Get A New Story: Are You Really Too Busy To Write?

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsWhen I work with writers to help them reboot their writing productivity, they often say things like, “I can’t find time; I’m just too busy to write. I’ve got all these demands, my life is going to hell, it’s just one string of emergencies after another.”

This is one of those “stories” I’m talking about when I say, “Get a new story.”

The stories we tell ourselves about our writing have a powerful impact on what actually happens in our writing lives. The more frequently we tell ourselves a story, the more likely it is to become a reality and to persist as one. And because very often those stories have to do with Not Writing, I see my job as a writing coach as being about helping you challenge these stories, inviting you to question them, and encouraging you to try something new.

The most common story is “I’m too busy”

The most common story I hear is the one I mentioned above about being “too busy” to write.

And while certainly we all experience times in our lives when we are in fact extremely busy, we also have to be willing to question the paradigm of busyness our culture perpetrates and we play out.

Let’s face it, saying “I’m so busy” is an expected and socially condoned response to “How are you?” If you were to say that you’re calmly proceeding with your work and enjoying your life, people might wonder what’s wrong, or if you’re slacking off somehow!

And because it’s such a socially-pervasive expectation, we work hard to keep up the image.

What’s really going on?

But what if your life was actually balanced, with time for writing, work (if you have work separate from writing), time off, opportunities to refill the creative well, and space for family and friends? Is that even part of your conscious awareness? Do you make room for that possibility in your mind?

Making time to write requires strong priorities, boundaries, and a recognition of the fear that drives you to stay too busy to write.

Because quite often, being “too busy” is actually a symptom of a fear of writing.

What are we really doing?

Because let’s face it, even when you’re “too busy,” you’re probably still making time to cruise Facebook, hit up Twitter for a quick fix of solace or connection, browse the internet, or get lost in television. We usually tell ourselves we’re doing these things because we’re tired and we deserve a “break.”

But is that really a break?

Is it truly — in your heart of hearts you know the answer — is it truly, deeply restful in the way that will nourish and replenish you when you’re worn out at the end of a long day? I’m willing to hazard a guess that the answer is no. My experience is that unless those activities come after (notice I’m not saying NOT to do them) deeper soul-filling activities, they feel a bit like eating a second (or third!) piece of chocolate cake, long after you’ve satisfied your taste for it.

Shift into Quadrant 2

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, posits that we spend too much of our time caught up in crises, other people’s “urgent” needs, and busy work. He illustrates this with his “Time Management Matrix,” a four quadrant model that cross-categorizes activities into “urgent”, “not urgent”, “important”, and “not important.”

In his model, we tend to spend most of our time in Quadrants 1, 3, and 4.

In Quadrant 1, we are constantly putting out fires, rushing, and responding to crises, all of which ultimately leads to burnout. So many creative industries run on this model, foolishly defying the logic that we will burn out our best people when we operate this way. We’ve become so conditioned to this approach that we do it to ourselves.

In Quadrant 3, we’re spending all our time putting out other people’s fires, some of which aren’t even necessarily particularly important, though they do have a quality of urgency to them. Many of us, particularly those of us without strong boundaries, have a hard time setting limits and keeping our focus on the things that are most important to us, rather than to the people around us.

In Quadrant 4, we’re essentially just wasting time — justifying as I mentioned above that we somehow “deserve” a “break.”

Ultimately, however, the place we’ll get the most bang for our buck is in Quadrant 2. And for many of us, the fastest way to get there is to start by shifting our Quadrant 4 activities (those time wasters) into Quadrant 2 time. I still LIKE the Quadrant 4 stuff, but I’m much happier — on that deeper soul-level of fulfillment — when I do the Quadrant 2 work first and use the Quadrant 4 activities as little mini rewards for accomplishing it.

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant 1: Important, Urgent
(Necessity)

  • Truly critical path tasks that are both important and have deadlines
  • Crises
  • Writing to deadlines
Quadrant 2: Important, Not Urgent
(Leadership)

  • Things that help you stay plugged in & self-connected
  • Exercise, reading, walking
  • Growth activities
  • Planning, strategy
  • Writing on spec
Not ImportantQuadrant 3: Not Important, Urgent
(Deception)

  • Other people’s emergencies
  • Things you make urgent
  • Some email, calls, interruptions, meetings

 

Quadrant 4: Not Important, Not Urgent
(Waste)

  • What you do when you waste time
  • Most social media
  • Busy work

It’s about self management

And let’s be crystal clear. We’re not really talking about time management here. We’re talking about self-management.

Because at the end of the day, the folks who are running from one emergency to another are for the most part self-creating their own circumstances. Now I know you’re arguing with me here, saying, “But Jenna, my boss, my job, my kids…”

And the thing is, I’ve been in your shoes. I worked the 70 hour a week job. I survived a major family crisis. I run a business. I have a small child. But I’m still writing.

How to write when you’re too busy

If you’re telling yourself that you’re too busy to write, I want you to take a good hard look at what’s really truly going on in your life. Are you coming home and collapsing in front of the television every day at the end of an exhausting day?

Then stop it. Get serious about your soul’s mission. You were put here to write, so write.

Set your alarm clock for 15 minutes early tomorrow, and when it goes off, get up. Mean it when you say you’ll write. Follow through. Let the other stuff come later. It will.

So get up, get out your computer, turn on your timer, and start writing.

Just write for 15 minutes. Then call it. Go on and go to work or all the other things you’ve got to do.

But notice how it feels to have met your muse FIRST in the day.

Notice how that sense of freedom, hope, inspiration and possibility permeates the rest of the day, because you’ve done your soul’s work first.

Then do it again tomorrow.

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