Circles

This is part of my series on Mental Models about Productivity

There are two circles where I can direct my focus:

1. Circle of concern has the largest area. It encompasses a wide range of things that I cannot control: the latest antics of Donald Trump, stock market changes, what happened on a favorite TV show, extended family drama, and the news.

2. Circle of control has a small area. It includes things I can control: what time I get up, how many fruits and vegetables I eat, how well I do my job, and my attitude toward others.

How much energy do I spend in each area? How much time do I invest in each space? My natural inclination is to spend the vast majority of my time in the circle of concern. It feeds me never-ending novelty. It screams, Look at this! while requiring me to do nothing, because all of the drama is out of my control. It’s enticing to say, What a mess! Someone — but not me! — better clean it up. But when left unchecked, the circle of concern will consume all my energy. And I’ll neglect my family, work, and longterm goals. This is a recipe for misery.

Many culprits inhabit my circle of concern. Twitter, YouTube, and the news are the worst offenders. They suck my focus and drain my energy with their limitless supply of sensational (and sometimes contradictory!) content. Too often, I take a break from work, intending to watch a “short” video, and an hour (or two!) passes before I get back to work. Other times, I say, I’ll start writing after I see how many people responded to my latest tweet. And that consumes my writing time for the day. This is time I can’t get back, and I feel disheartened.

My solution? Set strict limits during the workweek:

  1. Check Twitter, on my phone, for 10 minutes in the morning. I don’t recheck it until lunch. (I may need to stop checking it in the morning as the 2020 presidential race heats up.) And notifications are turned off.
  2. No YouTube or news until 4pm.
  3. No Reddit or Facebook.

Now, sometimes my job involves waiting (I’m a software engineer and wait for code tests to complete). I used to go to YouTube or Reddit whenever I had time to kill; now, I turn on an audiobook. I usually listen to informative nonfiction (e.g., The China Study). The benefits are twofold: I learn something while avoiding the YouTube’s time-wasting maelstrom.

I’m more lax about things on the weekends: I check Twitter and watch videos whenever I feel like it. My thinking is that I can take the weekends off. But lately, I’m feeling disappointed with how little I write. I also have numerous household projects to complete. I may need to extend my weekday limits to the weekend.

But that’s me. What about you? What are the things in your circle of concern? What tempts you from the important work and relationships?

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