If you seek tranquility, do less. Or, more accurately, do what’s essential – what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.
Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”
But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as well. To eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow.
— Marcus Aurelius
Lots of people will tell you to just stop wasting your time on dumb stuff… or to focus “only on what’s important”.
That’s great advice.
But it’s also “incomplete”.
I mean, despite knowing this… how often do we still catch ourselves burning away our precious hours?
The problem is, eliminating what’s unnecessary takes digging deeper. We need to look to the root issue. As Marcus Aurelius drives home, we need to examine the hidden assumptions behind our actions.
These feel so solid and real we can’t even see them most of the time…
We drive on a certain side of the road because we assume it will keep us from getting hit.
We spend years in school because we assume it’ll help us get a good job.
We read the news because we assume we need to “stay informed”.
Obviously, many of our assumptions are true and helpful.
But I also find…
Our Hidden Assumptions Are Often Totally False
And they can cost us…
See, in a former life, I worked as an engineer designing electric power plants. And one of my jobs was to run a detailed analysis on the maze of pipes throughout the plant.
It turns out…
Big metal pipes are kind of heavy.
And when you heat them to 300 degrees, they also have a tendency to expand… a lot.
So you have to make sure they’re supported properly. Otherwise the pipe breaks and scalding water sprays everywhere. (In case you’re wondering, that’s not a good thing.)
Now, after we finished each pipe analysis, we had to document it for review. That involved a ton of copy/pasting… taking dozens of screenshots… and dumping everything into a monstrous, 100-page report.
It was a pain.
And we had to do hundreds of these.
Not to mention, if your analysis changed even slightly, you had to recreate the whole report from scratch.
These reports were necessary. We needed to show our work.
No One Questioned the Big Assumption…
Who said we had to be the ones to do all that manual work?
We just accepted this and complained amongst ourselves about how tedious our jobs were.
Yet after a few frustrating months of doing these reports, it hit me… my computer would be way better at these reports than me. And I could automate the process with a small program.
Type in a few details. Press a button. And BAM! The report was 95% finished.
That program saved our group several thousand hours of boring, unnecessary labor. And we were able to instead spend our time on, you know, actual engineering work!
Now here’s the thing…
You don’t have to go and figure out how to reclaim a couple thousand hours today. (Though if you do, that’s great.)
You can start small.
What If You Eliminated Just One Unhelpful Assumption?
What if you cut one wasted hour (or even just 10 minutes) from your schedule this week?
And what if you did that next week too…
And the week after…
And the week after that?
Maybe the world wouldn’t end if you didn’t check your email 10x an hour… and you could focus on other work instead.
Perhaps someone else could do a task you hate better than you… and you could outsource it.
Or maybe you don’t have to have the “last word” in an argument… and you could have less drama in your relationships.
Look at everything you do. Does it enrich your life or the lives of others? Does it help you live the kind of life you want to live? Is it the most effective way to pursue your goals?
What hidden assumptions keep driving those actions? Can you challenge or eliminate them?