Things That Must Be True

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What if everything you feel you need to check off on your todo list is leading you away from your life’s work?

Working on things that don’t feel like “it”

I’ve had an experience over the years. 

That experience looks like this: I’m trying my best to set goals, and to execute them. But there can be something in me that feels like I should be doing something “else”.

If your list of work in front of you doesn’t feel meaningful, it can lead to a conflicting feeling. 

Don’t get me wrong. Not everything is “meaningful” and it doesn’t need to be. That being said, “meaningful” work doesn’t have to look special either. It can be a very normal type of work, that lies in with what you know must be true.

Indeed, isn’t it a human endeavour to strive toward an improved world? We can visualise changes, and we can implement them.

What doesn’t work for me: a list of all the things “to do”

Reevaluating traditional productivity

I’m going to be probably unfair to David Allen and his Getting Things Done framework. 

At the time, a decade or more ago, I was missing something.

My understanding of the framework is that it’s based on the idea of writing down everything that pops up. Fill up your inbox with those ideas.

“Everything” being especially those things you remember you need to do, but also ideas for things you might like to do or might like to do in the future.

If your brain works like mine, you end up with quite a long list of things in that inbox.

Then you do a quick “sweep”, and classify those things into your next-action lists, or maybe into a “someday/maybe” list , or file it away as reference material.

Through all this, you end up with a long list of todos or “next actions”.

Near-term todos vs life’s work projects

Something I have to note is that in this process, your best fleeting creative impulses get mixed in with items like “buy milk” or “tweak that ad”.

Those longer-term ideas get put off to longer-term lists. You then have to take a step back with weekly, quarterly etc reviews, to bubble up your projects of interest. 

There’s a battle there between all the near-term todos, and the longer term life’s work projects. The near-term todos win out, because if you feel like they should be down, then you mustn’t delete them, because everything you intend to do should be documented, following GTD.

Things that must be true

Keeping on my long-running interest in “productivity frameworks”, PARA is one that spoke to me more recently.

PARA has quite a lot of structure and suggestions, but is also quite laissez-faire in how you set up your own system.

Luca Pallotta wrote about PARA: 

Projects form a network

The network is a map from where you are to where you want to be

The waypoints along the path are not “things that you have to do”, but instead “things that must be true”

Getting a feeling of “things that must be true” 

I kinda got the “things that must be true”, it took me a long time to digest it.

I put a banner across my projects list that says “Things that must be true”. It sounded like an ambitious phrase!

Over time, I’ve been tuning more into this idea of finding things that “must be true”. Or maybe it’s less of finding them, and just listening for things that must be true.

It’s a felt-sense. It’s an emotional reality. It’s when something comes along and you feel, “I have to do this, this must be true”.

Looking at life’s work

In the last couple of months at the time of writing (Feb, March 2024) I’ve been wondering what my “life’s task” is, and how much of my current focus is that.

It’s not about any drastic changes, but a way to make sure that what I’m working on matches enough with with drives me.

Author Robert Greene who’s opinionated on this matter of identifying your life’s task (particularly his Mastery book).

I dove deep into my childhood delights, and found intriguing instances of delight which included throwing paper airplanes, creating cardboard boomerangs, and using mirrors and magnifying glasses.

I was asking myself how this related to my life’s work, and I didn’t come up with a direct answer.

Some ideas emerged, but they felt like things I “should” do rather than things I really wanted to try and do.

I had to sit with the process as an open question. I had a lot of interests identified and nothing to pull them together.

I was also reading Jung about harnessing your fleeting creativity in his commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower.

I started to jot down ideas that seemed too far fetched or unfamiliar, things that I would say to myself “How the hell would you do that?”. It was, let’s call it stressful, even writing these things down.

52 seconds on Zoom

After this period of a deep-dive into what my life’s work is, and what my childhood interests were, I was on a Zoom call for college.

It was the end of a breakout session. Two people left, one more colleague was there in the breakout room with me.

I said, “Hey, how are you? We have 52 seconds before the breakout room closes!”.

Her response was immediate: an idea about harnessing the creativity in our group and getting something out into the real world based on that.

Afterwards, I asked her to say more about it, which she did in quite a bit of detail. I replied, “Sounds scary. So let’s do it!”.

This sounded like an amazing potential project. The outcome wasn’t clear, but I could feel the potential.

I had been primed, because I had been asking myself for weeks about my life’s task.

It’s not that the idea was to be all of my life’s task. It’s just that I was ready to realise when something crops up out of nowhere but is calling.

The next day, I had a sense: “This must be true. I must work on this to make it real. I don’t know how it will look like, but somehow it must be real”.

It didn’t stop there for me.

I considered what I could personally do to move in that type of direction with my own work.

I had contemplated over and over again doing videos for this Vibrant Conflux outlet. I had mulled over doing a podcast and whether it would be interview with people I come across.

The feeling was definitely there: this must be real, I must make it real.

Structuring your days

Dan Koe has spoken persuasively on doing the important things first in the day.

Assuming you’ve reached a point of having things that “must be true”, then they need time to be built, right?

His approach has been working well for me:

  1. Build. Focus time every day, day in day out, on building what you feel must be true. For me, these can be small steps. The important thing is to focus your intentionality on the direction you want to build.
  2. Publish. If you’re building in public, then publish your ideas daily. Social media is where the attention is (at the time of writing), so that’s where to publish your writings.
  3. Maintain. Stephen Covey in his Seven Habits book wrote convincingly on the need to maintain existing structures. It’s human intentionality versus the universe’s law of entropy. We maintain to build up falling structures.

How to get to a sense of “This must be true”?

I’d love to prescribe to myself a sure-fire process to reach a selection process of what to work on and what to make real.

I don’t think it’s that easy.

But I think I know this…. If your list of projects is stuff that “I need to do” and it doesn’t have those star items of “This must be true”, then you’re not living your life authentically. You’re not living your life according to the things that really drive you.

Paradoxically, my experience is that you need to open up space in your life to let in those things that must be true. You’re making it easier to listen.

It’s just not enough to sit down with a cup of coffee one Sunday morning and pick out goals for your next three months. That’s fine for well-defined projects with goals that need to be fulfilled for that system to be sustained and grown. So I’m not arguing against logically-chosen goals.

Finding those things that “must be true” is about noticing what pops up. That fleeting creativity.

What Must be true for you?

I can say it with certainty: there’s more to life than those “things I should do”.

Find what must be true. What must be true will lie in with your own life, your own life energy, your own authenticity.

I now suggest:

  1. Write down the question: What do I feel must become true in my life?
  2. Jot down answers that come to you. You’ll start to judge the ideas, that’s natural, but keep writing.
  3. Notice in your week any time an answer comes to you, and you stop yourself by saying something like “who do you think you are??” or “you could never do that!!”.

Until next time, slán go fóill,
Eoin


2 responses to “Things That Must Be True”
  1. David Matthew avatar

    Excellent article Eoin! A thought that especially spoke to me was “your best fleeting creative impulses get mixed in with items like “buy milk” or “tweak that ad” if we get too consumed with to-do lists and the like. I try to focus on a small set of daily habits that help me feel more ‘myself’, while not being too rigid about what these are (I review/tweak them every now and again, and track them with a very minimal app). Just thought I’d share that, and am looking forward to reading more!

    1. Eoin Ó Conchúir avatar

      Thanks for your insight David. It’s interesting for me that you found a small set if habits that let you be more “yourself”.
      Eoin

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