Last 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.
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!)