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More Is Less

There are all of these devices that attempt to let me to do a lot more than I was able to do before they existed. It creates this new normal where now I am a superwoman. I start doing more than I was ever capable of before. Then other people start to get used to me doing a lot more. And then the expectation becomes that I can do even more than before.

I find myself in a scenario where my physical body needs to be doing something, but my mind doesn’t need to be engaged, at least not for now. So I engage my mind in something else because I have one more thing to get done. I’m standing here, I’m wasting time. Whether it’s standing in line, sitting in a meeting at work that I don’t feel like I’m getting any value out of, sitting across the table from someone that I think is a waste of my time. I have things that are more important, more pressing, that I need to get to.

It’s a symptom of how over-scheduled and overwrought we all are. We feel as though what we achieve in a day is never enough. It’s never, ever enough. We always could have done more. We always could have used our time more wisely.

We live in this world now that is so obsessed with productivity. It’s like a drug. I remember when I got my first iPhone, I immediately went to the App Store and searched for productivity apps. I wanted to try every new to-do list, every timer, everything that has to do with productivity to make the best use of my time.

There is this assumption that doing more is better, that getting more done in the same 24 hours is better. And so we’re not sleeping eight hours a day, not getting the sleep that we need, not getting the food that we need.

It’s fast-fast-fast, how much can I check off my list today?

There’s no longer that depth and that attention to what we’re actually trying to do. Everything now has become this very superficial interaction. We’re doing it by cutting as many corners as possible, and we’re doing it as quickly as possible with as little involvement of ourselves as possible.

I don’t get that. If you’re not into it, don’t do it. Just don’t go. If you’re not thrilled about the idea of sitting across from that person over dinner — to the extent that you feel the need to pull out your phone to look at what is happening elsewhere in the world — then don’t go to that dinner.

You know what the alternative is? That you could spend the whole time looking at what else is going on in the world if it’s that important to you.There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s upsetting to me, this idea that we have to do more-more-more-more, but the quality of what we do doesn’t seem to matter.

An excerpt from my dialogue with Paul McAleer on our podcast Designing Yourself, Episode #5: No Means Yes (originally aired August 20, 2013), with minimal editing for readability.

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  • Lynne Polischuik

    Fully agree, Whitney. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as well. I recently read ‘Daily Rituals: How Artists Work’ by Mason Curry, and it was fascinating how little some of the greatest artists and creators of our time actually ‘worked’. Drafting a page or two per day, taking long walks and leisurely meals and making time to sleep and just think. It all sounds so luxurious–and then I stop and think about the quality of the work produced and realize it must be connected. It seems silly that when I work from home I actually feel guilty and stressed about taking the time to stop and prepare a proper dinner, or step away to just read for a bit and not be incessantly checking email. There is this need to not only always be doing something, but also to be doing many things all at once. I’m becoming more and more aware of the impact this has on the quality of my interactions with people and the work I produce. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone.

    • Andy Hugelier

      Great thoughts – this really hit home for me as well. I have an incredible difficulty just “staying present”, and it’s affected how I feel at the end of the day (guilty, tired & unsatisfied), while not improving the output of my work one bit. I’ve recently tried to focus on two external forces in my life to help me stay grounded – my wife and my 3mo. old child. Both of them help force me into the present moment (in a good way), and stay satisfied with focusing on one or two major tasks per day and give them everything I have. I certainly have not conquered this mindset – it seems to be a daily struggle.

      • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

        Andy, that takes a heck of a lot of guts to admit, and that’s really the first step. You’re noticing it, so you’ve already begun to do something about it.

        Have you tried meditation at all? It has a tremendous impact on our ability to be mindful and stay focused in the present moment. I would also strongly encourage you to read The Power of No by Echkart Tolle.

        Please let me know if I can ever be of help!

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      Oh goodness, I have that exact same guilt. Funny enough, when I first went independent and was working at home for the first time, I was *proud* of taking a break to walk in the park, cook a big lunch, go to a museum or the movies in the middle of the day. But as time wore on, it became harder and harder to bring myself to do. I have a healthy balance now, taking care of client work and taking care of myself in equal measure throughout the day. It isn’t always sustainable, but it feels good to try.