Lesser Things

I recently read similar passages from two very different books.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, chapter 5, “The End of Time Management”:

Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.

What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but it is useless unless applied to the right things.

Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant. Being selective — doing less — is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest.

Men of Valor by Robert L. Millet, chapter 2, “Have Done with Lesser Things”:

…drawing closer to my Heavenly Father, serving the people about me, and growing in gospel scholarship — along with devoting as much time as I could to my wife, children, and extended family — were the actions that had long-term, even eternal implications. Yet in reality I had spent the bulk of my time the previous week shuffling from one … activity to another.

More than once my friend and mentor, Robert J. Matthews, said to me, “Robert L., be careful not to spend your life laboring in secondary causes.”

…”have done with lesser things.” Lesser things do not satisfy. They do not fill the hunger of the human soul. They do not bring peace and rest. Lesser things do not build the family unit, bring harmony into the home, or fortify relationships that are intended to be everlasting.

Until yesterday, I thought the phrase “have done with lesser things” referred to frugality or resourcefulness, like “make due with less.” But these five words, in a bit of antiquated style, mean “be done with lesser things.”

7 replies on “Lesser Things”

  1. Can I post a comment on something that you wrote a while ago? I don’t know, but I’m going to try anyway.

    First, here’s my favorite quote on the subject:

    “Sometimes we feel that the busier we are, the more important we are—as though our busyness defines our worth. . . .

    “That we do a lot may not be so important. That we focus the energy of our minds, our hearts, and our souls on those things of eternal significance—that is essential.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “‘Follow Me’,” Ensign, May 2002, 16)

    As for Gary’s comment, it makes me really nervous to quote someone without knowing the source, so I searched. This is the closest quote I could find from Ardeth G. Kapp:

    “We live in a time when we can do more, have more, see more, accumulate more, and want more than in any time ever known. The adversary would keep us busily engaged in a multitude of trivial things in an effort to keep us distracted from the few vital things that make all of the difference.” (“What Will You Make Room for in Your Wagon?” BYU Devotional Address, 13 November 1990)

    Sister Kapp’s ideas from this devotional were later published in the July 1991 New Era and in her book The Joy of the Journey, but still without that first sentence and those last few words added on. Might the first and last parts of Gary’s quote have been added by a different speaker quoting Ardeth Kapp? Whatever the actual story, they’re definitely good insights and in line with what she was teaching.

  2. Richard, these are very wise observations, lessons I wish we could all learn at your age. In today’s age of unlimited access to information and opportunities, we have a great responsibility to be selective. Also, I think our need to be busy is a cop out at times. As you say, it allows us to be lazy. It excuses us from focusing on the most important issues. One of the great challenges for those who are striving to do good is to choose better over good. Thank you for the ideas.
  3. Following my dad’s example, I’ve carried around a quote for several years that fits in well with this idea.

    “We may be doing a lot of things right, but not getting the right things done. I believe the adversary would keep us busily engaged in doing things that make little difference, rather than focusing on the things that matter most — eternal principles and values.” — Ardeth G. Kapp, then General Young Women’s President, in General Conference (but I can’t find which Conference)

  4. Brian’s right. 🙂

    I’ve always equated the phrase with the new meaning you’ve discovered, especially given its use in the hymn “Rise Up O Men of God.” We’re counseled to focus on what’s important, striving to align our will with God’s so that we’re on His errand, not our own.

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