There has not been an update on this blog for more than a year. I do not apologize, this is the way i have set my priority.
In fact, during the past years i’ve gradually defined my priority for a given point in time and within the bigger picture; creating blog posts almost nobody will read has not been part of that. At this point i decided to create some content again, because i think there are things worth sharing.
Interestingly enough to learn for someone who is not a native speaker, there has not been a plural form of “priority” in the english language for centuries. Just some decades ago people decided that one priority is not enough and there need to be more priorities to help organize our routine. Thats bullshit.
I am convinced that people can excel at one thing at a time, never at a couple of things in parallel. There has been the idea that people, and women in particular, would be able to “multi-task”, like a modern computer. Being familiar with computer technology i can confirm that there are actually very few real-world applications that inherently benefit from multi-tasking without being optimized for it. Some even suffer from it, and usually there is no need to do “real” multi-tasking. Instead, computers execute things that depend on each other sequentially, but very efficient.
Indeed there are applications where parallel processing can be used to realize huge benefits, but very often just for tasks that have no dependency on each other. Individual tasks may benefit from experience gained through a previous, maybe similar, task. Our modern lives do not have many equally important things to care about at the same time, they rather depend on each other and improvement is based on evolution, experience. This of course requires to select truly important things, otherwise we drown in trivial tasks.
Some of the computer performance gains we see during the past years are based on “speculative execution” which is not only dangerous (when done wrong) but which also does not scale in the real world where lifetime is limited and more precious than a couple of wasted CPU cycles. Having ten priorities as a person can be very similar to speculative execution since we did not care about selecting our priority before. For machines the penalty may be acceptable, for people i think it is devastating in the long run.
This is in fact much closer to reality than what someone would understand as “priorities”. Especially in business there is a competition for having as many priorities as possible to show how important a set of things is. Typical sentences i hear are “these are our top 10 priorities”, “our company strategy aims for three goals” - if everything is a priority, nothing is. This just show that someone was unwilling or unable to make tough decisions. An artisan, say a blacksmith, excels in performing his craft of making blades. He may totally suck in personal finance or driving a car. This is fine because we live in a society where labor is divided between people. Nobody has to be great in more than one thing to succeed. If you make the best blades in the world you can hire someone to drive you around or care about finance.
Sure, this does not mean we’re all meant to have singular talent, it just means we need to get our priority straight to reach our goal. This priority might shift over time, our blacksmith might have been focusing on mastering to drive a car for a couple of months, then get his finances in order and finally becoming a master of craftsmanship. If he or she would have opted for many priorities at the same time, chances are that the result would not be as great, it would have taken longer to achieve a satisfying result and stress would be immense. There are almost 8 billion people on this planet which get closer connected to each other every day and life expectancy has skyrocketed, it’s absurd to think one person requires to focus on ten things simultaneously. This issue of resource allocation has been solved by the free market for a long time.
Very often the situation of facing ten equally important tasks is based on failed planning or incorrect assessment. Having “many priorities” is a result of not saying “no” or “yes, but later” to something which is not the most important thing at a given time. When doing proper evaluation almost always one thing will qualify as “the priority”. This evaluation may take some time and force us to be realistic about capabilities - but it saves us a lot of trouble in the long run. Nobody will care or judge if a task was performed simultaneously or sequentially. In most cases it’s about the quality of the result or economic value rather than “how” something was achieved. I am convinced to achieve much more throughput and recognition when truly focusing on one thing at a time.
As an engineer i create systems to do things efficiently and reproducibly. This may take some time but once the system is built it helps to offload things that i then don’t have to actively care about - spend very little time on the actual operation but care about results and optimize. Over time this means large quantities of tasks become automated to a point where they “just happen” and i step in if something breaks. Creating those systems, not only in a technical sense, has been my priority for the past couple of months. I realized that if i don’t clearly set and own my priority, someone or something else will dump their priorities on me - but under their conditions and at for their gain, not mine. This had profound result on many things i do (or don’t do) as part of my daily life.
While writing this about twenty people messaged, mailed or tried to call me with things that are probably irrelevant. I think about it as “Schrödinger’s Mail” - it’s not my priority until i decide to read it. Reading it has not been my priority for the past hour and nobody will care. As a result i managed to create a new blog post after more than a year of not starting with a single sentence. How’s that for proving a point?