My main gig these days is parenting. In my free time, I fulfill orders. I write Instagram copy. I take product photos that I style to look just right and use to market and sell my products without being, you know, too sell-y. In my other pockets of free time (I hope you are laughing with me by now) I’ve been working on a Middle Grade novel, a few picture book manuscripts, and a nonfiction book proposal.
The thing is this: none—I mean none—of these things are going to feel good or develop into realized, actual things (apart from my kids, who are developing into realized, actual, and amazing little beings) if I don’t take a huge step back. And say, “hold up”. Way up. Something must give. (Because some days, I feel like I might be going nuts.)
I’ve been experimenting during the first couple months of 2017 with the idea of less and good enough and in that surprising way that life feeds life (or that a good night’s sleep or a 20-minute walk fuels meaningful insights), I’ve managed to make strides with the projects that have been back-burner for far too long.
Small tasks are the cellular matter of big things.
You’ve got your thing. And that thing changes year to year. Here is mine, right now: find an agent and sell each of the book proposals I’m developing to publishing houses. Each morning while I write out my to-do list, I reserve the first two slots for tasks relating to my ‘thing’. Chalene Johnson calls this a push goal; Gary Keller calls it ‘The One Thing’; Greg McKeown calls it essentialism. My daughter’s nursery school teacher calls it the tortoise and the hare; Anne Lamott describes it the way her father once did to her brother, the night before a book report on an overwhelming number of birds was due: “Take it bird by bird, buddy. Bird by bird.”
Delete your distractions.
I have been loathe to go Facebook and Twitter for political reasons, so in that same way I’ll eat the cookies in the cupboard if they’re there, I’ve gone ahead and done something drastic—I removed these two apps from my phone. I use IFTTT to push content to each of these platforms, and check-in from time to time to manage comments and communicate with my friends and readers, but honestly, I could probably be rid of them entirely. (I talked about an experiment with a social media hiatus here, if you’re interested in giving this a try.)
Schopenhauer’s advice for living is worth thinking about when making choices with our time: “the art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time.” Not only has my newfound minimalist approach to social media opened the door to allow for more time for work on the creative projects that are top priority for me, the simple and revelatory act of deleting distractions from my phone has made room for real, face-to-face action versus the false sense that I’m accomplishing something by liking all of the posts in my political bubble.
Embrace what you’re doing, right now.
This one is perhaps the hardest of all. I recently re-listened to a TED talk on happiness and was reminded of the idea of presence. Those of us who can focus on what we’re doing, while we’re doing it—walking the dog, doing the dishes, stacking a lego tower with a child, are happier. Maybe happiness isn’t your only goal, but get this: by engaging in your life wholeheartedly, you are actually practicing and stretching your ability to focus. So when it comes time to spend two hours on an essential creative task, it’s less likely that you’ll flounder and occupy yourself with a distraction.
How do you hunker down to get that big thing done? Do you pull all-nighters? Do you rely on the energy that procrastination brings? Have you tried doing less, and focusing on the essential projects?
Rebecca Pitts writes and makes stuff for kids + kids at heart. She is the founder and creative behind Hudson + Daughter and a contributor at Dear Handmade Life. Her work and ideas have been featured in Country Living, the Etsy Seller Handbook, the Martha Stewart American Made Market, Craft Industry Alliance, And North, Blog Society, and atly.