Work, exercise, family, study, community or voluntary work, hobbies, socialising – how do you fit it all in? Do you find yourself exhausted by the end of the week, berating yourself for all the things you didn’t have time to do? Overwhelmed when you look at your to-do list? Not achieving the goals you’ve set yourself because you have too many things on your plate?
If the answer is yes, you’re not alone – the overloaded plate is a common phenomenon of modern life. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the norm. It’s almost a badge of honour to complain about being busy and not having enough time, as if somehow this is a measure of your importance in the world. The busier you are, the reasoning goes, the more you must be achieving.
This is a myth.
I’ve long been a fan of Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, who says in his blog post ‘When Your Plate is Too Full’ that we have to let go of the idea that we can do everything and do it well. Trying to do everything means you won’t succeed at any of them and you’ll do them all at sub-standard level.
He then goes on to say that in an ideal world we’d concentrate on doing one thing, give it our complete focus and become really expert at it. However in reality it’s hard to pare our life down to one thing, so he suggests two. He says, ‘I’ve found that you can do two things well and one thing really well. With two focuses, you won’t be as concentrated, won’t learn as deeply, but it’s doable. With three or four focuses, you won’t do anything well or learn anything deeply or serve anyone exceptionally.’
How do you simplify your life?
So he suggests figuring out what the two most important things in your life are and cut out the rest. You may have to be ruthless and say no to worthwhile projects, which is difficult, but preferable to being in a constant state of stress and exhaustion.
When I first read this post a few weeks ago, I was surprised . Focus on only one thing? Two at the most? It seemed very minimal and narrow. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised he’s right. How much more efficient and less stressful is it to put your energy into just one or two things than be torn in all directions? And how much more beneficial to concentrate on being an expert in one or two fields, instead of a jack of all trades and master of none?
Sometimes you have to say ‘no.’
I think one of the reasons that I resisted the idea at first is because I easily fall prey to the ‘bright shiny object syndrome’ – when I see something that looks interesting I want to pursue it. I’m interested in a number of fields of writing, so at various times I’ve contemplated taking up playwriting, screenwriting, travel writing, TV sitcom writing, white paper writing…the list goes on. And not only writing, I have a list of other things I’d like to try – studying philosophy, being a literacy tutor, any number of other voluntary and community activities.
However I already know from experience how time-consuming voluntary work can be, and how seductive the prospect of helping others and giving back to the community. But if it’s going to suck up too much of your time and energy and take your focus off something important you want to achieve, you have to say ‘no’ and try not to feel bad about it.
My new simplified life
Paring your life down to two areas of importance is challenging – and really forces you to look at your priorities. And sometimes the universe steps in to give you a hand. Health issues have resulted in my having to make the decision to leave my part-time job and resign from the committee of my local writers’ association – two aspects of my life which took up a lot of time and energy.
So now the way is open for me to focus solely on my path of being an author. And when you consider that an indie author not only writes his/her novels, but is also responsible for the publishing, marketing and promotion – that’s enough for any one person to take on and do well.
What about you?
Does this resonate with you? Or have you already taken stock and simplified your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below.
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.