Motivation and Getting Things Not Done

As a master procrastinator, I have found a new way. I’ve avoided my actual to-do list inadvertently by looking at an item from my to-done list.

I use a bastardized version of Getting Things Done in Evernote to record tasks, projects and all that kind of stuff. However, rather than figuring out the next action or the most important task, I often daydream about whether the ladder I’m climbing is leaning against the wrong wall to the point where I stop taking steps and gaze myopically into the distance at hints of other walls.

I’d like to say that I spent my time moving my ladder towards a better wall but in reality I just get high up enough on the ladder so that my feet don’t get splashed by the rising tide of age, debt and anxiety, and then stand stock still, eyes fixed on the distance.

Maybe this is my own personal enlightenment, or maybe it’s just acrophobic  suspension. Either way, I’m sure it is frustrating to those around me.

This is the to-done note I found in Evernote and which brought me out of writing retirement to comment on:

[X] Call Ruth before 1p to confirm walk in access to bike:
[X] Also call Sea Hawk Motel to confirm room at 843 448 4154
[X] Call redline: 843 236 0758 – they service bikes / carry spares. They do have honda battery or $170
[X] Find water camel pak
[X] find headphones
[X] Get boots from Army Surplus
[X] Bungee cords
[X] Bandana
[X] Get boots
[X] Find bike lock
[X] Hi visibility vest
[X] Knife tool
[X] Tire pressure guage – 42psi
[X] Dot 4 brake fluid
[X] Get good audiobook

Look at all those boxes with and X in them. How I must have cherished the tasks, been delighted to achieve them. Whereas now I have tasks so large and varied that I can’t even bear to look at them, preferring to bask in past glories of tasks notched off.

As my Captain Kombucha buzz wears off, I’m trying to abstract some learning from the comparison between what I do now, and what I was doing then. There might as well be a point to this onanistic rant.

Back then I was picking up a motorbike I’d bought in a police auction on the East Coast of the US which possibly didn’t run. It was ostensibly a method of transport for my visiting uncle, though perhaps more of an escape for me. An adventure across thousands of miles with a screaming amount of time pressure (get back to sign papers to sell a house and for my son’s 4th birthday) and very little wiggle room for error.

It was a short lived challenge. Something I’d not done before. A test. A trial. A feat of endurance and cunning with no stable to clean and no-one threatening to cut my hair. And I was doing this so my visiting uncle could have his own freedom and adventures when he came to visit.

Now I have a broad goal of financial freedom, for my own selfish ends. I can claim that I’m helping other people (tenants are my customers) and assisting other people trying to do the same. But really it’s just about personal freedom. I’ve lived so long without total freedom of schedule that I almost can’t remember what it’s like. So I’m headed towards a longer term goal with a slightly nebulous feeling at the end of it. I  haven’t managed to fold the micro steps in my to-do list into the macro-step of making enough money to cover my bills while I twiddled my thumbs.

So there’s a difference. There’s also a movable finish line – what does freedom of schedule mean? If you’ve ever played the Cashflow 101 game you’ll know the idea. Get enough passive income to pay your monthly expenses. As the roll of the die might give you more expenses, and take away what it giveth, you choose how to employ your funds. As the goal is to get to a number each month of money coming in, you know when you’re there. As goals go that ticks all the SMART boxes, whereas the real life “financial freedom” doesn’t.

But how much money do I need to break free? It depends on the kind of life the Malibu family live. Allow me the impudence of thrusting an example upon you.

We went to Argos to pick up a wheelchair for my mum. Mrs. Malibu picked up an Argos catalog – hardly the embodiment of a luxury inventory of life’s commercial pleasures. Her idea was to give it to our children to inspire them to choose Christmas gifts for themselves from the realms of the mundane and affordable. My objection and hasty recycling of the offending literature (since tomecide is too hard) was based on the idea that you are manufacturing desire and hence moving further away from a Buddhist enlightenment which admittedly none of my family are trying to seek. My point if there ever is one, is that you don’t want what you don’t know exists. Which might be a blinkered way of seeing the world. Why don’t we all just stay at home and stare at our navels –

“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”, as Pascal might have said.

Or the removal of indexes of things we don’t have (curse you internet) might mean we can focus more easily on what we do have. So my modest “passive income = expenses” equation has a huge amount of variation depending on how much travel I do, how many remote motorbikes I buy, and how I choose to live my life.

Nevertheless, I do have a monthly income number for a modest lifestyle, so rather than moving those goalposts, it makes sense to keep climbing the current ladder until I get there. Which means that the mundane tasks which clutter my to-do list can be subsumed into my desire for freedom of schedule (subject to family). Maybe I can motivate myself to look at them.

I’m sure when I get to that goal, my perceived needs will expand. The view from the next step of the ladder may reveal a false peak – I’ll need more. As Camus said, “we must imagine Sisyphus happy”.

Back to shoving the rock up that ladder then.


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