“Boy, you’ve got a lot on your plate!” “You sure are busy!”
I’ve heard these phrases many times. Probably because they’re true.
As much as I love quiet, reading a book, and being alone, I’m also highly driven and self-motivated. Ideas flood my mind often. My brain is busy–maybe too busy. It can be a good thing, and it can be detrimental. When busyness interferes with productivity, I need to choose what to say no to so I can say yes to writing.
All of us have varying forms of busyness in our lives. What’s busy for you may be different, but perhaps we have this in common. Sometimes, writing ends up last on our list of to dos.
When we don’t intentionally pursue writing, or developing the craft of writing, as a regular practice, our creative and emotional energy gets spent on other things. Instead of training our brains to write well, we train ourselves to procrastinate.
We lose momentum, focus, and skill when we don’t exercise writing as a habit.We lose momentum, focus, and skill when we don't exercise writing as a habit.
Writers write. And write. And write. And write. They grow and develop over time.
The call to write is persistent and drives a writer to want to write. But excuses, distractions, fears, and procrastination may keep them from doing what they feel compelled and called by God to do.
Writing books, blog content, or social media micro-content, may not be your top priority. It isn’t for a lot of writers, because they have families and jobs to manage. For many, writing is a side job or a passion that sits on the sidelines of life, even if they want it be their full-time dream job.
Writing doesn’t have to be the most important thing in our lives to treat it with importance. If we want to write, we have to be intentional.
The only way to make it intentional is to consider the choices we make around writing. What we say yes or no to impacts what we get done.
Let’s focus on five things we can say no to so we can say yes to writing.
1. Say No to the Urgent
Are urgent things eating up what’s important? Do you want to write, but something else always comes up?
Urgent things are whatever demands your attention, usually because someone else has a need. It’s someone else’s immediate expectation for your attention.
We will face urgent matters anytime we plan to write. Suddenly, you remember a bill to pay or an email you need to respond to. Someone in your home asks you for something. The phone rings and you’ve been waiting for a specific call.
Some urgent things are also important things that require immediate attention. But most can wait.
Urgent matters build up. Without a plan, they’ll pull us away from what’s important. So what can we do?
What interrupts your writing time and demands your attention? Where’s the demand coming from?
Maybe you need to set boundaries, such as letting others know you aren’t available during the time you set aside for writing.
What urgent things are frequent? Is there a pattern in your urgent disruptions?
If so, consider whether those urgent matters are something that need attention before or after writing. Do you need to factor them in as part of life? Regular, urgent matters may not be avoidable, but we can take them into account when scheduling time and space to write.
When possible, say no to the urgent when you’re focused on the important. Especially, when the urgent becomes a pattern of interruptions keeping you from your work.
2. Say No to Responding Right Now
Some personalities are prone to responding quickly to every little thing. Others…aren’t.
If you’re like me, you feel the tug to respond to text messages, emails, notifications, requests, and phone calls. Actually, I don’t feel the need to respond to phone calls at all. That may be an introvert thing.
When I think of something I need to do, I feel compelled to jump to it immediately. The need to respond as soon as I see, or sense, that something needs my attention, is high. As I’ve learned to set better boundaries with others and myself, I’m learning to let some of that go.
One thing helping me is this. We set other people’s expectations based on how we respond to their requests or demands. If we respond at all hours and right away, we take part in forming the expectation that we’re always available.
Another challenge I face is trying to do too many things quickly and at the same time. Multi-tasking is a myth, and our need to respond right away fuels our attempts to make it happen.
Switching from task to task uses mental energy needed for focus. Switching from tab to tab, or app to app, reduces our brain’s ability to work efficiently. It wreaks havoc on our ability to focus.
Remain present in the task at hand. Respond later.
3. Say No to Projects Out of Season
What God called you to yesterday may not be the same thing He’s calling you to today.
We all have seasons that ebb and flow in life. Writing is no different. Maybe today’s season is for gaining consistency in one area, like blogging or a building your social media platform. Maybe it’s for tackling that big project, or course, or a book. It could be for studying craft, practicing, or journal writing.
Whatever this season is for, prioritize it. Designate one to three main projects or goals for a season. Then determine what that season looks like. Is it a week, a month, a quarter, or a year?
You may choose the season, or life’s circumstances may define it for you. If you’re going through a tougher set of circumstances than before, take that into account, and let the season reflect what’s needed for that time.
Reevaluate other things you’ve said yes to in the past. Do they need to go? For a time? You may need to set aside one regular set of activities for a season so you can focus on a different project.
Don’t hold on to things in today’s season that belong in yesterday’s season.
4. Say No to Side Tasks
You probably have a better term for this than I do.
Side tasks are those things that creep in alongside the work you want to do. They may be distractions, but they may also be tasks that fuel your current project. But, they are not the main thing. Attending to them now will divert your attention from the focus needed for actual writing.
For example, you sign up for a free download that will help in one area of writing and blogging. You continually get emails that may be helpful for the future, but not today. Attending to them is a side task. The content could be helpful for writing overall, but it’s not helping you focus on your main project. Unsubscribe, at least for now. Or, create a rule for your inbox that will automatically put those emails into a folder for later. Schedule time to return to them as a main task later.
You may have social media to schedule, but it’s not your main priority when you set aside time to write. Can you shelve social media tasks for a time so you can accomplish other important work?
Side tasks may be valuable, but they are not primary to the one at hand.
Consider what side tasks you can limit, or eliminate, to get writing done.
5. Say No to More Decisions Than Necessary
I’m prone to analysis paralysis and decision fatigue, which keeps me from working efficiently. However, if I know what to do in advance, I’m far more likely to get it done.
Pre-deciding saves me a lot of headaches. I recognized this power years ago when I cleaned out our bathroom closet. I laid everything out and decided what items belonged and what didn’t. Then I made space and labeled only those items that served our purpose. It’s stayed organized for a decade now, because there’s no deciding where things go. We already know.
Frequent choices fuel unnecessary, repetitive decision making. We spend mental and creative energy making the same decisions over and over, with the same outcome.
Writers make a lot of decisions; some are repetitive. We decide what to write. When to write. How to connect with others. What social platforms we’ll use. The decision list goes on.
Notice where you frequently decide your next steps, and if possible, create a roadmap in advance. For example, create a process flow for tasks you do frequently around the content you create.
Reduce stress and mental clutter by making fewer decisions than necessary.
Where can you decide in advance?
It’s not easy saying no to the things that keeps us from writing, is it?
If these suggestions are hard, consider teaming up with one or two other writers to form an accountability group. Check in with each other periodically. Pray together.
Where else can you say no, so you can say yes to writing?