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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Chicago Review Press

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Writing more in less time

Thanks to Windows Phone 7 for sponsoring this post. See the end of the post for details on a Windows Phone 7 giveaway.

Windows asked me to write about doing more with less, so last night I decided that instead of making chocolate chip cookies, I'd simply shovel chocolate chips in my mouth. That's less, after all. That didn't quite satisfy, however, even after I let the chips sit in there for a while and melt. I considered adding some butter, but that seemed like too much work, frankly.

Then I realized I really like peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies so I shoveled some peanut butter in my maw as well. And what do you know? That was better than some stupid cookies. Better = MORE!

A quiet voice in the back of my sugar-addled mind told me that I was possibly not quite getting the concept of doing more with less, so I stopped to consider how the concept applied to my life. Then I fell asleep. But this morning I woke up, as one does, and my first thought was, "I have a half-hour to write this post." My second thought was, "Thank GOD." Because a small window of time is the only way I can get any writing done. And I do believe that's doing more with less, Windows! BLAMMO!

There is nothing that will murder any chance of productivity for me like waking up to an obligation-free, unscheduled day. Henry's going straight to a playdate after school and won't be home until 6, I have a slow work week, and I'm out of errands to run? Well, I tell myself, that means I have hours in which to consort with the muse, obviously! I'll sit down at my computer and oh, the places my mind will go! I have all the time in the world to write the best blog post ever written. No--five of the best blog posts ever written. Or I'll finally finish that novel I began in 1996. Hell, I can do all of these things. I have all the time in the world!

But when I sit down at my computer with all that emptiness stretching ahead of me, panic sets in. That's a lot of time. I need to get a lot done, in that much time. And it better be good, too, because I have no reason to phone it in. I have time. Time means quality. If I write something terrible, that means I'm a terrible writer. Crap. I'm hungry.

So I decide to make breakfast. And since I have all these hours ahead of me, I have time to make myself a real breakfast. No need for a bowl of cereal, like some rushed breakfast-eating chump. But before I do that, I should check Twitter and see what's going on. Oh, look, someone linked to a funny video! Thank goodness I have time to watch it, as I have so very much time. And look, there are all these related, also funny videos! I never noticed how many videos there are of kitty cats flushing toilets. Those are always fun. I normally don't have time to watch those, as I'm rushing about.

Then I look up and it's eight hours later and Henry is home from his playdate and I'm still in my bathrobe.

I am convinced, after all these years, that the two most useful tools in my writing arsenal are: 1) limited time and 2) low expectations. If I have four hours to write, I will expect greatness, or at least quality, and my chattering brain will be consumed with what "quality" means and whether or not I'm approaching it, and as a result I'll avoid work. I'll dawdle and daydream and check my email like it's the only thing keeping me alive. If I have an hour, however, I don't have time for these shenanigans. I have to focus. If I have a half-hour, my fingers better keep moving around that keyboard and words had better be appearing on screen, or I'm screwed.

Even when I have only fifteen minutes, I can get some quality work done. If I can sit down and still the endless chatter in my brain, when those fifteen minutes are up, I find that I've made more progress on a project than I had all week. Because I don't expect much from fifteen minutes. All I expect is a few paragraphs, and maybe to have gained some momentum. And sometimes that's all I need.

So hey, if you want a Windows Phone 7 of your very own, you can win one right here! To enter, leave a comment of 25 words or more about how you do more when you have less time. You've got until November 29 (midnight PT) and you can enter once a day. On the 29th, I'll pick a winner using and post it here. Here are the official, long-winded rules about this contest.

Reader Comments (299)

I don't have kids [and am therefore always perplexed by my sad obsession with mommy blogs, mostly yours]. But, I still got time, right [I'm 30]? So, less time to have kids! More time for me to figure out the rest of my life. I go about this by a] not thinking about whether or not kids are a swell idea, anyway, and b] filling up whatever spare time I can find that is not spent expanding my career wandering around my house envisioning a baby’s room, crayon-filled walls, endless screaming, or, better, laughter. P.S. I am married, so I don't go around talking to myself like a crazy, one-eyed pirate.

A ticking clock is an interesting thing. It inspires us to do all the things we had time for at some point but didn't take advantage of, and sends us scurrying around attempting to do them all at once. As a woman, that ticking clock pushes me into a territory of decision making that I always feel I am not quite ready to make. Regret inevitably looms at the tail-end of that. Or, worse, impossibility.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie G.

I am at my best when I have just a little time to accomplish something. I can power through and knock things off my to-do list in just 30 minutes. If I have an entire day to do these same to-do list, I am a mess! I am a big fan of 'less is more', in every possible way. Life is better, simpler, with less.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKellyC

I LOVED your post - it always reassures me to read that somebody else thinks/acts/does the same things I do. I am not a procrastinator and seldom have to do things last minute, but I will not start a project until that internal hag inside me starts to say "you'd better get started - you know it's coming up - you're gonna be late." My worst trait is that I know within 30 minutes of being up and clean for the day whether I'm going to waste the whole day (97% of the time on the Internet) - and then being unable to stop the madness of doing so. I have my happiest (and most productive) days when I don't check my email or my Google Reader and just throw myself into projects, one after another, just like some hyperactive insane person.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinda in TX

Hmm, sleep regression at my house. More tired out of less sleep is really all I can think about. Maybe if I had a smart phone I would be more clever.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthemoira

You totally nailed it. That's exactly my thinking when I have a good chunk of time to myself. Good thing that barely EVER happens!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Excellent advice. I shall store it away in my fancy pants advice storage device (what, you don't have one). I have a deadline coming up and instead of wasting my time working towards it now, when I have the time, I shall go out and frolic today and wait until I can be really productive 30 minutes before everything is due. Also, I'd like a phone. To assist with the dillydallying.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn

I'm the exact same way. I'm currently in grad school part time while I have a full time job, and, no matter how early I "begin" a paper, it's not until the day before (or day of, ahem), that I actually get anything done. Before then, I'll do ANYTHING to not work on it. And your realization that it's because you (read: I) put it off because you're (read: I'm) too concerned with expectations when you (you get the point) have enough time to work on something just saved me a session of therapy. Thank you. Now I owe you a hundred dollars.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth in Chicago

I'm the same way with cleaning my house. I'll start in the morning thinking that if I just hurry and get it done, I'll have the rest of the day to relax. I'll spend all day slowly cleaning, then 4pm hits and I'll get more done in an hour than I did all day!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJesse B.

It's so true - deadlines change everything. I've done some of my best writing and academic work when it's late at night, due the next day, and I have absolutely no excuses left for not doing it. Somehow I write more concisely when I'm not dawdling or looking up stupid videos on Youtube.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I have known this to be true since my college days. When I was playing sports and had a part-time job, I actually did better in my classes. As a working mom with lots of hobbies, it's still true! Less time means finding better use of it!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Yes, yes and yes. When I was on maternity leave, it would take me a week to get done everything the house needed to function. Now back at work, I find that I get the same amount of work done in 3 hours on Saturday morning. How is this even possible? I think the concept of quality certainly comes into play. And perhaps, the siren call of Law and Order reruns during the weekdays have a little something to do with it...

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercoley

I love the 15 minute chunk of time! I have my students write for even 5 minutes, and I amazed how much comes out in that amount of time.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLivewithFlair

For us right now, less with more means less money to spend. The economy has hit our house hard...both parents on unemployment trying to start our own business and go back to school. Gah! So, while we find ourselves SATURATED with time (thanks already purchased Disney Annual Passes!) we are all kinds of low on funds. So, while I'm making the problem even worse by letting my phone sit in the bottom of the diaper bag with a dumped out sippy cup, the whole family is learning about how much more important it is to value each other over things like Disney Passes, Blu-ray combo packs, and fancy electronics. I'm finally getting to really know my preschooler (and discovering that whoooo boy, do I have some manners to teach's like the daycare I'd been taking him to was run by a pack of wolves). I'm the one loving him through the boo boo's and the tough lessons about not jumping on laptops or hitting the dogs with plastic bowling pins. For now, that's the most rewarding work I can do, and having less is making it possible!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

25 words?! Yeesh. :)

I can totally relate to this post. I am the exact same way. Procrastination may make me feel bad but it definitely helps in the end. I am notorious for puttng things off until the last minute but somehow making them look/sound great!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiesel

I am so much like you it is quite scary! I need short deadlines because if I have a ton of time to do something, I will certainly put it off for as long as I can!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

I've always done better with things at the last minute. In college especially, waiting until the last minute meant my brain decided I shouldn't waste any more time than necessary on, say, writing a paper, so it wouldn't happen until the night before. These were often the best papers...less time to second guess yourself or go off on unrelated tangents.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

I do more with less time exactly the way you do: a little work, followed by a little wandering around the blogosphere. Oh, and there's that spreadsheet I'm supposed to be working on, but first, I'll just check my e-mail again...

Glad I'm not alone in "working well under pressure"!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Procrastination definitely seems to work for me. I get the same sort of anxiety when I have days and days and days to meet a deadline, but give me an assignment and say you need it by 2pm? Hey, no problem! I'll give you the best thing ever! Or at least something pretty damn good.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

I'm with you, same story: When I have lots of time, it gives me too much leeway for web surfing and blank staring at TV. But one thing I don't do more of with less time? Eat. Less time generally means less mindless stuffing of my face.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

My slow cooker does everything for me now that I am in graduate school, with a baby under the age of one. The slow cooker and teh bread machine and the rice cooker - I hate to be one of those people who relies on machines entirely, but let's be honest. I do. Homemade food is cheaper and better, but I don't have time to make it, so thank goodness for the slow cooker!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartha

I find if I have things to do it depends on the day... Many days I get everything done right before my hubby gets home, with my daughter screaming in her jumper. Or some rare days, I'm on top of things and I get things done way ahead of time. It just depends on the day, and it depends on my state of mind and whether I really want to deal with the crap that day. : )

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShawna

Oh my god, YES! Any free time I have, which is nap time, wherein I should be getting something - anything done, is when I sit there and completely and totally waste hours of my life looking at all the stupid things the internet has to offer. I ditch my Very Important, Must Be Done Today, list of things to do, and end up zoning out on facebook.

I need to a. ditch facebook and b. create a very full and busy life for myself, because I too thrive and accomplish on little time.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstatia

I've never folded laundry as fast as I did when I had an infant that took naps that lasted no longer than 20 minutes.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I have until the 29th to tell you how efficient I am at managing my time, right? I guess I'll get back to you later.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

I am more prolific than most people. When I am feeling it I can bang out quality posts in next to no time. Really, I am sometimes surprised by how easily it comes, the words flow from the keyboard covering the screen in this joyous tapestry of gobbledy-gook.

Yet, there has been more than one occasion where having unlimited time to work means that I don't start writing until I have used up all but the last 30 minutes of free time. However if I know that I have a short deadline I often turn things around very quickly. So one would expect that I would routinely just hit the ground running, but I often don't.

It is just who I am, the schedule makes me more effective and efficient. The beauty of being in my forties is that I stopped trying to change my nature and simply work with it. In the end it makes me happier and more productive.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

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