This blog has been quiet, though my life – including my writing life – has been busier than ever. There are plenty of things I’ve wanted to write but didn’t get round to starting. Or I did start them, but didn’t finish them. Or I finished them, but didn’t like them well enough to publish them. So it goes.
I’ve been with someone for the better part of a year now. This relationship also brought me to a new city. A few months ago, we decided to double our daily meditation and are now sitting for two hours each day. My yoga practice has fallen by the wayside and I’ve began to feel the negative impact on my body. Over this summer, I have to make some decisions regarding my professional life that I’ll have to live with for the next four years. As my work has become more varied, it has become harder to be good at it. I’ve been working on my novel at a pace which, though more promising than on previous projects, is still pretty slow. I started a writing club that helps me stick to it. My social circle has dwindled. I’ve read less this year than I did last year. My diet has imposed, though eating well apparently takes more time.
For these reasons, and more, I’ve been trying to figure out how to prioritize the various aspects of my life. I’ve read enough self-help books to kind of know what to do. I made a mind map. I made lists. I reviewed my weekly schedule. I tried to think of what I’d write in an affirmation – if I believed that writing daily affirmations was a helpful way to spend one’s time. I talked to people, sought their advice, followed it up with research.
But I am still stuck. I want to do more things than I can do.
I have discovered that I’m smart, but almost never smart enough. Even when I know what I should do, I somehow manage not to do it.
If I need to take something with me when I leave the next morning, I put it in my backpack the night before. If it’s too big to fit, I put it in front of the front door. I don’t put it next to the front door. I put it in front of the door, making it physically impossible for me to leave the flat without tripping over the thing I need to take.
I surround myself with tactics like this, much to the amusement of anyone who’s ever lived with me. I can’t say it’s a point of pride. But it works.
What I need is a heuristic to use when I’m trying to decide whether something should be a priority. Not to determine its rank in relation to other priorities – just whether it’s something I should bother with at all. The heuristic would have to be simple and apply consistently across diverse domains.
Luckily, Derek Sivers has written about just such a heuristic:
You can use this same rule on yourself if you’re often overcommitted or too scattered. If you’re not saying, “Hell yeah!” about something, say no. When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” then say no.
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say, “Hell yeah!”
For every event you get invited to, every request to start a new project, if you’re not saying, “Hell yeah!” about it, say no.
We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.1
I love how simply this idea cuts through the dross. Just do fewer things. Which ones? The ones you’re really excited about.
Excitement might mean different things to different people. I find that I’m excited about those things in which I find meaning, which bring me joy, or which are of service to others. The things about which I actually care.
I haven’t tested it at length, but over a couple days this heuristic has helped unstick my thinking, though there’s still much to do.
In recent months I abandoned my usual discipline to limit what I try to do at any given time. Overcommitting inevitably leads to disappointing myself and others. There’s no easy path once you go over this cliff. I just have pare down what I’m trying to tackle. I’ll have to walk back some things, give other up, make some people unhappy.
Will it be hard to do? Yes. Is it worth doing? Hell yeah.
Derek Sivers, Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur (2011). ↩
Photo by Gaelle Marcel [CC0].