Productivity & Time Management, Writing Tips & Career Advice

The Joy of Having Less Time

Less Time

What’s the one thing we as humans always wish for more of? (Other than money.) Time. Everyone is always complaining about how they just need more time in the day/week/month. Just a couple more hours could make all the difference! Sometimes that’s true. And sometimes you can actually make a little more time by giving up the time wasters. Often, though, many of us could actually benefit from a little less time. Have I lost my mind in saying that? Stick with me and see.

Less Time? Are You Nuts, Lady?

This past year has been challenging for me on many fronts. It seems like everything has been competing for my time, with the end result that writing got shoved aside and often ignored altogether. Until a funny thing happened… I discovered the joy of having less time.

I missed writing and desperately wanted to get back to it. Not only is it fun, it serves as a sort of therapy or meditation for me. Plus, I was terrified that I was losing what little momentum and traction I’d managed to build in the publishing world. I needed to write, but with everything coming at me from all directions, when was I supposed to manage? Frustrated and angry, I dug deep and said, “That’s it. I’m writing whether I really have time or not.”

Trimming some of the time wasters helped a bit, but not enough. There was still too much going on in my world to be able to write like I used to. It was frustrating not to have several hours free at a stretch. But once I started cramming writing into every open slot I had, even if it was just ten minutes, my productivity jumped and even the quality of my writing improved. Once I embraced the idea of having less time, the writing got better.

This seems like an odd paradox, but it’s really not. It’s a universal truth that when we have all the time in the world to do something, it often doesn’t get done. We procrastinate. There are always other things that are more fun, necessary, or interesting than the thing we should be doing. “Oh, I’ve got plenty of time to get to that. I’d rather [insert X, Y, and Z].” And so it goes until we realize, “Oh, crap, now I’ve only got five minutes to do the thing,” and we apply ourselves and turn out a miracle. This starts in school with homework and follows us into adulthood, impacting everything from work to basic life maintenance.

So why not just skip the procrastinating and treat everything like it’s important? Once I started using every spare minute to write, I found myself in the “turn out a miracle” phase every time I sat down in the chair. That doesn’t mean that everything I turned out was perfect. Ha! A girl can dream. But I was productive. Every time I approached the computer, it was with the mindset that I only had a finite amount of time so I’d better make it count. And it worked.

It makes sense when you think about it. Think about this extreme scenario: The person who gets a life-threatening medical diagnosis will often embrace the little time left and, if able, cram in as much living in six months as some people manage in twenty years. The pressure of having little time crowds out everything that isn’t important. The focus shifts to the things that have to get done now, before time runs out. It’s a life changing mindset and one we shouldn’t have to nearly die to achieve.

Now, I’m not advocating cramming your life full of challenges and problems just to limit your writing time. That’s not helpful. Neither is nearly dying. However, when you decide what’s important to you and you do that (instead of doing all the other unimportant crap), you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done. Time has a way of opening up and accommodating you once you get clear about what is important and what’s just fluff.

Once you change your mindset from, “I need more time,” to “I don’t have much time so I need to use it wisely,” a subtle shift happens. You stop procrastinating and holding everything for one frantic last minute push. Instead, you work steadily toward your goal a little at a time. You build momentum and desire. This turns out to be a far more productive state, even though it seems like it should be the opposite.

And it works for everything you want to do. Whether it’s writing, finding time for a hobby, learning a new skill… Whatever. It’s not always about having more time, it’s about making the best use of the time you do have. It’s about being productive every time you approach your chosen activity (and approaching that activity often, not just in frantic bursts). Embrace the scarcity. It’s actually better for you in some ways than abundance.

(Photo courtesy of geralt)

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