Over the last six weeks, I’ve made astounding progress on my next book, the sequel to The Fourth Channel. I’ve completely rewritten the second half of the book, made a “punch list” of minor items to fix in the first half, and, at the time of this writing, I have only three chapters left to write.
It’s an incredible feeling.
If you’ve been to this site at all in the last three years, you know that writing has been a struggle for me. Between a demanding day job, my home life, and other commitments, it’s a lot to juggle. If you’re also a creative type and you’re struggling to squeeze it all into a 24-hour day, you know what I’m talking about.
For me, the road to “figuring it all out” has been slow but fulfilling. I’m still working at it, but I want to share what I’ve discovered so far—especially since this latest lesson has been such a game-changer.
I learned about minimalism.
Now you’re imagining that I’m living out of a backpack on a beach somewhere with questionable hygiene, right? That couldn’t be further from the truth! I just mean that I looked at every area of my life and trimmed the fat. I reassessed what was truly important to me and everything else had to be reduced or eliminated. If you’re struggling with juggling, allow me to introduce the idea of minimalism and give you three reasons you should consider minimalism, too.
1. Get Time Back
We have only 24 hours in a day. Once the hours are gone, we can’t make more. There’s nothing left but regret and the vain hope that something magical will happen tomorrow and we’ll be able to work on our art. But it never happens. It’s an endless, hopeless cycle.
Minimalism gives time back—as much time as you want.
When I first considered minimalism, I needed more time in the morning for setting goals and doing writing exercises. However, I need eight hours of sleep and I need to be at work by a certain time, so the hours I have to spend are limited. I started looking at my day differently. I listed every task from top to bottom and figured out exactly how much time I spend on each. Google Calendar is perfect for tracking this because you can easily spot the blocks of time that suck up your day: get up, make coffee, shower, get dressed, fix hair and makeup, go to work… Calendaring every little thing you do sounds pretty silly, but I was surprised by how much time even the most mundane tasks can suck up—like getting dressed for work. Once you see where your time is going, you can group related tasks together, but I still recommend tracking them and budgeting your time.
As I started tracking my tasks on the calendar, I realized I was spending an hour or more just getting ready for work in the morning. There were a couple of days that I spent an hour and fifteen minutes on it. What in the world was I doing all that time? I wasn’t transforming into a Victoria’s Secret model, that’s for sure. If I had, I’d probably be more receptive to the time spent. But I wasn’t.
And yes, my fellow shoe-lovers, those concepts might be just as scary as you think. Click the links at your own risk.
But these practices are freeing and they work. I now have a hair and makeup routine that takes a fraction of the time it used to, and having a mere 37 items in my closet has eliminated much of the time I used to spend getting dressed. Yes, I shower every morning. I brush my teeth. I do all the things that I did before, just more efficiently and with less stuff. Plus, everything in my closet is awesome. Once I’m dressed, I feel awesome. Obviously, I can’t control what others think when they see me, but what matters is that I feel awesome.
Don’t we all deserve to feel awesome? (The answer is yes, yes you do deserve to feel awesome every day.)
Most importantly, I’ve regained 45 – 60 minutes in the morning. This example may sound a little silly, but it’s these kinds of scary, simple solutions that give back time.
2. Reserve Your Willpower for Your Art
According to Merriam-Webster, “willpower” is the ability to control yourself. Basically, a lack of willpower is that thing inside you that says, at the very end of a long day, “I just can’t [write, paint, create].” You can probably relate to that feeling. After a long day, you’ve spent most of your mental energy and you can only plop down on the couch and do something brainless like watch TV for the rest of the night. At the end of the day, you lack willpower.
Research indicates that our willpower is a limited resource*:
- Is Willpower a Limited Resource? (American Psychological Association)
- What You Need to Know About Willpower (American Psychological Association)
- Conserve Your Willpower; It Runs Out (Wired)
It’s incredible how many little decisions we make during the day. Many of them can’t be avoided, like decisions at work or responsibilities to family, but there are many that can. What will I eat? What will I wear? What color of car should I buy? Having to make too many decisions can be a detriment to our creativity.
To reserve willpower for the things that are important to you, the principles of minimalism can help. Less stuff means fewer decisions to make. For example, I cut my wardrobe down to just a fraction of its original size. Although the items in the new wardrobe can combine into 60 different outfits, it’s much easier to figure out what I want to wear in the morning. I simply grab an item that I want to wear, and then grab everything that goes with that item.
Or, if you want to get especially nuts, you can schedule your outfits every week like I do. It sounds crazy, but this way I eliminate the mental churn about my appearance. Once a week, I sit down on the couch and look at my calendar. I can schedule my clothing based on the weather, how much I’ll be running around at work, and whether I have meetings or special events planned. When I get up in the morning, the calendar pops up on my phone and tells me what I need to wear. I don’t think about it. I just get dressed and go. And I feel great.
This idea may sound nuts, but if you’re struggling for willpower at the end of the day, look at the various questions you ask yourself every day and pare them down. In their place, install a simple and stress-free system. You’ll be able to reserve a small cache of willpower, and when it comes time to create, you’ll be able to say, “I can and will.”
3. Less Distraction, More Creation
Studies show that physical clutter can pull on your attention, and that it negatively impacts your ability to concentrate. Simply put: clutter equals distraction. Period. And when your creativity demands that you spend stretches of time with uninterrupted focus, this can be extremely frustrating.
“The clutter competes for your attention in the same way a toddler might stand next to you annoyingly repeating, ‘candy, candy, candy, candy, I want candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy…’ Even though you might be able to focus a little, you’re still aware that a screaming toddler is also vying for your attention.” –Unclutterer.com
My desk is a flat white rectangle and it only displays what I’m working on at the time. Book notes go away, out of sight, when I’m not working on the book. It allows my brain to take a break from the constant reminder that I need to finish it. Blog notes and personal to-dos have their own place, behind me, where I don’t see them when I’m doing other things. The wall above my desk used to display an array of personal tasks, goals, and deadlines, usually ones that I’ve missed, so they caused a great deal of turmoil. Those are now tucked away where I can get them, but they aren’t constantly nagging at me. Now I just have a simple corkboard that’s relatively free of clutter, save for a few fun things and a sticky note that shows my top three goals for 2017. That’s it.
A dirty house presents the same kind of issue for me. I must have a clean house or I’m horribly distracted and anxious. But if I have to carve out a lot of time and energy during my week to maintain my house, I won’t have enough time for writing.
Minimalism suggests that less stuff means less time to maintain it, right? Less time to clean. So, I started applying minimalism to areas of the house where we’re prone to excess, like overflowing bookshelves, kitchen items that I haven’t used in years, and even towels and sheets. Seriously, how many old sheets and towels do you need? I might be our local Goodwill’s favorite person right now.
Using the same example above, less clothing means less laundry to do. Once a week, I do two full loads of laundry and two very small delicate loads. I can also scrub my house down in an hour, just once a week.
Yes, once a week. When my sixty minutes is up, I find that the house is spic and span and I can stop and do other things. Jealous?
Minimalism truly allows you to get time back and spend it where you want. My life and commitments have become much more manageable and my schedule makes a lot more sense. Sure, there are days when my schedule gets torpedoed, but I’ve still been able to carve out 10 – 12 hours every week to focus on my book.
And you can too.
If you’re interested in finding out more, I recommend starting with this book. It’s where I started my journey. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
What do you think? Do you guys use different tricks and systems to get back time and energy? What’s your creative outlet? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!
*There’s also research that suggests willpower isn’t limited and people can generate more: Your Willpower is only a Finite Resource if You Believe It Is (Lifehacker)