Day 047-2 (R, 120216) — The Value of Strategic Abandonment (aka Giving Up)

“If a man wants to read good books, he must make a point of avoiding bad ones; for life is short, and time and energy limited.” — Schopenhauer

“Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at least cease to admire worthless things.” — Boethius

Learning Happens.  Not that I always succeeded, but when I was young I was taught that “you finish what you start.” As I’ve matured, I’ve found that it’s ok to allow myself to quit, to let some things remain incomplete.   Even though I understand the concept of “strategically abandoning” a pointless or worthless task intellectually, I still find it hard to do on a day-to-day basis.

Though I’ve done it dozens of times, in ways large and small, accepting that it’s ok to stop a stinker is still a revelation for me every time.

The biggest change was giving up satellite TV a few years ago.  I still watch a movie or an episode of a TV show online every once in a while, or I’ll go to a friend’s house for “the big game,” but by and large I don’t see any of today’s shows.  (People often make references to current shows which I don’t get. I’m ok with this. ;-))

Every workday, I spend a few hours in the car, traveling to and from work listening to audiobooks.   When I get home, I’ll occasionally sit at the computer and watch an episode of a TV show or a movie.  Since these are my two primary sources of outside “entertainment,” I find myself “giving up” mostly on these books and online shows.

Sometimes I realize that I’m wasting the precious minutes of my life pursuing a goal which isn’t worth achieving.  In the past, I’d fight through to the end, hoping despite evidence that somehow the crap I was listening to (or watching) would turn out to be worthwhile.  It never worked.

You Bastards!  Ditching the “idiot box” helped, but I still have time suckers I can cull without harming, and in many ways improving, the quality of my life.  More on that in a minute.  First let me explain the term I just used:

Time Suckers: n. obstacles deliberately designed to eat away at the minutes you have available to accomplish a task, forcing you to run out of time with important parts still unfinished.

The term comes from a dirty little secret I taught my students during the many years I worked for The Princeton Review, teaching people to take standardized tests: the test makers deliberately trick people into lower scores on the exam.

If everyone made high scores, no college or university program would bother requiring them as a benchmark against which to measure their applicants.  Keeping the scores lower than they otherwise would be helps “prove” that the exams are tough and thus a worthwhile indicator of academic ability.

Because these tests are all timed, one of the primary ways they trick people is by using questions deliberately designed to take a long time to answer.  The operations necessary to find the solution may all be relatively simple, it’s just that there are fourteen steps needed to come up with the right answer.

Unfortunately, every question on the test is worth the same number of points: you don’t get “bonus points” or “extra credit” for slogging your way through a time-consuming question (whether it’s actually difficult or merely long & complicated) when you could have answered three or four easier questions in the same amount of time.

The trick is learning to identify the time suckers and then deliberately skip them.  Often, that’s harder than it sounds: I cannot tell you how many bright students I taught who would learn how to spot these traps but were psychologically unable to pass them by.  They were incapable of leaving a question unanswered.

I have to ask myself, “How is this same thing happening to me in other areas of my life?”

The best I could do for these students was to help them get so good at all the other techniques that they had the time to spare or convince them that it was ok to skip over these questions and return to them after answering all the others.  At least that way, if they ran out of time for the section, they had already garnered as many points as possible from the easier questions and ran out of time on the trap questions.

How can I use this to help me learn How to Live on 24 Hours a Day?

Working Toward a Solution.  Streamlining.  Decluttering.  Focusing.  Simplifying.  Prioritizing.  Call it whatever you want, I still have work to do: I still don’t have enough time in my day to do all I want to do.

For example, Mrs. NJ and I homeschool our kids.  She does most of it since she’s with them while I’m at work, but I have responsibilities, too, when I get home.  But . . . I don’t always do what I am supposed to do; I end up shortchanging my kids for one reason or another.

Between helping cook dinner, taking care of little ones, working out, doing chores and honey-dos, I sometimes allow myself few moments to read a book, watch a show, check things on Facebook, etc.  All of these things take away from time when I should be doing a lesson or just generally interacting (in a non-“go clean up your room” kind of way) with my children.

— I could give up those few shows I watch.  On the many days when I don’t watch anything, I don’t miss it.  More often, I find myself watching stupid videos on YouTube than trying to take in a full episode of a sitcom or a whole movie.  If I don’t see that funny video lampooning Crossfit or the poignant memorial to so-and-so, will my life be worse off?  Nah.

— I could give up or reduce time spent on Facebook.  I do enjoy FB, but I also sometimes let it while away a full hour or more that I could use to improve myself or help my kids.  If I post fewer things, potentially leaving all my poor FB friends without so much of the vital knowledge they need in order to truly understand our society, enjoy life, and just generally be better people, will the world stop turning?  Nah.

— I could give up exercising or making Primal meals.  Yesterday, I finished a special project at work and got home more than two hours later than usual.  I chose to skip my planned workout and take the easy way out for dinner, eating a bun-less cheeseburger from the best burger joint in North Texas.  More often, I do exercise and I do prepare the better-for-me Primal meal because I understand that the time I spend doing those things is an investment in living longer and being healthier, both of which offer more and better time later in life to spend with my family.

While improving myself is one of those places I will not quit, that doesn’t mean that every activity or every endeavor is completed, or completed just then, as the case may be. I just need to be smarter: cut where I can; postpone when it makes sense; use my time rather than let it unconsciously go by.

My question for you, then, is:

How do you do it?  How do you keep yourself on task and doing the important things you need to do rather than letting your life slip by unnoticed?


Exercise.  As I mentioned, I didn’t exercise yesterday . . . but I did get to workout on Monday.  I felt like a change so I did something new in place of my normal Primal workout.

I did two cycles of the following:

  1. Clockwise Clock Push-ups
  2. 30s of Brock Shuffles
  3. Counterclockwise Clock Push-ups
  4. 30s of Mule Kicks
  5. Clockwise Clock Push-ups
  6. 30s of Sliding Planks

It was fun to do something new.  I averaged about 10 plyometric push-ups per clock rotation.  That’s 60 plyo push-ups (+/-) with about 30-50s rest between sets.

It. Was. Tough.



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