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Most time management advice rests on the unspoken assumption that it’s possible to win the game: to find a slot for everything that matters. But if the game’s designed to be unwinnable, Schulte suggests, you can permit yourself to stop trying. There’s only one viable time management approach left (and even that’s only really an option for the better-off). Step one: identify what seem to be, right now, the most meaningful ways to spend your life. Step two: schedule time for those things. There is no step three. Everything else just has to fit around them – or not. Approach life like this and a lot of unimportant things won’t get done, but, crucially, a lot of important things won’t get done either. Certain friendships will be neglected; certain amazing experiences won’t be had; you won’t eat or exercise as well as you theoretically could. In an era of extreme busyness, the only conceivable way to live a meaningful life is to not do thousands of meaningful things.

“Learn to say no”: it’s such a cliche, and easy to assume it means only saying no to tedious, unfulfilling stuff. But “the biggest, trickiest lesson,” as the author Elizabeth Gilbert once put it, “is learning how to say no to things you do want to do” – stuff that matters – so that you can do a handful of things that really matter. Our only hope of beating overwhelm may be to limit, radically, what we’re willing to get whelmed by in the first place.

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