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There is not enough time for All The Things, so you have to pick one.

I am confused about what people who listen to audiobooks and podcasts at 1.5x or 2x speed imagine they are gaining by doing so. Time to listen to more audiobooks and podcasts, also at high speed, so you can feel anxious about the ones you will still be missing out on?

This sort of optimization seems crazy to me. You will never be able to listen to all the audiobooks and podcasts. I guess maybe the idea is that you can listen to the same number of podcasts or audiobooks in a shorter amount of time, thereby freeing that time up for all the rest of the things in your life, but that just seems like a recipe for creeping optimization of everything and the constant dread of Not Having Enough Time.

I have been thinking a lot lately—mostly at work, unfortunately—about prioritization. More specifically, I have been thinking about the difficulty people have in naming and then sticking to their priorities.

“Alright,” I say to an executive, “you’ve got this list of twenty things. If you could only have three, which ones would they be?” The answer I generally get—if I get an answer at all—is “All of them.”

At my weekly team meeting, one of our standing agenda items is for each of us to list their top focus for the week ahead. “You can only have two items,” I had to tell them after they routinely began rattling off every single thing they were working on. I have had the same group of folks on my team for almost a year now, and it has only been relatively recently—after doing this for months—that I don’t need to remind them of the 2-item limit.

Recently, we held a series of mid-quarter check-ins with the program managers and tech leads for all of our software engineering teams. It is a new format we are trying out, an “Inspect & Adapt” session where we ask them to talk about what work they have committed to delivering, how that is proceeding, and any help they need from leadership or changes they are considering to their ways of working. “1 to 3 observations max” reads the agenda, and yet nearly every team came with at least five (sometimes ten) items, often with multiple sub-bullets. More importantly, is nearly all of them seemed deeply uncomfortable talking about it.

I say all of this not as a criticism of any of the people involved. They are all doing their best in a janky system. Rather, I relate these stories because I think they are the symptoms of the same problem that gives us solutions like “Just speed up the audio.”

I think it is nearly always easier to talk about how we can get more done than it is to think about whether we are doing the right work. It is easier to talk about the former because that does not involve any judgement; it holds out the promise that you will not have to pick one thing over another and then stick by that decision. That’s a false promise, though, because you will never be able to do everything quickly enough to get through it all, and you will only make yourself crazy and miserable by trying.

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