It’s January and as a consequence, the world is full of articles and advice telling you how to kick start your working life, and push on toward becoming a millionaire by next Christmas. I have to say that, grumpy as I am after the festive season has ended, these obviously well-meaning and well-intentioned articles drive me to despair and distraction. Here’s a typical example, offering useful time saving tips to owners of small businesses:
Oh for goodness sake! Small business billionaires of the future, please stop trying to save time. It’s the wrong goal. Have you ever stopped to think about why you need to save time? Is it so that you can devote more of your life to the focused goal of building your enormous stash of wealth and vast business empire? Seriously? That’s what makes you tick?
If you are an artist, trying to survive as a small business owner, this advice is probably more likely to drive you crazy, make you feel guilty, throw you off course from realizing your real goals and deliver you to an early grave. Lighten up! Realise that this advice is all part of the propaganda in the service of the glorification of “busy”. We’re all a part of it, of course. We’ve all been corrupted by the incessant message that we need to spend our every waking hour worrying about how to get more. We don’t. A life lived that way is a purposeless life.
That said, it’s often good to see the propaganda for what it is. It’s a subtle tool of ambient control. Trust me on this. The real billionaires are resting, while we work like dogs to emulate them. They can rest because they know our efforts, directed as they are toward saving time, will never threaten them, while we follow this kind of sage advice.
You are not a robot. Your life, on earth, shouldn’t be consumed by worries that you might be wasting time. It’s your time, damn it! A certain amount of procrastination and social media presence is human and actually a healthy release from the stress of working. In some cases, it’s just your unconscious making the time and space it needs to mull important things over. You need that. It’s valuable.
I’m almost a hundred percent certain that nobody ever had the epitaph “He achieved maximum efficiency” etched on his tombstone. You don’t see “must know how to save time” in match.com or eHarmony ads.
That’s because efficiency is not the goal. Efficiency is a complete red herring. Doing something that shouldn’t be done at all, but really efficiently, is no victory at all. In fact, doing you best work is the real goal – work that’s worth talking about. Work that other people will feel compelled to speak about.
To quote the late John Lennon, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted. If all you do is worry about how much time you’re wasting on customers, on your employees, on administrative tasks, what’s the point of living your life? Smell the flowers once in a while. Have a chat. Relationship building is surely just as valuable, if not more so, than saving a few extra seconds to get back to business.
A strictly structured work day, as suggested in the time saving tips, leaves little room for expansive, spontaneous curiosity and pursuing new things as they arise. Sometimes that’s what your business needs most, especially if you sell creativity. I’m not saying that your work day should descend into utter chaos and that habituating the practice of showing up to do your work has no value. Of course it does. However, there is also value in following your instincts, looking into something you hadn’t planned to pursue and entertaining new thoughts and ideas. It’s how we renew our art.
Another piece of time saving advice given is to work with a To Do list, as long as it isn’t too long. Whose To Do list is short?! I find that advice completely useless. Yes, have goals and priorities, but don’t get lost in the process. Get stuff done, but don’t make that the only reason for your existence.
The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that you and I don’t need more time management. What we need is creativity management. I think it’s more important to learn to find the tools, time and techniques to be inspired, do inspired work and be inspiring. That’s going to take as long as it takes, I’m afraid.
Worry less about the wealth you’re missing out on earning and the time you feel you are wasting. Nobody ever economised their way to greatness. Apply yourself more to making better art, every day.
Give imagination a chance.