In even the busiest lives, there are pockets of time in which extra things could be accomplished. But these are times when we’re either too stressed or too tired to do anything worthwhile. What’s missing is not the time, but the mental energy.
It can be hard to find the time for things we want to do, whether it’s writing a book, completing artwork, learning to speak Russian, or anything else. Life is busy, we say. I don’t have time.
The thing is, that’s not strictly true. In even the busiest lives, there are pockets of time in which extra things could be accomplished. But these are times when we’re either too stressed or too tired to do anything worthwhile. What’s missing is not the time, but the mental energy.
For example, I tell myself I haven’t had time to blog recently. But when I look back over the past few months, I see that although I’ve been busy writing, freelancing, and travelling long-term around Europe, there have still been times when I wasn’t really doing anything.
You want to know what “not really doing anything” looks like? I’m talking about lying on a bed in a hotel room, watching a German TV police drama with Albanian subtitles, and not even having the energy to wonder what they’re talking about, let alone change the channel. I’m talking about flicking idly from page 1 to page 2 of the apps on my phone, wondering how it’s possible to have so many apps and not have any interest in opening any of them, and then flicking back to page 1 again to see if anything’s changed.
Granted, these are not big blocks of time—if they were, I’d probably need to be medicated—but if you add them all up, these are many, many hours of dead time, in which I could easily have written a year’s worth of blog posts. But when I was in this blank, tired, muddy state of mind, the thought of writing a blog post usually didn’t occur to me, and when it did, I dismissed it in the time it took the German cop to say, “Ju jeni nën arrest.”
I used to be in the same position, many years ago, about creative writing. I was working as a corporate banker at the time, and I wanted to write a novel, but the years were slipping by without the novel being written. I did bits and pieces on occasional weekends, but so much time passed between each bout of activity that they never added up to anything.
To make the change, I had to reorder my life so that I was able to write when my mind was fresh and relatively clutter-free.
At first, this meant small things like getting up an hour earlier each morning to write while my mind was fresh, and cutting back on the late nights of drinking so that the mornings were not so painful. Later I took bigger steps, like quitting my job and instead doing shift work in the evenings and weekends so that I could write during the day. It took a long time, but eventually it paid off—I had two books published, and I’m making a living as a freelance writer and editor. The real change came not from having more time, but from rearranging my life so that I was doing my writing at times when I had sufficient mental space and energy to devote to it.
So if you’re struggling to write the book or complete the painting, don’t feel bad if you have time available and you’re not using it. Remember, it’s not about time—it’s about mental space. So think about how you can rearrange your life in big or small ways so that you have time available when it matters, when you are able to have the peace and clarity to work on what you’re trying to finish. Also try creating rituals to support your creative work, like having a special space dedicated to writing, or using positive affirmations or meditation to get you in the right frame of mind.
I have to say that sometimes, you simply won’t be able to do it. The other things you have to do in your life may take too much out of you, or may be too important to push aside.
For example, I know that if I wanted to go back to blogging every day, I would need to carve out time earlier in the day to focus on it. I know I could do this if I wanted to, but it would mean taking focus away from either my creative writing or from the freelancing that pays the bills, or from the travelling and reading that I enjoy so much, and I’m not willing to do that.
So for me, blogging will remain an occasional activity for now. If my priorities change, I know how to build it up again, but for now I’m happy with the place it has in my life. I’ve accepted, also, that because I’m so busy, there will be times when I’m so tired I simply can’t be productive, and it makes no sense to beat myself up about that.
What a lot of writing or creative advice doesn’t mention is that to achieve all these great things you want to do, you have to sacrifice something else. If you want to do that, then do it—clear space in your life, and work on what matters most to you at the time in the day when you are at your best and have the most mental space and energy. If you can’t, then accept that it won’t happen—for now, at least.
Just please don’t end up in the space I used to be in, where you’re torturing yourself about your failure to write the book you want to write, telling yourself you don’t have time even though secretly you know it’s not true. Trying to write when you feel dead is not the answer. Waiting until you feel inspired is not the answer either. The answer is to carve out not just time but the right kind of time—time when you’re at your best and your mind is clear. Do that regularly enough for long enough, and you’ll get to where you want to go.