how to be happier?

I think there’s a resistance to answering a question like this honestly. Sure, being put on the spot and asked one of the most profound questions humanity has managed to come up with is probably not exactly conducive to thoughtful responses, either, but I doubt she’d get much better responses if she gave them a week to think about it.

It’s the same resistance I see when people talk about the GTD weekly review. We’re pretty much ok with going over our tasks and doing some short-range planning, but when Allen insists we take that “50,000 foot view” of our lives – the Big Picture view – people tend to come up short.

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And when Allen insists, over and over in virtually every interview with him I’ve ever heard or read, that we ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right now the most important thing I could be doing in my life?” I see the same resistance. Who am I kidding? I feel the same resistance. Maybe I’m cleaning up dog poop in the backyard, or playing BrickBreaker on my Blackberry – is that really the most important thing I could be doing?

Probably not.

But it strikes me as a really important question. What does make life worth living? And I think the reason people answer in such unsatisfying ways is that we’ve grown so used to defining ourselves in terms of possessions – possessions that literally feel like extensions of our self – that it’s hard to think of even the people close to us in any way other than as possessions, as “objects” with certain qualities that make us happy. Or, more often, don’t.

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Which is to say, they’re all “things” that are external to us, no matter how much a part of our life they feel like. I think any question of what makes life worth living has to start with an inward look at one’s self, not an outward look at the people and things one surrounds one’s self with.

Instead, I think we need to address the question with our own actions, the things we do that make life worth living. Verbs, not nouns. When I think of how I would answer the question, the following behaviors come to mind:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but the relationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

Those seem like more satisfying answers to me – they strike deeper into what it is I want for myself, what makes it worthwhile to get up in the morning.

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What about you? What makes your life worth living? Do you feel like I’m headed down the wrong path here? How would you answer the question, “What makes life worth living?”

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Last Updated on April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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