“As a creator, you don’t have time to waste. Time is your greatest commodity, and spending it on experiences you think you should have instead of experiences that feed your soul is a waste of time. Cutting the experiential clutter out of your life will free room for you to do great work.
“Of course there is clutter in your life that is there by necessity. But we’re not talking about that. We are talking about those Christmas parties you went to that you didn’t enjoy, and always saying yes to coffee, and that vacation in which you thought you HAD to go to disneyland. Put an end to it.”
John Mayer spoke to students at Berklee College of Music this summer, and one thing he talked about was the impact social media had on his creativity. While it helped him connect with his fans (millions of followers on Twitter), it robbed him of creative power for his main thing – music:
“The tweets are getting shorter, but the songs are still 4 minutes long. You’re coming up with 140-character zingers, and the song is still 4 minutes long…I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore. And I was a tweetaholic. I had four million twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using twitter as an outlet and I started using twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song.”
It’s something worth thinking about for everyone. What’s your main thing? Where should your energy go? Some things like Facebook and Twitter can connect us and even make us feel productive, but if it’s robbing us of the core/central thing (if it becomes our main instrument), it may need to be cut back.
I know people in Student Affairs who have used Twitter to connect with colleagues in amazing ways – to learn, to find support, and to share ideas. But for every person who finds #SAChat conversations and a new circle for professional growth, there may be five more who just use it as an escape for the real work of connection, creativity, and getting things done.
So what about you? How has Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Pinterest/Whatever helped you do what you do? What are the temptations that distract you from the main things you do?
When our kid was just a few months old, everything was new and overwhelming. He couldn’t handle much stimulation or input for very long. He’d begin to get disorganized – flailing about and fussing. He couldn’t focus and his emotional state quickly went downhill.
It doesn’t change much when we get older.
Sure, we hide it better, but most of us need some time during the day to refocus and recenter on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
Maybe we’re flailing about in our to-do list – bouncing from project to project (or blog to blog) not really getting anything done. Or maybe we’re getting fussy in our relationships – hitting that afternoon slump and not really treating people like we truly value them.
Where do you need to get organized so it’s possible to focus on what’s most important?
With the holidays just around the corner, my to do list (and, probably yours!) just keeps growing. It’s easy to get stressed and overwhelmed. But that mental energy spent worrying about what needs to get done doesn’t really get anything done.
So instead, I’m trying to live out the advice above.
First things first – What’s most important right now?
One thing at a time – We can’t multitask. It doesn’t work. Do one thing.
Start now – No more excuses! Take action!
And once the one thing is done, we start on the next one. It’s amazing how great that momentum feels.
When we focus on one thing at a time and simply move forward, it not only helps us get things done, but it allows us to be present where we are – whether it’s working on a project or having a conversation over coffee. We can focus on this thing, then this thing, and then this thing. And once those things are completed, they’re gone. No more mental energy spent juggling the things we should be doing while we’re doing something else. Every task, and person, gets our full attention.
Love this quote from 37signals:
But you don’t have to work superhuman hours. A normal workweek should be plenty. Even less is ok. In fact, being short on time is a good thing. It forces you to focus on the essentials. There’s no time for things that don’t matter. There’s only time for the basics. And if you want to build something great, you have to nail the basics first.
More time isn’t always better. In a job that’s flexible, I have to constantly remind myself to get stuff done and move on. Not so I can waste time later or skip out early, but so I can focus on what matters.
There’s a TED talk by Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, where – in the midst of talking about castrating sheep – he mentions two words he learned from his classics teacher in college: anagnorisis and peripeteia.
Anagnorisis refers to that moment when a character makes an important discovery. Peripeteia is related – it’s the moment of a discovery and unavoidable turning point. It’s that instant when something happens that completely changes how you view everything else. It’s Oedepis realizing that woman he’s been having kids with is his mom. It’s Bruce Willis realizing that he’s one of the dead people.
In a moment, perspective shifts and everything is seen differently.
Life recently has had a number of “peripeteia” moments for me. Seeing my kid for the first time was one. But more recently I had another, more profound moment.
Having a kid changes things. Life looks different. I knew it coming into this thing. It’s what we signed up for. So during the transition, I’ve worked hard to support Grete as she walks through that change – since she’s home with the kiddo more and ultimately feels the difference more than I do.
We’ve talked about it being a “new normal.” That life was going to look different. And that’s ok and worth it.
But over dinner the other night she shared something she’d heard:
“It’s ok to grieve the loss of your old life.”
I’d heard her say it before referring to herself. This time, it was pointed at me. And for the first time I realized there were things I was giving up, too. Things I missed.
Like flexibility. Extra time for friendships and activities. A freedom to make last minute changes. Time to wash dishes. (Yeah, who knew I’d miss that??)
And for the first time I realized it was ok to miss those things.
Don’t get me wrong. The choice we made and the path we’re on is worth it. But if we’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into the trap of leading a “plus one” life. Like – we should be able to add this (a kid) without subtracting that (anything else).
So in a time of transition and change, I’m learning it’s ok to grieve what was. And I’m learning to take the next step – to really examine what’s important in my life – what pieces need to stay as other things get squeezed out in the crunch to care for a new life and family.
It’s really an old lesson – nothing new. Put the important and meaningful things first. But most of the time we just have extra space in our lives. The important things just get done because they eventually become urgent enough. In the mean time, we have space and time to do those less important, less meaningful life-fillers. But when change happens, it forces us to make every moment count. And for now, I’m glad I’m forced to discover what’s important and meaningful.
Bring on the peripeteia!
Mark Batterson says a Change of Place + Change of Pace = Change of Perspective.
I start back to work tomorrow after two weeks off to help take care of our brand new baby. One thing that was interesting about handing off all my “residence director” work three days into the semester and coming back three weeks into everything was the perspective it provided.
As an RD, I do a lot of things. Most weeks, there’s much more than 40 hours of work to be done. But when it came down to it, only a few key things were the “absolutely must be handed off or this thing won’t work” tasks and responsibilities.
That’s not to say the rest of the stuff isn’t important. This is a relational job, and some of those relationships can be put off. That doesn’t really mean they aren’t critical. But it’s been helpful as I start back to think about those key pieces that had to be done and build everything else around them. (It also helps to see what disappeared without anyone missing it. Maybe those things will just stay on vacation.)
So unless you want to deal with sleepless nights and a crying baby, two weeks off for newborn care might not be your best option. But maybe it’s worth stepping back and thinking about what would really need to be done if you were gone for a while. Then work to maximize those pieces.