I believe it’s better to have too little time than too much. I mean, wouldn’t it be sad to look up one day and realize that you’ve already read all of the great books out there? Imagine: next time you want to cozy up with a rich novel, you’re simply out of luck? There are no more books left, and you have to face the rest of your days in the absence of a new book to look forward to? That’s horrifying to me, but luckily, that’ll never happen! I’m comfortable with the reality that I won’t live long enough to read all the books I want to read, and I won’t get to all the things I want to do. I’m not just comfortable with this truth, I am fundamentally driven by it.
I love dwelling in the beautiful tension that is NEVER HAVING ENOUGH TIME. Sure, I fantasize about crossing everything off my list each day. I think I finished everything on my list once, maybe twice, since I started freelancing. Even then, my mind was still aswirl with things to be done the next day or the next week. I eventually stopped expecting a clear endpoint to each workday. I learned to embrace the tension, and I became more comfortable with unfinished tasks. Haruki Murakami said that he needs to write enough each day to build momentum so he knows where to pick up the next day. I totally relate to this. As tough as it can be, it’s sometimes good to end the day mid-task because it means I can pick it right back up the next day with almost no time wasted on re-focusing.
I’m also incredibly grateful to have a steady stream of work, and that I don’t have to agonize over where my next job is going to come from. Waiting for new work is much harder than managing existing work. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself that busyness is fuel, and I need it both economically and creatively.
I’m way more productive when I have five things to do in a day than when I have one. When I study my calendar, I often kick myself for booking too many projects. But I also know I prefer being slightly overbooked to having too much time. It forces me to be extra disciplined. If I only had one thing to do, I’d spend half the day reading blogs, planning dinner and trolling Facebook. Then, I’d do the work in a mad dash at the end of the day and probably end up working later than if I had a fuller schedule.
I learned this about myself in grad school. For the first year of my MFA program, we had a packed schedule of different classes, and each had a demanding work load. The second year was devoted exclusively to our thesis projects. We had to develop a product idea, nurture it, test it, manufacture it and bring it to market, and we had the ENTIRE YEAR year to do it. This was a sick form of torture for someone like me. While the first year was exhausting and draining, it was also exhilarating and incredibly fun. The second year, by contrast, was filled with self-doubt, procrastination, more self-doubt and a few delirious all-nighters in which I compiled my entire thesis book in 48 hours.
I hate time constraints but I also love them. I need them. I love knowing that there will always be more to do, more to strive for, more new things to try. Without that constant tension, why get out of bed each day? Why live a long life? There is no finish line for me. Just the point at which stuff stops, and then that’s all I could do. It’s never enough, but that’s a good thing.