“Let this take as long as it takes.”
That is my new mantra. It’s surprisingly relaxing, and a marked shift from trying to pack as much as possible into each day.
We eagerly absorb stories of aggressive schedules, tactics to keep our inboxes clear, and life hacks to get more done every day.
But this rush to be productive can be futile and toxic. “Getting stuff done” isn’t the same as doing the important things.
In writing, true productivity is seeing your work through to the end, and getting it out into the world. Sometimes that requires you to commit to doing less of other things.
Too often, though, we rush through the writing.
Despite our instincts to the contrary, going faster does not make us more productive—in writing, in our other work, or in our lives.
And the rush to be productive is particularly damaging to writing. Here’s why.
We all want to love the writing
I’ve written about finding flow in The Writer’s Process—it’s that state when we are ‘in the zone,’ absorbed in the work, unaware of time passing.
When we find the groove of the work and stay there, something magical happens. We stop behaving like supercharged drones hurrying through the work toward some joyous future time when all of our efforts will be rewarded.
The rewards happen instantly, in the work itself.
Sometimes that experience is the only certain reward for our writing. So, you’d like to reach that flow state as often as possible. Yet, a desire to be productive can harm it.
You can’t immerse yourself with one eye on the clock
Trying to stuff more things into our day means watching the clock. Counting your minutes. Optimizing.
These things sabotage the state of flow.
Auditing or tracking your time (for a brief spell) can give you valuable insight into how you spend it. But fixating on the minutes and hours of the day slams the door on working in a state of flow.
We can only find flow when we immerse ourselves in the work and let it develop in its own time.
Here’s how to apply this approach to your writing.
1. Identify the next step.
Understand and respect your process. Don’t attempt everything at once. (I’m going to write a great blog post right now!)
Instead, honor the fact that the writing process has many phases. Pick the next step and immerse yourself in it.
For me, this means dedicating time for freewriting before tackling the first draft. (The freewriting file for this post was three times longer than this finished post.)
I also commit to leaving adequate time for revision and polishing.
2. Give that next step your full attention.
Sometimes you zip right through a step. Often, though, writing or revising takes longer than you planned. If you immerse yourself in the writing, then you will give it sufficient time.
Honor the work by not rushing through it.
Honor yourself by giving yourself the time to craft.
However, there is one more person to remember as you take this project: the reader. Because if the work never sees the light of day, the reader never benefits.
3. Recognize when it’s good enough.
Don’t get stuck over-optimizing.
You cannot do everything to a standard of perfection.
Remember, true productivity means getting your work out in the world. At some point, you must ship.
What would this feel like for you?
What if you commit to relaxing, not rushing through your writing but letting the work take the time it takes?
If your experience is like mine, two things may happen:
- You are more relaxed and present as you do your planned writing.
- You are less likely to try to “squeeze in” bunches of tasks that detract you from that important work.
Will you reach a state of flow? Perhaps. If nothing else, you will feel better, more relaxed.
You pay for this improved state by sacrificing two ideals:
- Trying to do everything
- Striving for perfection
We are imperfect. We won’t get everything done, and we won’t do things perfectly.
When we acknowledge this reality, we can do the most important things, and may even find the rewards in the work.
We respect ourselves and our writing when we don’t rush through it.
Give it a try with whatever you’re doing. The next time you find yourself rushing through a task to check it off, while thinking ahead to the next task, stop. Tell yourself, “This will take the time it takes, and I’ll honor it by simply doing it.” See how it feels.
Here are two books that may help with the ideas in this post:
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman is one of the most powerful books I’ve read about acknowledging the limitations of your control over time, and getting on with a meaningful life.
The Writer’s Process (by me) will help you recognize and respect the various components of the longer writing process.