First Commitments

Cal Newport recently wrote about the idea of Root Commitments:

The solution to these issues is simple: maintain a single root commitment, that you’ll stick to no matter what, which will in turn help you get the most out of all the other productivity commitments that come and go in your life.

To be more concrete, create a single page document that describes the key productivity rules, habits, and systems (which I’ll summarize as “processes” in the following) that you currently follow in your life.

This is an idea I've been implementing in my life for a long time, with varying degrees of success. There's a whiteboard next to my desk, and on it I'll often keep a list of primary focuses (not unlike the "Now" page, or sometimes even a series of daily rules (e.g. meditate 20-minutes a day, sit in the chair for two hours each day, lift four times a week, etc.). 

The real struggle for me has never been what to commit to, but how to avoid the things that distract from those commitments. After reading Cal's advice, I sat down to reevaluate my own Root Commitments, and instead I solved, at least for myself, the distraction problem: 

First Commitments

Not Root Commitments, but First Commitments. I.e., what, in every area of my life, am I committed to pursuing before the alternative (which, the alternative, is usually a distraction)? In some cases this means eschewing (to the best of my ability) the alternative altogether; in others, it simply means doing something before the alternative; and in some cases, the alternative is only a substitute, engaged in sparingly.

Some examples from my own list, which, like everything, will evolve:

  • The Work — before play
  • Sleep/Rest — instead of overwork or overplay
  • Books — before TV, most movies, video games
  • Paper — as apposed to digital
  • Long-form journalism — instead of tweets, soundbites, breaking news
  • Real sex — with real people, instead of pornography and masturbation (note: this is another way of saying connection instead of loneliness, except sometimes it feels good to be lonely)
  • Meditation/Breathing — instead of stress, worry, anxiety, distraction
  • Growth — instead of stagnation
  • Movement/Fitness — before inactivity 
  • Rationality — before outrage
  • Love — instead of the other thing