The Fastest Route To Big Change? Ask Big, Uncomfortable Questions

The YNAB team recently read a great book (because I made them, because I thought it was so phenomenal) called Deep Work by Cal Newport.

The premise of the book is that Deep Work is meaningful, hard-focused, heady, difficult stuff that takes time and attention, but produces wildly different results than its seductive counterpart, Shallow Work.

Deep Work means you tackle big, tough issues and give them your all. You focus and eliminate distractions for long periods of time.

Shallow Work would be, checking Facebook and your phone, before writing this intro paragraph, or checking email before recording this Whiteboard Wednesday. They are time and attention wasters; they aren’t going to move the needle in any way. They make us feel busy and important and they kill massive amounts of time, but are you stretching yourself? And doing your best thinking? Are you solving tough, complicated problems? Probably not.

You want to give your best to the big, important things, and in order to do that to the best of your ability, you have to carve out dedicated, focused time. This has applications in so many areas of life.

One of the concepts that really stood out to me was this: “A life of deep work is a life worth living.” Because when you give your whole self to something, and master the discipline to push through distraction, you have the capacity to become an expert.

Now, back to budgeting. The Deep Work of budgeting is not importing your transactions or categorizing, or cleaning up payees or looking at reports. The Deep Work of budgeting is working through the questions you should be asking before you give a single dollar a job: What really matters to me? What do I want my money to do? What do I want my life to be and how can my money help me get there?

I was just meeting with Chance, our COO, and we were talking about our strategic direction for the next year. It was a lot more mentally taxing than checking email, but it is also supremely more important and rewarding.

When it comes to your money and your life, there are tough, uncomfortable questions that deserve to be wrestled with. They require your best thinking. Where you will see the best results, is where you are willing to dig deep and give your whole self.

The shallow budgeting work will keep happening, and it isn’t all bad. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that more hours tinkering with your budget will bring about real, epic change, because big, transformative change comes only by asking and working through and answering big, hard, important questions.


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