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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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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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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)

I quit my job to work on a business idea my husband and I have been thinking about for years. And then all progress ground to a halt as I looked at all those open hours and thought maybe I should get some scheduling software and do I need to learn some new technologies and wouldn't this be better if I just... I picked up some consulting work two days/week in part to give me more time pressure for my own project.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I don't know if I'm very good at this, except for academic paper-writing, where I can churn out a 10 page paper in 5 hours if I need to. I tend to reward myself for being mildly productive by not doing ANYTHING useful for a long time. It's not really working.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

All I know is that when I started reading blogs all day at work, I started being a lot more efficient about doing my actual work!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commentera

When I have ample time to accomplish a task it only really means that I have ample time to find anything in the world to distract me until it comes to the last minute and it HAS TO BE DONE. Currently I work full time and go to school. I have tests almost every week. Do you think I study all week long to prepare? Heck no! I make sure to get up at 6:00 a.m. to prepare for my 9:00 test. That way I have the information fresh in my brain and can go in having just reviewed the material. I can review every chapter and all of the pertinent information while counting down the clock. If I have all week I will barely look at the book. When I know time is running out I am reviewing like a mad woman. That's what I tell myself anyway. So far it's worked but I kind of doubt it will stay that way. I guess we'll see.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrandy

I was going to say something about multitasking or singular focus, but then I remembered a different tactic: caffeine. I'm not talking about the normal amounts of caffeine that any sane person ingests in a day, but the levels of caffeine that make you so wired, you can't help but have activity coming out of your limbs and brilliant ideas spilling from your fingertips. I don't use this strategy often, but a two-liter bottle of diet coke wrote me more than one paper in college and a triple Starbucks latte finished a certain work project I had been putting off for weeks. So that's it. I'm just sayin'.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Less is less than more
More is less than most
Most is the least less

Most is the last more
More is more than less
Less is the least more

Haiku Inc. - more haikus all day, everyday for .25C (as seen at a Piza Place in Williamsburg)

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertzena

I agree with what a lot of people have already said: it's somehow easier to focus and resist distraction when under pressure or a time crunch. I have a one year old, and even though I feel like I have no time to myself, I get so much more done than I used to before I had her.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexis

When I was in high school, I'd routinely find myself up by alarm at 4 AM to start a paper due that day at school. There's just something about a deadline staring in you in the face that inspires action. I guess they say it's because the prospect of the negative consequences of not finishing is stronger than the pleasure we might feel from getting it done early.

But...but I haven't seen this toilet-flushing-kitty vid before!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBKC

more with less time? get my butt movin'. I often tell myself that I only have to do X task for 15 min and then I can stop if I really really want to. But always after I get started, it doesn't seem so bad anymore.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusanne

I'd like to say that its all because I have a small child now, that I get more done in less time. Partly thats true, because I have no other choice. I have a narrow 2 hour window of opportunity most days, so I focus. But looking back on my life before I had a child, I think I have always done more with less time and it gives me a thrill to cut things so close to the edge...Such an accomplishment when my task is completed.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I actually learned to procrastinate at Microsoft! I worked there for seven years and with the way the deadlines and goals changed so quickly, only chumps would get their work done early. :-P

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTiffanie

I am a total procrastinator and always get more done at the last minute. I am the same way, if my son is at preschool, I dilly-dally until the last 15 minutes and then I do a few chores. It sure doesn't help my stress level, but its always been this way...

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa

I too, am a deadline queen. At work this means that I wait until I've been here for 7 hours playing around and then about 1 hour to get every thing done for 12 patients the next day. I'm a professional that way. -grin-

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusanlee

I'm usually more productive at work when I have 'less' time. If I have a few stacks of data entry, and no other really presssing matters that day, I get maybe half a stack done and surf blogs for a portion of the day. When I have about 17 meetings, 4 interviews and a board report that has to be done by 10AM? That thing will be done, formatted, correct and probably even color coded in 20 minutes.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterapril

I am the QUEEN of procrastination! I always feel like I can do more in less time if I'm close to a deadline. Give me a week to prep for something and I will have such high hopes that I will pace myself and get everything done with no stress and time to spare. Ha! Right! Somehow the time just slips away (making cookies, checking email, etc.) and I'm left scrambling at the end.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Aside from the standard: I get more done because I have two kids, work from home, homeschool and have to be efficient, I do more cleaning with less time by bringing my friends into it! Two of my friends and I started a little Cleaning Club, wherein we alternate going to each other's houses and working on a project each week. We have 12 kids between us, and they play and we work and talk and laugh and vent. We've had several Cleaning Club Special Editions, most notably, Cleaning Club the Birth Edition. Three mamas, two hours, lots of work done in way less time and lots more fun!

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I used to get home from work, cook a beautiful meal and eat it over a deep and meaningful conversation with my fella. Now, I dash home, scoop up two little ones, read stories and explain all the complex issues presented in Curious George, feed the munchkins whatever white or off-while foods they are eating that day, try to keep from flooding our downstairs neighbors during bathtime, preside over a few major disagreements about who is playing with what, dry a few tears, read a few more stories, and tuck two very tired kiddies into bed. Then I do my best to make a beautiful meal and eat it over a deep and meaningful conversation with my fella.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Doing more with less....Honestly, lately, it's been staying up late to get more done. I guess in this case, it's doing more with less time to sleep.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDele O

when i have no time in the morning i grab a banana to go. or a granola bar. if we have neither of those, i grab a bagel and cream cheese at one of those shiny metallic street carts.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbeyond

I'm a teacher, and have taught the last 4 years at a school on 90-min block schedules. Now I'm at a school with 50-minute periods, and I swear I do almost as much in half the time (it certainly *feels* like it, anyway!).

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenteramandaC

you summed up my life also. I work best with deadlines, they get me motivated. If I am busy, I tend to be more organized and able to multitask. But I do get flustered with too many deadlines, so it needs to be a manageable load.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie M

I lower my expectations and prioritize.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSweetcoalminer

The two semesters of college in which I had the highest GPAs of my entire collegiate career where the two in which I carried the most credits and had a ton of other obligations. I clearly can't structure my time well independently, it must be done for me.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Does getting separated and becoming a single parent qualify as doing more with less time? If so, then I am doing the hell out of it! Luckily, when the kids do visit with their dad, he takes them to dinner, so at least I have a couple of nights fewer to cook lately. (Trying to find the bright sides... always.)

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJLP717

An operating system is an operating system but a decent meal is worth its weight in gold. If I could ever meet Trader Joe, I swear, I would love him (and I quote) SO hard. Give any working mom a choice between Windows 7.whatever and TJs and, honestly ... no contest.

Less = more, indeed.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMamaKu

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