A few months ago, a simple metaphor caused a paradigm shift in the way that I think about the countless tasks and projects which compete for my time. This journey began with the realization that I could roughly divide everything on my to-do lists into two distinct categories, which I called roots and branches.
Branches are tasks or projects which create some kind of visible change in my life - acquiring a new tool, painting the bathroom a better color, or releasing an album. Branches are about affecting the future - they are clear steps forward, on the path that I intend to walk.
Roots, on the other hand, are often mundane, sometimes invisible, and generally far less glamorous than their leafy cousins. Roots are about sustaining and nourishing my life and relationships in the present - journaling, cleaning the toilet, or even filing my taxes, for example. Nevertheless, they are vital for maintaining the kind of stability required for continued growth.
This metaphor made me feel a lot more motivated to handle unpleasant tasks that involve, for example, paperwork. Such obligations had always felt like meaningless wastes of time, since my life invariably looked the same after 5 hours of bureaucratic drudgery as it had looked before. After reframing my responsibilities through the metaphor of a tree, however, it became much easier to attach a sense of purpose to these tasks that I didn’t want to work on, and to see them as fundamentally connected to those tasks that I did.
To put it simply: The metaphor allowed me to perceive all of my “to-do” tasks as part of the same living, growing organism.
Although this insight was very helpful, it still left me with a lot of to-do items in both categories, and without any obvious way to sort or prioritize them. I tried various strategies, before realizing that these two categories could also be naturally subdivided according to their relational scope. There seemed to be 3 primary groups:
Extending the original “roots and branches” language, I came up with the terms:
Here are how the examples from earlier might fit into these sub-categories:
Selecting the “right” category, for any particular task, involves reflecting on why the task actually matters. Once having made this determination, it becomes much easier to consider when I should actually prioritize it. By allocating my time to ensure that I don’t neglect any of these 6 areas, I have been far more productive, far less overwhelmed, and far more able to pursue all of my responsibilities with a clear sense of purpose - which was often absent in the past.
As I’ve worked with this metaphor, I’ve developed a cohesive system for tracking my tasks and managing my time, in order to ensure that I maintain a healthy balance of all 6 categories (without burning myself out). I’ll be sharing more of this system here on my website, in the hope that it might be useful to others, but I’m a painfully slow writer, so I’ll stop now for today.
I hope this has been an interesting read. :)
(Archived blog post from 2024-02-10)
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