The Problems That Remain

To Do List

The list stresses me out. Maybe it does you, too. Time to make it smaller.

When I have a bunch of chores, I tend to save the hardest stuff for last.

I think there’s probably an argument—a good one—for knocking out the more-challenging stuff first. But I’m a world-class procrastinator. One of the best of all time.

And if anyone knows how to push off challenging tasks for later, it’s me.

Finance coach and get-out-of-debt proponent Dave Ramsey preaches a debt-elimination method he calls the Debt Snowball Plan.

It calls for listing all of your debts from smallest to largest, making only minimum payments on all of them, except the smallest one. On the smallest one you put everything you can into paying it off.

When that goes away, you take all of that same money budgeted for debt elimination and you apply it to the second-smallest debt. The amount of money each month dedicated to paying off debt “snowballs” until your debt is completely eliminated.

Ramsey is coaching people to knock out the easiest stuff first. To taste the small wins. And to feel the motivation to tackle the bigger challenges and win those, too.

Whatever problems you’re facing in your life are probably the most-difficult for you to overcome.

Any problems you had which didn’t require a lot of time, money or effort to solve, have most likely already been solved.

What’s left is the really hard stuff.

One of my favorite writers and thinkers—Seth Godin—wrote about this a few days ago in his “The problems you’ve got left…” post.

Godin writes about business. About marketing principles. I work in marketing so I try to read him every day. But he has a knack for writing things that cross over into other aspects of the human experience as well. I think he’s a genius.

In this post, Godin is asking us to evaluate the remaining problems, challenges, obstacles in our lives at work.

I think we can just as easily apply this to our lives at home.

He wrote this:

“The problems you’ve got left are probably the difficult ones.

“We’d all like to find discount answers to our problems. Organizations, governments and individuals prefer to find the solution that’s guaranteed to work, takes little time and even less effort.

“Of course, the problems that lend themselves to bargain solutions have already been solved.

“What we’re left with are the problems that will take ridiculous amounts of effort, untold resources and the bravery to attempt something that might not work.

“Knowing this before you start will help you allocate the right resources… or choose not to start at allthis problem, the one that won’t be solved in a hurry, might not be worth the effort it’s going to take. If it is, then pay up.”

I immediately started to evaluate my “problems.”

Which ones lend themselves to bargain solutions?

There are some that do. Facets of my life that can legitimately improve if I’m only willing to make a few small, disciplined changes to my schedule, to my work ethic, to my routine.

The big problems are big.

They require big ideas. Big effort. Big solutions.

But in the meantime, maybe we can start building some momentum by knocking out some of the simpler ailments that impact our lives.

For most of us, the biggest obstacle to getting started is inertia.

People don’t think enough about it. I know I don’t. But it’s important. And it’s real.

Inertia is the resistance of an object to any change in its state of motion. You know. Isaac Newton shit.

It means that objects at rest tend to stay at rest. That’s the bad news.

Because it’s really hard to get moving sometimes.

But inertia can be our friend, too. Because the same principle applies to objects already in motion. They tend to stay in motion.

Our lives, I think, work the same way. When we’re stuck in ruts… financially, spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally… we tend to stay stuck in the rut.

Until something—hopefully our will—forces us to do things differently.

And that’s when real change happens. A snowball effect.

Building problem-solving momentum, feeling the joys of those small wins, and using inertia as a tool rather than a hindrance.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to achieve the life mastery skills I want to feel in control of all the important parts of my life.

But I know that I have big problems.

And I have small problems.

Seems extra foolish to not at least get those small ones marked off the list.

Because I don’t believe life should be a list of chores.

I believe it should be a list of adventures.

Of hopes and dreams.

What do I want to do today?

I think that’s what happiness looks like. But there are still things that must be done.

Responsibilities. Obligations. People who need us.

I really want to play. And I intend to. Perhaps more this year than I have in a very long time.

But there are some things which require my attention first.

And it’s time to get down to business.

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31 thoughts on “The Problems That Remain

  1. completelyinthedark says:

    Little story for you about inertia.

    If the basis of it is “What does it matter if I _____? Nothing seems to work out.” The answer I’ve found helpful is “Do it anyway.”

    I’ve narrowed down a job I really would love to do and have already spoken with the hiring manager. Seemed the initial interview went really well and all that’s left is in-person, then hiring. But rather than wait for that, I’ve been out networking and keep running into people who are connected with this position and have been happily advocating for me. It’s been really weird, almost like things were “meant to be.”

    Now, that’s not happened yet, but those small wins have really helped me face down the hopeless feeling—which is exactly that: just a feeling not based in reality.

    Keep moving … but hey, a refreshing nap is also a way to keep moving since it will make you more alert when the next call to action comes along! ;-) heh heh.

    cheers! Mike

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, Mike! Good story. And I really believe in what you’re describing. How we make tend to create our own “luck” one good decision at a time.

      Cheers to you. My very best wishes on your career goals being met.

      Appreciate this note, sir. :)

      Like

  2. A few years ago I realized I was becoming inert. My life was stagnant. I watched the movie “Yes Man” on TV and it was like an epiphany. So, I became a Yes Man. I announced my intention to the world – and my friends – and I said yes to everything. And I had so much fun that my friends joined in, and by my second year of being a Yes Man, most of my friends were Yes Men too, and we had so much fun.

    Now, the unintended consequence of this was, all of my responsibilities got taken care of. Because I really and truly believe that once your chores are done you should play. And I believe that play is vital to our lives, so I would say Yes to an activity, and then rush to get my chores done. And yes, there were plenty of times this bit me in the butt and I applied a bargain basement solution to a top level problem. So, I had to stop and reevaluate and work to find my balance.

    That’s when it hit me – and balance became my key word a few years later. So, my life has progressed, and my mantra’s have changed, but to me, that is how it is supposed to be. As long as you are moving forward, then you are doing it right! :)

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  3. Julie says:

    Well said! You had a big life event that put your change cycle into play. I think that you’re finding your true perspective in what’s really important to you, in love life and those ” responsibilities”. Learn from your 5 year old, there is wisdom in that innocence of his. I hope you remind him that play is important even when he’s as old as his dad ;-)
    Always hoping.

    Everyday brings new adventures.
    Lucky for you, you have a new slate and a wiser pair of eyes!

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, Julie. :)

      I wake up sometimes, and I feel like my life is one big task list.

      And in a lot of ways, it is.

      But I can make the task list go away. It will require sacrifice. Change. Effort.

      But it can go away.

      And with that will come freedom. Freedom to really “live.”

      I just keep pushing the work part off.

      Because my capacity for procrastination is unparalleled. That will have to change.

      Appreciate this note. :)

      Like

  4. I love this article, Matt! It’s so encouraging and makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes that much sense that it just blew my doubts about my own path away. Thank you!

    And while moving from the smaller stuff to the bigger stuff on the to do list we might as well take that as our first adventure…? That’s at least the approach I personally strive for.

    Much love,
    Steffi

    Like

  5. “I really want to play.” is that it? is that the little stuff in its entirety? Because, if there’s more, you may want to consider publishing an actual list. It has been my experience that blogging that specifically, is an almost certain way to ‘get the ball rolling.’ Accountability! it’s a force, my friend!

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Eh?

      Sometimes I don’t say what I mean.

      I’ll try again:

      I want to live a life where I feel like I’m in control of my choices. How I spend my time. And having the freedom to choose really worthwhile things–even if it’s simply the choice to “play.” To have fun. To smile and laugh and do things that make me feel good and not do things that make me feel bad.

      Because I’m a homeowner. Because I have a corporate job. Because I have financial debts and other obligations. I sometimes can’t do what I want.

      I need to change some of those circumstances so that I can have the time and financial resources necessary to make the choices I want to make.

      I really want to play! You didn’t like that one, huh? :)

      Like

  6. dorothyemyers says:

    Post Divorce, I had to learn to cut myself some slack. While I took care of the basics, kids and bills and work, everything else fell apart, my garden, my fitness, my housekeeping, etc.

    Friend of mine helped me see I was still in mourning, that I was recovering from a loss. Then I approached life from that, I stopped looking at all my undone things as indications of my failures, and looked at them as an indication that I needed to take care of myself.

    That changed the energy. I remembered that my garden, my fitness, and my home being tranquil where restorative for me, if I was doing them for me, not because I had to, I could more easily do them, took me months though, it wasn’t overnight.

    Not to say you should just take a big F’ it all.

    Reading today’s post, I get the sense that your feeling some of your energy return, the energy that may naturally have been diverted to healing and recovery or even anger and pain, and that’s an awesome thing to read, not the pain and anger part.

    And it does snowball.

    And intention is powerful stuff.

    I’m still riding on the swell of your “Go Play” post, been remembering what makes me happy, and that’s huge. You simplified it. It’s easy to ask, “what makes ya happy?” But for me, hard to answer. But given the imperative to Go Play, that was easy.

    End of this story…I started getting my work done with gratitude and made more time to play.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      That means a lot, Dorothy. That you found inspiration and meaning in something and feel better about having taken some action.

      I appreciate your perspective. I appreciate that these aren’t signs of failure. Just evidence of a time of healing and change.

      Thank you. Good times lie ahead. I’m sure of it.

      Like

  7. thatnavaword says:

    take your time, do it at your own pace. eventually you’ll find you fixed some problems without even realizing you did

    Like

  8. larebe says:

    So true Matt, getting the small stuff out the way certainly cuts down on the white noise. And what Kate says is also so true, but putting emphasis on play, you really make an effort to get the chores done. That in itself starts to put things into perspective. Thanks too for the Seth Goodin link.. always a good guy to learn from!

    Like

  9. As always, great post.

    Importantly: Seth Godin is great, and (judging by the context) I follow him as well. Another internet high-five is coming at ya, man.

    Like

  10. For a procrastinator you’re awfully good at writing a post, every day. And something worth reading at that. I think you need to stop calling yourself a procrastinator. You apparently have the inertia thing figured out with writing. None of us like doing the un-fun stuff, especially when we’re stressed, sad, overwhelmed, etc. So maybe you’re not a procrastinator but just beating yourself up a little. We all have a never ending list hanging over our heads, eventually the important stuff gets done. Of course, you probably shouldn’t listen to me, I’m a notorious procrastinator and rationalizer ;)

    Like

  11. Brian Snyder says:

    When I got done reading this post, I put both hands straight up in the air above my head.

    Touchdown Matt. Touchdown.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, sir!

      I’ll be sure to put this one on my resume when applying for the Cleveland Browns head-coaching vacancy next year.

      (Get it!?!? Because the Browns fire their coach every year!)

      I seriously care that you read, and sometimes like, this stuff. Thank you so much.

      Like

  12. Don’t look now..but I think you’ve already changed. :)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      :)

      Well. In many ways, I’m a better human being today than I’ve ever been.

      In other ways? Life-management stuff? Not so good.

      Oh well. I suppose I’ll take that over the appearance of having it all together but being soulless and horrible on the inside.

      I hope you had a good day. (And that your heat is back on!)

      Thank you for saying hello.

      Like

  13. Sandy Sue says:

    I brush off those littlest snowballs as insignificant because I’m so focused on the avalanche. Thanks for reminding me to stop and feel the success (my therapist did the same thing yesterday, so I should probably pay attention).

    Also, I’ve learned that procrastination is more about fear than laziness (think I read that somewhere). Chew on that one a little bit.

    And lastly, I watched this great TeD talk recently about happiness and productivity. It’s hilarious and completely apropos to this whole stream of thought.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for sharing the talk. :)

      Fear rather than laziness.

      I promise I will.

      Thank you so much for reading and leaving a note. It’s great that people actually think about these things.

      Like

  14. This made me think of a couple of articles I recently read that you may appreciate. http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html and http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.html. I’m horrible (or really good, depending on your perspective) at procrastinating, so these really resonated with me. :)

    Like

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