Do Less to Achieve More

Can it really be that you can do less to achieve more? Is this just an excuse for laziness? Or is there something to be said for taking your time?

Time on Our Hands

Right now, many people have more time on their hands than they are used to. And quite a few are spending it realizing creative ambitions that had been kept on hold. Which begs the question: what were we all waiting for?

Whatever the answer, sheds are now being built, gardens renovated, books written, albums recorded, instruments mastered, paintings painted and more besides. Few people carrying out such activity, however, would consider themselves ‘busy’. They are simply getting on with things, in-between the hours of relative boredom.

Constant Input

In recent times, it has become a virtual crime to be bored. Or, at least, to admit to that condition. Children rarely experience the luxury of having nothing to do. And, even when there is no scheduled activity, they will, very often, default to some kind of screen-based entertainment.

Many studies have found that this is not an entirely healthy state of affairs. It has been suggested that boredom is a necessary part of growing up and one that leads to creative thinking. Children have almost limitless reserves of imagination. But for that to flourish, it needs space and time. Constant input can fill the mental wastelands in which seeds of ideas would otherwise take root.

Limits & Boundaries

And so it is for adults, too. Most of us go to ‘work’. Many never question the purpose of this, beyond providing money to pay for food, shelter and luxuries. And the more we have of these, the more we seem to need. So, the more we work.

With modern technology and digital communication, this work can follow us virtually anywhere. Unless we choose to provide ourselves with limits and boundaries. Currently, we have these imposed upon us. And, whilst the background to this is tragic, some consequences are undeniably positive. Can we, then, learn – in the long-run – to make a habit of doing less? And, thereby, achieve more?

The Space Between

Composer Claude Debussy famously commented that “music is the space between the notes”. What he meant was that music needs to breathe. A listener needs time and space to absorb its flow and cadence. The same can be said for any compositional form: visual art, dance, drama, film, prose, verse. A constant stream of sonic, visual or – even – conceptual input can only serve to overwhelm and confuse.

Which is the state in which many people find themselves, on a regular basis, today. We crave information and (now more than ever) connection. However, without breathing space between interactions, we cannot make sense of things. Though we seek constant stimulation, when we get it, we are unable to cope.

Associated Guilt

The same may be applied to the creative process. It’s not possible to be on output mode the whole time. Periods of reflection and – indeed – boredom are a necessary part of the journey.  So, we need to resist the feeling that time spent ostensibly doing ‘nothing’ is time wasted. And let go of any associated guilt that modern society may attach to this.

Only today, I received an email from a distant collaborator (in New York). This is a man who has created a global network of original thinkers and artists. He has coordinated a world-wide creative project that has produced a number of thought-provoking video sequences. His work is challenging, original, inclusive and collaborative.

True Value

Today, he described himself as ‘tired and lazy’. Tired, perhaps. Lazy, never. What I think he meant, was that he has taken the time to follow his creative project. Possibly at the expense of other things he believes he ‘ought’ to be doing. Maybe he has hit a bit of a slump in productivity. We all do that. It is, after all, part of the process.

In the end, however, this individual has achieved a great deal. Whilst society demands that we remain ‘productive’ at all times, nobody really ever is. We can, indeed, keep ourselves busy. But in so doing, there’s every chance we are actually creating less of true value.

It’s OK to Do Less

So, give yourself permission: it’s OK to do less. Especially now. And see whether, in the end, you actually achieve more.


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