389. Ten Million Tasks

Life is always busy, but it’s especially busy during the holidays when a million new tasks are added to the ten million already on our to-do lists.  The demands of life can sometimes seem overwhelming, yet most of us somehow manage to get everything done (though often at the last minute).  But it’s never easy to stay on top of everything.

Book stores are full of guides to organization and time-management.  They advise one to arrange tasks according to both importance and urgency – important tasks can often be put off when less-important but more urgent tasks arise.  There’s always something urgent that needs to be done, though, and one must be careful not to neglect important things for too long while dealing with the more mundane variety.

Though it seems like we’re busier every day, having too much to do isn’t a new problem.  Great minds have been concerned about this for a long time, including Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who addressed this issue back in the first half of the 1800s. Having to constantly deal with competing urgencies, Kierkegaard realized, keeps people scattered and out-of-focus in life.  Kierkegaard observed that this constant busyness too-often keeps people from doing the things that are really important, like developing their own true selves.  He even went so far as to suggest that always having somewhere to go or something to do keeps people mired in a form of ‘existential’ despair.

As a philosopher, Kierkegaard understood how important it is that we find what is unique about ourselves and lead our lives accordingly.  He felt that being constantly pulled in ten million directions causes our souls to disintegrate.  To combat this we need to focus on the things that are important to us as individuals.  Truth, Kierkegaard realized, is subjective – we each see the world with unique eyes and thus only we can ultimately assign meaning and value to things.  Faith, to Kierkegaard, included faith in ourselves and our processes, and he maintained that we must carefully balance our own needs with those of the world around us.

Kierkegaard understood there will always be outside demands that must be addressed.  But we must remember to value our own talents and sensibilities, tastes and perspectives – these personal qualities define who we are as individuals.  As the self-help books warn, it’s all too easy to let the constant stream of small but urgent tasks prevent us from taking care of what’s really important.  And nothing is more important than being who we really are (in positive ways, of course…).

A friend once observed that by rearranging the letters and adding an “e”, the word “react” becomes “create”.  By rearranging our priorities – like rearranging the letters in these words – we can become more creative, become proactive in the ways we live our lives and interact with the world.  We are all different, all unique, and this uniqueness ultimately defines who we are.  Yet we are often too busy to pay much attention to what it is that makes us special.

What would happen if in the coming year we could carve out a little more time to be pro-active rather than re-active?  What if we did more things to express who we are as individuals, even when the world says we should only be concerned with mundane things?  There’s room in life for both outward responsibility and personal development.  By better balancing these competing demands we might well live more authentic lives and become less likely to lose ourselves in the ten million tasks forever insisting on our immediate attention.

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