Decoy Tasks

Every day I make a list of two to ten things that I could do. But they are not equal: one is more important than the rest. One of them moves me further along life’s journey, renders me more responsible, and yields greater satisfaction than the other tasks combined.

Yet it is often just this task that I most avoid — not by doing anything so obvious as lounging about or indulging in blatant amusement, but by tackling unimportant tasks that appear productive, at least to anyone who doesn’t know what my real priorities should be.

Each unimportant task completed wins me a twinge of satisfaction, which I might go on taking hits of endlessly were it not for some simultaneously mounting unease. It seems that another part of myself cares unwaveringly for what matters most and is not so easily appeased. The more I fritter my time away on lesser things the more dissatisfaction it injects into my mind. The dealer of diminishing returns, you might say.

Why do I avoid the greater task? Fear, most likely. Important tasks present an opportunity for conflict or failure that lesser tasks — scheduling appointments, checking email, etc. — do not. So not only does important work take the willpower to choose what is difficult over what is easy, important work takes courage. In which case all these decoy successes, while plausibly productive to the untrained eye, may serve primarily to hide my cowardice.