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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Monday
Nov152010

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 random.org and post it here. Here are the official, long-winded rules about this contest.

Reader Comments (299)

Prior to having my daughter in April I worked as seventh grade science teacher. I found that I was a better teacher, and could accomplish a lot more with my students, the less I tried to cram into each lesson. The kids always seemed to learn more from a simple demonstration than a long lab procedure!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterApril

I'm with you on the deadline thing. In fact, when I've got a full plate I seem to *overcompensate* and add more onto my plate. I'm at a gee-dee stress buffet! I figure if I'm already going kookoo bananas, why not heap a second helping on and get that much more done? I am insane.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

I worked with my Dad for 12 years, and he used to love to wax poetic about Parkinson's law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.". So, so, so true. If I have an hour to make dinner, I'll make the same recipe I made last week in 10 minutes flat. But today, it will take all sixty minutes to complete. Sigh.

Anyway, to (try and) get more done, I keep lists too. There's a somewhat accurate inventory of what we have in the pantry & the freezer, and I write out 2 weeks worth of meal planning together on a calendar on the fridge.

And I eliminated my online time sucks: facebook and twitter. And I don't miss either of them one little bit.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKris

We are doing more with less this year for Christmas by capitalizing on our church's free toy trade! We all have toys sitting around (used and new) that get ignored - parents get together to trade and viola! Free Christmas!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

I am so relieved to read that I am not the only one who needs deadlines in order to get anything done. Is there a national adult-onset ADD epidemic going on? It's the days when I can work from home, don't even have to waste time showering if I don't want to, 8 uninterrupted hours to be productive that I find myself rushing to get at least one thing that day.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I'm like you, Alice. A vast quantity of time at my feet increases my expectations and requires I demand more of myself. I'll assume all that time is supposed to be used to second-guess my work, and I'll agonize over every comma and period until whatever I'm working on looks like punctuation salad.

Given a short deadline, however, I'll hammer out the project with no thought to quality, and it winds up looking like I spent weeks perfecting it. I've stopped questioning this sanity and now I just go with it.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Jane Thompson

When I have a lot of deadlines (like right now!), I find that my brain shuts down if I don't give it regular doses of exercise. I'm more alert and productive after a good workout, and I'm never sorry I took the time to do it.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmser J

i dilute my juice!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulia G

I work from home every afternoon so I try to ensure that my son gets to do something fun with me in the morning so we don't spend all day inside, me in front of my computer and him in the living room with a bucket of trucks and Scooby Doo. The only problem is that we are not early risers and we do not like going outside when it's cold. So we usually have an hour or two of running errands and jumping in leaf piles before coming in for a quick lunch and play time. Someday, we will have the determination to get up before 8 but don't count on it!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Bahaha, I think yours is my favorite of the "less is more" posts.

Today I had an IMPORTANT!! meeting scheduled at 12pm, which meant I was a workin' MACHINE this morning to get ready for it....
Then, about 10:30? Meeting canceled.
Which meant I am now spending my morning....reading this and other blogs. (And I wore a suit today too, grumble grumble). Hmm what happened to my "working machine" motivation?? Agreed, less time = more work done.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKS

I can relate! The only way I ever get anything done is if I have a deadline that's hovering somewhere near RIGHT NOW. I would say that I wish I could change but since this seems to be working for me so far, I'm going to stick with it!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Due to the fact that I am scared of my boss, I hardly ever oversleep during the work week. I've found, however, that when I do, I am able to shower, make myself presentable, and feed myself in a half hour, when normally it takes a full hour. What's up with that, and why don't I get up at 7:00 instead of 6:30?

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Usually I blow the time away. Occasionally, I get productive and start in a cleaning, tidying frenzy. If I limit myself to one room and just make a pile of things to go upstairs later-- and really put them away upstairs later-- I stay focused instead of getting distracted by all the tasks in other rooms that need to be done also.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMy Kids Mom

That is SO EXACTLY how I work. Give me a day, and I'll use the last hour to do the work. Give me a month, and I'll use the last hour to do the work. I'm a terrible (or GREAT!) procrastinator. I've had two weeks to enroll in my company's new health insurance plan (and even more time before that to do the research). So what was I doing today? Scrambling to read all the information, figure out last year's medical costs, estimate this year's cost, calculate my FSA and HSA withdrawals. OMG this sucks. I asked a co-worker if she was done. "Oh, I did that the first day." I strangled her there on the spot.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

As if having "less time" means anything to a mother with two young children. Time for what? That little memory of your days gone by called "personal hygiene"? How about following them around the house with your wine glass in one hand and the Swiffer in the other? Or maybe it means "multitasking" by shoving them in front of a DVD while you check facebook. No, I remember, I get so much MORE done now because I spend so much LESS TIME sleeping. Oh wait, the lack of sleep actually helps me accomplish nothing worthwhile during the day because my brain is melted and my batteries remained drained. The correct answer is... D) I get more of NOTHING done when I have less time.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohi

I'm in grad school, I work in child protection, I help run a free community clinic, and I ostensibly have a social life. Doing more with less is all about efficiency and getting things done when and where I can. I answer tons of emails while waiting for clients and while waiting for meetings to start. I hate being tied to gadgets, but fun gadgets make it a lot easier.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

For some people, multi-tasking is the best way to get things done. Not for me. If I focus on one thing at a time, I tend to get things done much more quickly! That's how I do more with less time!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGencie

I have a sure-fire way to get your house clean. Like, spanking-clean in hardly any time. Are you ready?
1) enroll in doctoral program
2) get all your coursework done
3) finish all your internships
4) pass your comprehensive exams
5) start the dissertation process . . . and have a deadline.

BAM! Suddenly every speck of dirt will drive you mad and will SABOTAGE the dissertation-writing process. So, of course, you need to clean your house TOP TO BOTTOM. Right now. Before you write Chapter 1. But you'll need to hurry, because you NEED TO WRITE CHAPTER ONE because OMG, it's DUE SOON.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTara Nusz

Yes, the threat of REPERCUSSIONS is my chief motivator when there’s WORK work to be done. If not for those, I fear that mere ambition and “desire to make an impact on this crazy world” wouldn’t be enough in some cases. Also, there’s the fact that most of our jobs don’t actually make an impact on this world in any way at all. Sadddd face.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGray

I believe that this is a true principle, and also that it sucks. But I believe that sucks is an ugly word and have been meaning to weed it out of my vocabulary. (So, thanks for setting me up for failure with sucky true principles.) How many words is this so far? What would the penalty be if I wrote 2500 words? This seems like the perfect time for that, since I was about to do some laundry and supervise my kids' chores.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZina

I'm a list-maker. I keep a running list of all the things I need to get done, prioritized sloppily with what has to get done in the next 24 hours, next week, etc. When you know something has to get done in the next 24 hours, there's a lot of relief when you suck it up, get it done and get to cross it off th list. And I always make sure to include extra stupid things, like "shower" and "eat breakfast", so I can feel a little accomplished even when I've barely made it out the door.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily W.

I do the same exact thing. The more time I have, the less I seem to get done in the day, although I'm always certain I'll use that free time to finally read my camera manual! I actually HAVE to give myself deadlines for everything or things won't get done - that includes returning phone calls and buying presents, which typically happens at the last minute possible (read, on the way to party).

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I was laid off in May, so my hubby and I have cut back on our expenses. The biggest difference is we traded in our newer, fancier cars (with big car payments) for two older, cheaper cars with one smallish car payment. We don't miss the fancier cars and we certainly don't miss the car payments.

Also, I've been shopping almost exclusively at consignment shops and second hand stores and have made out like a bandit! Plus, when I get tired of the clothes after a couple of months - no guilt!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCora D

I want this phone. Therefore, you're about to get a whole lot of random little nuggets about how I do more with less time. First, let's start with I have three kids, including two in diapers. This automatically makes a regulation day feel like you've misplaced eight hours somewhere, kind of like I regularly misplace my glasses, cell phone, and car keys. (Can you guess why I would like to win this phone? Go ahead. Guess.) But because I realize my attention is going to be divided multiple ways during the day, I work harder to squeeze more juice out of each minute. I am not a real touchy-feely squishy emotion-having type of mom, but with baby number three, I have realized that I blinked and missed #2's infancy, and I don't want to do that again. I have less time to give #3 than I did kid 2, but I make it count more. I hug and snuggle and sometimes letter dinner go unmade because she wants holding. And soon she won't. So yes, I have less time to give her, but I'm enjoying each minute more than ever.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Jacobson

Always waaaayy more productive with more scheduled, and the simple answer is that, if I am busy, I do not let myself spend any quality time this the interwebs. If there is an errand to be run, I will try to take care of several other things at the same time/in the same vicinity with fuel consumption in mind. And if I am out and about, I think about meal planning as opposed to just coming up with something from the pantry.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjenna

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