Your Life is a 4×4 Inch Box Why subtracting things from your life makes you happier

More is better. 

These three words form the basis of all human striving. We strive for more people to meet, more gadgets to buy, more events to experience. The question is mainly: “What more could I add?”. 

But more is only better when the value you get is greater than the cost you pay. The question we often forget to ask “What is the cost?”. The reality is that all things have a cost, even those things which are free. You always pay in time.

Imagine you are invited to the world’s largest all-you-can-eat buffet. As you walk into the restaurant you see endless tables with more dishes than you can possibly count. The buffet represents life’s limitless options. You are then handed a 4×4 inch lunch box.

This tiny little box is your limited time.

Each day you are invited back to the buffet, but you can only fill your box once per day. Some dishes you can choose one day and forgo the next. Other dishes, like schools, jobs and relationships, require you to commit to them over a long period of time if you want to enjoy them at all.

Like this buffet, your task in life is to select whatever combination of activities that you enjoy the most. Once your box is filled, you can only add something by taking something else out. But when adding something new we often forget to ask this crucial question: 

“Is it worth my time?”

Imagine that your lunch box is 90% filled with 10/10 activities and 10% filled with 4/10 activities. Now imagine you are offered an activity you value 6/10. Should you add this activity to your box? 

It depends on what you decide to take out

Replace the 4/10 activity and it is a good trade. Replace one 10/10 activity and you just traded down to a lesser life. Whenever you add something new to your box, just must know what you take out. 

There is also a second option: just cut the 4/10 activity and give more time to the 10/10 activities you already enjoy. 

Finding a new activity to add assumes your time is unlimited.

It isn’t.

All you got is this tiny 4×4 inch box. Keep adding new activities and you soon end up diluting your life with low-quality clutter. Remove this clutter and you will experience more joy and success again.

Do you have a piece of clothing you no longer use? Why not donate it and free up space for better clothes? Do you receive a weekly email you never bother to read? Why not unsubscribe and free up your inbox for more enjoyable reads? Do you have a relationship that gives you little value? Why not see this person less and free up time for those you would move heaven and earth for? 

Subtraction is not about limiting your life. It is about freeing up your limited time for even better things.

My goal in life is to one day survey life’s entire buffet and then, cheerfully, say: “Thank you for all the offers, but my lunch box is already perfect as it is.” 

What could you subtract from your life to free up time for something better?

Why Am I Getting So Little Done? The #1 reason you feel unproductive and what to do about it

The question of why we accomplish so little seems to haunt us all. Sometimes it feels as if tasks keep flying into your inbox like a flock of angry birds. And as soon as you shove one away there are ten more demanding your attention. 

But why are these tasks coming to you in the first place? Could the problem be that you have spread your focus over too many areas at the same time? 

I used to think that having multiple goals was the path to success. After all, you have many areas in your life – family, work, health, money, etc – and you should strive for excellence in all of them, right? That was what I thought until I read the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. 

Gary Keller argues that if your goals are not big enough to cause slight discomfort, then you are not dreaming big enough. But rather than pursuing many disparate goals, he encourages us to ask: 

“What is the ONE thing I can do, so that by doing it,
everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?”

Your ONE thing can incorporate many different interests. My dear friend, I will call her Sarah, is a great example of this. Sarah’s passion is to enrich others with health so that they can experience life to the fullest. She is also fascinated by management, natural science, and economics. Her ONE thing is to become a consultant who saves patients’ lives by helping hospital leaders implement better management.

Sarah could have let her diverse interests divide her focus. Instead, she baked everything into ONE path that serve as her guiding north star. 

Everything we do doesn’t matter equally. Some paths and tasks are much better at getting us closer to the life we want than others. And since you can only focus one thing at a time, wouldn’t you want to focus on the best thing possible? 

If you want to start using the ONE thing in your life, Gary Keller recommends a process he calls Goal-Setting to the Now. The first step is to ask yourself:

“What is the ONE thing I want to do someday?” 

If you feel stuck on this step, I recommend that you also ask yourself: 

  1. When have I felt most passion and purpose? What was I doing and why did it matter?
  2. What are the things I am so interested about that I forget to eat?
  3. After I am gone, how would I want to be remembered? 

If you have multiple passions or interests, that is perfect! Find a way to bake them all into ONE path that you will pursue. Once you are done with this first step, then ask yourself:

“Based on my someday goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do in the next five years to be on track to achieve it?”

“Now, based on my five-year goal, what’s the ONE thing I can do this year to be on track to achieve my five-year goal?”

Keep repeating this process to set your ONE goal for this month, this week, today, and finally now.

“So, based on my goal today, what’s the ONE thing I can do right NOW so I’m on track to achieve my goal today, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this week, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this month, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this year, so I’m on track to achieve my five-year goal, so I’m on track to achieve my someday goal?”

Goal-setting to the Now is so powerful because it connects your long-term goal to what you need to do right now. And it does so by helping you find the best path at every turn. The life you want is possible. And if you focus on your ONE thing, you will find it much easier to get than you could possibly have imagined. 

So… what is your ONE thing?