The 5 Benefits of Displacement

The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice. — George Eliot

Displacement: anything you do displaces something else you could have done.

Simple concept, right?

The simplicity of the concept belies the fact that it’s one of the foundations for so much of our success or struggle.

Given that, as Gandhi said, “action expresses priority,” not only does anything we do displace what we could have done, but displacement also works on the priority level. Priorities that aren’t part of your decision-making process or that simply don’t get acted on aren’t priorities; they’re aspirations or resolutions, maybe, but not true priorities. At the root, time management problems are really priority management problems, so we can’t blame lack of time, either.

Displacement works “all the way up” the action chain as well. Discrete actions displace other actions. A project that’s worked on displaces other projects that could have been worked on. Objectives actively pursued displace other objectives that are shelved. Strategies chosen displace other strategies that weren’t.

Lastly, displacement can happen unconsciously or accidentally. Unconscious displacement happens when we habitually do things that go against what we’d choose to do if we really thought about it or asserted our wills. Accidental displacement occurs when the world shows up differently than we thought it would and we react to it; if your car breaks down on the way to work, that event displaces a whole lot of other actions and choices you might have made if you hadn’t had to get that problem solved.

As with gravity, we can’t really get away from displacement because we’re bound by space and time. And as with gravity, we can use displacement to propel us further, much like we might use the gravity of a planet to slingshot a rocket or conserve fuel.

Here are a few ways we can use displacement to propel us rather than constrain us:

  1. Displacement is a great priority-vetting tool. Sometimes the only way we can make good choices is to ask which priority or value can displace the other, even when we can have both.
  2. Displacement provides a great planning anchor. The constraint actually creates some creative tension that produces better results.
  3. Displacement provides impetus and commitment. If tomorrow’s result matters and today’s actions are what will get those results, displacement can help us dig in and do what needs to be done today.
  4. Displacement can help us be more productive and effective. It does so because, used well, it encourages us to focus on doing a few things really well simply because we can’t do everything.
  5. Displacement can help us sleep at night. If we’ve set good goals and priorities and actively engaged those goals and priorities with the time we had available, then, win or lose, we know that we spent our time showing up the right way.

Anything you do displaces something else you could have done. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is up to you.


Charlie Gilkey is an author, business advisor, and podcaster who teaches people how to start finishing what matters most. Click here to get more tools that’ll help you be a productive, flourishing co-creator of a better tomorrow.


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