Treating lack of time, overwhelm and stress in your creative work by choosing less


We all seem to want more time.

Time to create, to pursue dreams, to build our ideas.
To live, to breathe and to slow down.

We fantasize about the things we’d be able to do and create if only we had another day in the week.

We try to squeeze in more activities than our lives can hold, trying to make it work and often ending up sacrificing those precious slow moments.

But the only way we can create more time in our lives is by filling it with less.

Choosing less is a rebellion

Our culture’s default response to a busy schedule is productivity hacks and time-management. But those strategies are like putting on a band-aid to ease the pain of a pair of shoes that are too small, instead of finding another, better fitting pair.

We have to go to the root of the problem, if we’re serious about keeping stress away. Many of us are simply trying to fit too much into our lives.

The reality of time and infinite possibilities is that when you’re choosing to do something, you’re choosing to not do something else.

And if you’re trying to do more than you’re able, those priorities won’t be made intentionally. They’ll be made by your lack of time, by what you never got around to doing. How often doesn't that mean important creative work gets sacrificed, especially pursuing ideas you don’t feel confident about?

Because fear easily ends up making the choice, when there’s always something else you can say you have to do. And we don’t want to let self-doubt decide what we spend our time on, do we?

When you choose less, you make your priorities intentionally.

You’re able to devote more of your life to the things that are most important to you, even the scary ones. And you can make space for a simpler and slower life, with less stress and overwhelm.

Just like when you clean out your closet, you end up with a life that is filled with less stuff, leaving only the best pieces.

But how do you choose less when everything feels important?

I’m well familiar with the feeling that everything is important. Already there are things you’d love to do that you haven’t got time for. How could you do less, when what you’re already doing isn’t enough?

It’s usually when we’re stressed that we feel most trapped to do everything. But when we start to challenge these feelings, we usually figure out that it’s not all life and death.

Let’s try it. Let’s see have a look at your creative life and see if choosing less might be an option.

1. Establish your vision.

When deciding what to spend your time on, you first need to know what you want in your life. As someone who want to pursue creative ideas, ask yourself these two questions:

  • What kind of lifestyle do I want?

  • What do I most want to make happen in my creative life?

These are your two guiding visions.

2. Focus on what makes the biggest difference.

Next, consider what activities makes the biggest difference right now in bringing you closer to your two visions. Not all activities you can think of but a few strategically chosen ones that you think are really important in this particular part of your journey.

If you still end up with a long list of things, try writing them down and then arranging them in order of importance. Remember, they should be important now.

Let’s say for example that you want to be a freelance photographer, but you’re just starting out. What will probably make the biggest difference at this stage is to practice photography. Researching pricing and establishing a highly defined brand before you’re quite clear on what you most like taking photos of? Not a priority.

3. Let go of the shoulds and the least important.

Do you have a list of the activities that makes the biggest difference in bringing you closer to your guiding visions? Then it’s time to compare them with your current life.

Are you spending your time on what makes the biggest difference in your life? If you'd like to make creating a bigger part of your life, consider how you spend all your time. But if you have some time dedicated for your creative life already, start by looking at how you already use that specific time.

Are there things that might be fun or feel like they should be necessary, but ultimately aren’t that important to you? Things you can do less of?

Maybe you spend hours every week writing blog posts because all online creatives should have a blog, right? But they aren’t really doing much for you. Or maybe you rarely write a blog post, when it could in fact be a great way to introduce people to your words and ideas.

Maybe everything you do is fun and relevant, but it’s just too much. Maybe you have so many great things going on, there’s never any room for you to try something new or develop your creative life further.

However your creative life looks, if it keeps overwhelming you, it’s a sign that letting go of something might be a good idea. Or do something less often. Or find a way to combine two different activities. Challenge your ideas of what you have to do and see if those beliefs are really so well founded.

Remember, this isn’t a moment to scratch out all your down time. The lifestyle you want should guide you in prioritizing whatever makes you a happy, balanced person.

4. Accept a pace that is right for you and your life.

Do you have an idea about what you want to prioritize, and what you could stop doing or do less of? Then it’s time for the last puzzle piece: your pace.

There is no right pace to create at, other than the one that fits you and your life. It’s easy to compare yourself with others, thinking you should go as fast as people you admire. But we’re all different, live different lives and are at different stages of our creative journeys.

So please, try to disregard the pace of others and find the one that works best for you, right now.

When planning for making creative ideas happen, try to be realistic. Many of us have heard that we should set goals that are optimistic, that makes us stretch ourselves. But if we set goals that are unrealistic, we’ll only get stressed, fail to reach them and feel bad about it.

It’s okay to go slower.
It’s okay to choose less.

Choosing less is about choosing better

My point isn’t that you should do only one thing. For many of us, that’s not the solution. I’ve chosen to write my first novel alongside building this blog, even if I could make a faster progress if I focused on just one if them.

The simple truth is that both are important to me, and right now I’m not ready to put either of them first. But it’s an intentional choice.

Instead, choosing less for me means that I’m restrictive about what I do on my weekends, apart from my creative work. It also means that I only do creative work one weekday evening per week. Choosing less means that my Teacup Owl Letters come biweekly, not weekly. It means I only post a couple of times a week on Instagram and completely ignore all other social media.

Choosing less for me has meant that I don’t pursue all my ideas. I’m picky about what I spend my time on and try to always keep space in my schedule.

When you’re in the mindset of choosing more, you’re trying to prioritize everything even though it’s impossible. Your priorities are then made by your lack of time, perhaps by what seems most urgent or least scary, not by choice.

Choosing less is a conscious choice and don’t be surprised if doing less and going at a slower pace ends up resulting in a faster progress to your goals. Because with less, you make sure you’re giving your focus to what actually makes the biggest difference in your life.

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