“It’d be nice to be locked in a prison cell,” I thought.
I sat in my condo in Boulder, Colorado, facing a television set. Tuned to some blaring nonsense. Papers were strewn about my floor. Outside chirped a world full of distractions.
I was pondering productivity. Going deep – mastering something.
“If I were locked in a prison cell, I’d have nothing to do but focus on just a couple simple tasks. Writing. Meditating. No distractions or obligations to interfere with my progress.”
This was a bullshit assumption for a couple reasons (both obvious and not-so-obvious ones) which I’ll cover in a moment. But there was also a grain of truth.
The most pervasive bullshit often has some wisdom mixed in. That’s how it survives and reproduces.
A couple years after thinking this, I called my cable company and switched off my service. Then I donated my television set to Goodwill. After two days of withdrawal, I noticed how much calmer I felt. I stopped compulsively checking to see if it were 7PM, or 8PM, or whatever time my favorite shows were on – a habit which took a while to subside.
I used my freed-up time to meditate. And write.
I never went out because I was too broke and shy. For several years, I didn’t see a single movie. No travelling except sometimes for Thanksgiving. All savings went towards business.
This was when I discovered a prison cell isn’t a panacea. Prison sucks because you can’t leave. It’s dangerous. And it’s not a meal ticket to productivity.
Because you can eliminate all your distractions and still steer clear of what you want to accomplish.
Think of it like a piece of paper for a writer or a canvas for an artist. If it’s already filled with writing or drawings, it’s useless for creating something new. But a blank page, or canvas, can be just as useless if you’re intimidated by it.
An inspired writer with fortitude can compose a novel during lunchbreaks. Or transform a line at the bank into a writing nook. A devoted artist can make a napkin worthy of framing.
But wannabes who’ve freed up all the time in the world, and eliminated distractions by going on a retreat? They can still fail to create. Just like someone can waste away in a prison cell, even with all the time in the world to practice mindfulness and meditation.
They’re both shackled.
If you can free yourself – and you’re on your own, there – then time restrictions or clutter are mere trifles.
With that in mind, here are three ways to deal with them:
- Ditch your television set
Before you do, list out all the positives and negatives of this action. On the positive side, you’re eliminating an expense and saving money as a result, you’re eliminating a source of disheartening and fear-inducing misinformation, you’re deleting a major distraction to more fulfilling activities, and you’re creating a more peaceful environment in your home. On the negative side, you’re… uh… well maybe you can think of some negatives.
- Stop visiting useless websites
I know it’s fun to read about sports or politics or gossip or whatever you humans enjoy. Arguing about them is even better. It triggers pleasurable brain chemicals in just the right way to keep you addicted. If you’re okay with being an addict, have at it. Otherwise, go clean and reap the benefits.
- Restrict your email-checking time
There’s rarely a need for some self-important “I’m only checking email once per day” message. Just check it only once per day. Observe how nobody cares.
Take a moment to consider how much of your daily time is eaten up by a cycle of checking your email… your social media pages… reading about politics and current events… arguing about politics and current events on said social media pages… and checking email and starting the cycle all over again. While your television is blaring in the background.
Actually, instead of just taking a moment to consider this, measure it in real-time. Write down how many hours (I bet it’s hours) you devote to this cycle. Then write down the benefits of engaging in this daily cycle.
Is this how you want to spend your life?
In the past, I meditated for 3-4 hours per day. Right now, I’ve cut back to just 1 hour. For now. I also write. Both marketing and a journal and various personal-development notes and this blog and correspondence and plans for my business. And research. And work with clients. And exercise every day. And read. And travel. And, more recently, go on dates. And I’ve got plenty of free time to relax.
Not having a spouse or children helps. So much so, that I’d feel funny preaching productivity tips to those raising a family, without acknowledging that damaging admission. So there you go. Still, if you have a family to take care of, then consider whether television, websites, or your emails are more important than cherishing time with them.
When you say, “I don’t have time” make sure you’ve already thrown your television in the garbage, stopped visiting useless websites, and check email only once per day. But that excuse will be dead to you anyway. Because you’ll be too busy experiencing the richness of life, for you to devote any energy to bullshit excuses like “I don’t have time.”
*Bonus tip: In the past, I’ve read articles like this and then stewed about how they didn’t apply to me because I had [insert seemingly special reason here].” I wonder how much time I wasted with those complaints?