Life Experiment #5: Do Less

mornig green tea

I’d pretty much made up my mind to call off my 2012 Life Experiments experiment starting this month. I’d already aborted Life Experiment #3 (taking a photo a day during March) after less than a week, and more and more, I’d been feeling that I needed to prune my to-do list, rather than adding to it.

And then, it hit me: That could be the focus of this month’s Life Experiment. And so it will be. For me, this month is going to be all about doing less.

But first, I want to take a moment to appreciate how hugely much I accomplished during the month that just ended. All too often, I tend to ask myself: What have you done for me lately? I also have a default answer: Not nearly enough.

In fact, that’s rarely if ever true, and it certainly wasn’t true in April. And because things tend to feel more real if I write them down, that’s what I’m going to do. So here it is, my personal selective account of What Got Done in April:

  • Researched and wrote a 3,000-word feature story for Psychology Today (now slated for the magazine’s October issue)
  • Wrote and delivered a 30-minute talk—“Inside the Downturn: Thoughts on the Psychological Costs of Longterm Unemployment”—to our Regional Employment Board.
  • Signed on to write a monthly column—”Notes from Plan B Nation”—for Entrepreneur Media’s (first installation forthcoming this month)
  • Completed 2011 taxes (thanks Turbotax!), sorted out health insurance issues, and wrangled a sick cat (thanks Wendy and Susan!)
  • Applied for jobs and conferred with editors about future freelance projects, including an upcoming book review assignment for the Chicago Tribune.
  • Guest posted on The 52 Weeks
  • Finished up co-facilitating Seeing Their Voices, a workshop for foster kids that will culminate in a photo and writing exhibit at the statehouse this June.

I also did purely fun stuff: A South Face Farm Sugarhouse outing with the Baskinettes. Lots of coffee dates. Movies. Two lovely seders and an Easter hike with friends.

Does that seem like a lot to you? It seems like a lot to me—especially since I’m not naturally inclined to multi-tasking. When left to my own devices, I’ll always go deep rather than wide. But there are times—this past month, for example—when that’s simply not possible.

And here, I have to give a shout-out to breadcrumbs and basket weaving, aka Life Experiment #4, which helped me more than I could ever have imagined it would. Metaphors have tremendous, if often unrecognized, power. I could say a lot more on this subject, and at some point I will. But for now, I’m going to stop. Or rather: I’m going to start doing less.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Life Experiment #5: Do Less

  1. Wow, Amy, I haven’t checked in with you for a while. I felt a bit inundated myself. There’s a lot going on in that head of yours. I’m liking the sound of doing less….translation: ease up on yourself and let certain things just fall in your pathway. We take on a lot and then when we can’t always get it done, we beat ourselves up. My business partner and I are upgrading our web site and we were just saying let’s not take on more work unless we know we can fit it into our schedules time wise or assign to someone else. Let us know how you make out and we ‘ll do the same. Thanks.

    • Thanks for the thoughts! You know, over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at not beating myself up–I keep a to do list but it’s a running one, more a way of keeping track of things than assigning myself tasks to accomplish by X time. That said, what I hadn’t really noticed until recently, was a more subtle way that my goals were undermining contentment: a quiet but pervasive sense of drudgery. That’s what I’ve been focusing the spotlight on lately, working/playing with. Again, thanks so much for reading & commenting! Much appreciated.

  2. Absolutely, Katie! Excellent question (& likely fodder for an upcoming post). At least starting out, I’m not giving myself clear-cut goals but rather simply keeping a questioning frame of mind: Do I really want/ need to do this? Is it a priority? Is there a way to do it differently that would be less stressful/time consuming? And so on. Also using last month’s breadcrumbs and basket weaving metaphors, which have been really helpful to me.

    Big hugs on your last day–and what follows. Let me know how things go–transitions are funny times so be sure to give yourself a chance to ride out the initial waves before making any big decisions/drawing any conclusions.

  3. Wow Amy! You really ARE a do-er! So, what IS your plan for doing less. I ask this for personal reasons as well; my last day of work is this Thursday. For many reasons, it is time for me to be at home full time, but I am already thinking of all the things I SHOULD do with all the time I’ll have. I need to take a big breath and try to center and surrender to what my Higher Power thinks I need to do. At least, that’s how I see it. But how to DO that?

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