You Can Do Anything, But You Can’t Do Everything

The title of this post is from David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and codifier of the GTD productivity system. You can’t literally do anything, but I take the point he’s trying to make. We all have choices about how we spend our finite resources — time, money, and energy, mostly. There is no possible way to accomplish everything we’d like to. This means that we need to set some criteria, prioritize, and maximize our results. It’s about opportunity cost.

You Can Do Anything

As I’m writing this, I have choices. What I’d really like to do is go back to bed. There are times when that’s the most productive thing that I can do, because the benefits of rest pay a dividend later. I’m not that tired at the moment, though. I could read, because there are a couple of books that I’m into at the moment that I’d like to finish. There’s a TV series I’m re-watching, an episode a day, and I put it on while I’m journaling. I will do that later, but I could do it now instead. I could just go take a walk, or bake some banana bread.

What I need to do is write. Those things don’t pay the bills, so they get pushed down the list of priorities. Writing this blog post doesn’t pay the bills, either, but it helps me to slip into a writing mood. I’m warming up for a flow state. There is a payoff later, because when I close this and open my current work in progress I’ll be in my groove. My opportunity cost is the things I’m not doing — it costs me reading time, TV time, leisure time, to work. But I’d rather pay the rent next month instead.

But You Can’t Do Everything

On another level, I have a lot of blog posts that I want to write. I cannot write them all at once. For various reasons, I’d selected this one. I have an editorial calendar with a posting schedule for this blog. As I have ideas, I put them into the next available spot on the calendar. Sometimes I rearrange things, when I realize there’s a series or at least a theme that connects several posts. I know that I’ll get to them eventually. Just not today.

The same goes for the projects on my production schedule. There are a lot of books I want to write. I won’t ever get to write all of them, so I need to choose. Sometimes it’s prioritizing the most commercially viable option, the one that has the potential to earn me the most money. Other times it’s the one that fulfills a creative need, even if it will likely be a mediocre seller. The opportunity cost of picking one project is all of the other projects that are deferred, or won’t ever see the light of day.

What Problem Are You Solving For

This is the question you have to start with. If you don’t know where you’re going, it won’t matter where you end up. What do you want to do? What’s the best way to do that? Which tasks and methods will get you the best version of the result you want? Do that. Make a plan. Schedule it. Work at it.

When you know the problem you’re solving for, the opportunity costs become more clear. Right now, I need to make rent. That means I need to write. Blogging is the metaphorical drive to work. Doing this means I’m not surfing the internet or playing a video game or taking a nap, but those don’t solve the problem I’m focused on. It makes it easy to prioritize.



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