Hey there, writerface. Today we’re going to talk about how to do more by doing less, which obviously seems completely counter-intuitive but it really does work…
When future historians look back at this period of human existence they’ll be baffled by many things, but particularly by our twin obsessions with both busyness and mindfulness. It’s polarised craziness.
Mindfulness is great, don’t get me wrong, but mindfulness for busy people…? Meh. There’s absolutely no sense in a society that hails being busy as the ultimate prize while also attempting to squeeze a 3-minute mediation into your toilet break.
Sometimes it feels like we’re all supposed to exist in this state of perfection. You’ve got to have your Apartment Therapy perfect house, your Pinterest perfect baking, and a LinkedIn shattering career (even though no one really knows what LinkedIn is really for). Plus, you’re supposed to look GREAT all the time in case someone whips out their phone for a picture. And mindfulness is yet another state of perfection that we’re supposed to reach. We’re supposed to say: “Look how busy I am, but also, look how zen I am!”
It’s also bollocks.
All of it is bollocks.
The truth is that being busy is the single most effective way to stop yourself from doing the things that you really want to be doing. Being perpetually busy is really about fear, it’s about fear of missing out (#FOMO). It’s about fear of what you might have to do when you stop and spend some time in your own brain. It’s about fear of not being perfect. And fear of success – about letting yourself actually succeed in the thing you actually want to do.
There’s this great quote I came across from a children’s book called The Phantom Tollbooth and it says: “If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you should really be doing…”
So if you’re one of those people who is always busy – soooo busy – try this little trick:
Instead of saying, “I’m too busy,” replace that with: “It’s not important enough for me,” and just see how that plays out.
If you say, “I didn’t eat lunch today because I was too busy,” actually what you’re saying is: “I didn’t eat lunch today because my physical well-being isn’t important enough for me.”
And if you’re saying, “I didn’t do any writing today because I was too busy,” what you’re actually saying is: “I didn’t do any writing today because it’s not important enough for me right now.”
Is that really true for you?
If it IS true, if writing isn’t important enough for you to find the time and space and prioritise, then… don’t worry about it. There’s no point. What are you even doing here?
But if it’s NOT true, then you need to do some thinking and see if there’s something that can be adjusted.
Look. I get it. There’s a lot to do. Work, life, kids, family, friends, housework, admin, THINGS. I’m not trying to tell you that you’re not busy, because you are. We’re all busy. But also remember that you have agency. And you can choose what IS and what ISN’T a priority for you.
Because if you can learn to do less stuff more efficiently, you might find that all that peripheral ‘stuff to do’ just… falls away.
You also might find that going deeper into fewer things actually means that you’re doing more stuff with more substance.
And it’s more fulfilling.
And it’s easier.
But we have to prioritise. We have to be single-minded. We tend to think about multi-tasking as ‘doing lots of things at once’ but actually, efficient multitasking is focusing very intensely on one thing at a time, and THEN moving onto the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
As the great Ron Swanson once said:
Trying to do 50 things at once is no good. It just doesn’t work. But to even manage ONE THING right now, you’ve got to stop being busy.
“But I can’t, I have all these things to do!” I hear you scream.
Well. It just so happens we have an exercise for that. Two of them, in fact.
STEP #1: ALL THE THINGS YOU DON’T NEED TO DO
First, you’re going to grab a piece of paper and write the days of the week across the top.
Then you’re going to write every single thing you have to do this week. All of it. Everything. Work stuff. House stuff. Family stuff. Social stuff. Food shopping, cooking, cleaning, meetings, whatever. Write it all down.
And THEN you’re going to go through that list and you’re going to cross of EVERYTHING that can wait until next week.
As a writer – or someone who wants to write – you are already highly qualified in the art of procrastination, so you’re gonna be really good at this. This is gonna be super easy. This is, like, your superpower.
So go ahead. Cross off EVERYTHING that can wait until next week.
Now you’re going to go through your list again and you’re going to mark off EVERYTHING that you can delegate to someone else.
(A very important note: Make sure you actually tell the person you’ve delegated tasks to, otherwise they’re not going to do them. Tell them in no uncertain terms: “This is now your responsibility, and it’s really important to me that you get it done, thanks, love you, byeee!”)
Great. Another bunch of stuff off your list.
And finally, you’re also going to put a star next to anything that just isn’t a priority as compared to having yourself a little quality writing time.
This is a tough one, but you can do it. I believe in you.
Stuff I normally de-prioritise mainly includes housework (lol). I mean, look – nobody every goes to their deathbed wishing they’d had a tidier house (unless maybe they’re dying of dysentery, in which case they’ve got bigger problems than finding time to write).
It’s also not massively important for me to watch yet another episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine on Netflix because although it’s glorious, it’s also always gonna be available and I can watch it another time.
There’s always stuff you can de-prioritise, delegate, or leave for another week. You just have to be a little ruthless.
Right. Done? Excellent. Your second exercise also involves a list, but this one is much, much more exciting…
STEP #2: ALL THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO
Now you’re gonna get yourself a fresh piece of paper and you’re going to write an outline of ALL THE THINGS you would write if you had all the time in the world.
Every idea that’s ever tinkled around your head.
Every scrap of a story that made you go, “hmm…”
Novels, short stories, non-fiction, poetry, scriptwriting, plays, experimental spoken-word-slash-interpretive-dance perfomances – whatever.
Write down all the things. Everything you know about these potential, in-progress, or hypothetical projects.
Imagine a world with unlimited writing time, no interruptions, a room of one’s own, and a permanent creative muse sitting on your shoulder. Imagine all the things you could achieve. Visualise them finished and perfect and beautiful. Get excited about the possibilities. The glittering anticipation of unwritten stories.
Enough things to last a lifetime, right?
So what are you waiting for?
You’ve cleared some writing time this week. You’ve acknowledged how important writing is to you. You’ve got a whole page full of ideas to choose from.
Pick one. Any one.