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Distracted? Frustrated? Wasting Your Time?

The importance of goalsLast month, I came across this quote by the writer Robert Heinlein: “In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

These words resonated deeply.

I was frustrated at the time. I’d become overwhelmingly “busy” with things that didn’t really matter to me. Unrewarding projects were taking too long; I was working inefficiently. The lure of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and Words With Friends had become almost irresistible. What had happened? I used to be good at keeping distractions in a box. I’d long ago learned not to check e-mail outside of the workday; why was I suddenly having so much trouble with these other distractions?

The quote reminded me of what I already knew, a few layers down. I’d drifted away from some of my big-picture goals. My daily writing practice had been disrupted. My planning system was in flux and not yet fully supporting my focus. In the absence of my goals, trivia had become my master. I had enslaved myself to things I didn’t care about.

Naming the situation for what it was had an almost immediate effect. I reconnected with my self-discipline and created boundaries where I needed them. I started rewiring the bad habits I’d developed.

If you too find yourself “procrastinating” more than seems reasonable, ask yourself: Do I know what I really want to be doing right now? What is it that I’d planned to accomplish this year? What can I do to move toward my big-picture goals before the calendar flips to 2014?

Robert Heinlein, the author of this quote, was an American science fiction writer. According to Wikipedia, Heinlein was “often called the ‘dean of science fiction.’ He was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre in his time. He set a standard for scientific and engineering plausibility, and helped to raise the genre’s standards of literary quality.”

Heinlein had quite a few smart things to say. A few of my favorites:

  • Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.
  • Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

But lest I take up more of your time with delightful quotes, step away from the trivia, and spend your hours where they count.

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More trivia, if you’re still reading: It appears that Heinlein’s original quote had an errant hyphen between “clearly” and “defined.” Compound adjectives are hyphenated (the green-eyed monster), but adverbs combined with adjectives do not create a compound. Adverbs are inherently modifiers, so their meaning in a series is clear without the hyphen. I took editorial license (as is permissible) and corrected Heinlein’s quote in this post, and went so far as to correct the meme above too (the source of which I am unable to credit). Oh, you didn’t know that my editorial business fills the bulk of my non-coaching daytime hours? (And you wonder why I’m so easily distracted!)

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brilliant quotation! I’m going to have to remember that. As a stay at home mom, it particularly resonates right now!

    October 31, 2013
  2. I’m definitely stuck in this rut too, and have been for some time. I’ve become a virtual (no pun intended) slave to Facebook, YouTube and other trivialities as well. I’m also painfully aware that it’s precisely *because* it provides a distraction from the isolation and tedium of my day job that I’ve been unable to resist the siren call. Trouble is, I think it’s also impeded me from moving forward with my own ambitions of moving on to bigger and better things. Very insightful as always, Miranda!

    October 31, 2013
    • There’s nothing wrong with a social media break now and then — it’s only when it starts to feel icky and interferes with the things you want to be doing, right? Always good to step back and take inventory…

      November 4, 2013
  3. Nice quote. I must remember that when I sit at my computer to”write’ and but am lured away by what my hundred friends whom I have not met the last few years are up to on Facebook or wonder if I can take up rock painting or ribbon embroidery after seeing all the cutie things posted on pinterest.

    October 31, 2013
    • Exactly! Install LeechBlock or some other browser nanny if it comes to that — works for me! šŸ˜€

      November 4, 2013
  4. I don’t know if I believe that. The Buddhists believe before enlightenment, sweep the floor. After enlightenment, sweep the floor. Creativity can happen anywhere and doesn’t always follow goal-setting. Then again, holding yourself accountable can help you reach creative goals. I think they are two different things: creativity for creativity and creativity for output.

    November 4, 2013
    • As a practicing Buddhist, to me this falls into the category of right effort. If you meditate for 45 minutes every morning but make no effort to stay focused on the present moment, you aren’t going to get much benefit out of meditation.

      Procrastinating by spending hours on social media or internet surfing is NOT practicing mindfulness. If you’re fully enjoying yourself, then by all means, have at. But if it doesn’t feel right, and is getting in the way of what you want to be doing, then it’s time to change your course of action. You don’t need to have goals in order to be creative, but you do need to create space and time for creativity. To me this isn’t about “I must write 20K words this month” (although that’s great too, if it works) so much as it’s about staying connected to “creativity is important to me, and I place it higher on this list than this mindless stuff I’m doing that doesn’t serve me or anyone else.”

      In Buddhist terms, there is nothing wrong with having goals, so long as the pursuit of those goals does not interfere with your ability to be in the present moment.

      November 4, 2013

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