Doing less

Two years ago, when I first said I was going to become a ‘blog consultant’, many people laughed. “You’ll never make a living out of that,” they said. “Who is going to need you to teach them how to blog? I mean, come on. It’s easy.”

Deep down, I worried that they may be right. Who needs to be taught to use a blog? Who needs to be taught about the cultural differences between mainstream media and PR, and blogging? Who needs to know how to use wikis or instant messenger? Come on… it’s as easy as pie.

Two years ago, I spent a lot of time reading blogs, following all the main players, and writing about it all on Chocolate and Vodka or, later, here on Strange Attractor. Dave Sifry couldn’t fart without me knowing about it and blogging about it. As new blogging and social networking tools crawled into beta, I was there, ripping them into small bits if they were rubbish, exhorting you to go and play with them if they were good.

It was great. I got into some fantastic conversations with some really intelligent people, and those conversations frequently let me to conferences, seminars, and even just plain ol’ meet-ups (which are, usually, a lot more fun). I felt like I was a part of a community, a part of something bigger than me, and that my life was enhanced because of it.

Now, things are different. I am successful as a social software consultant – my diary is full for the immediate future, I have the stable income I didn’t have two years ago, and I have an awful lot more experience under my belt.

What I don’t have is time. Time to read blogs. Time to investigate new tools. Time to write. Time to be a part of the community of metabloggers whom I count as my peers. I feel a bit like I have slipped down the rabbit hole into an alternate reality in which Suw Charman works away at her desk every second of the day, hardly speaking to anyone (not even her friends), overwhelmed by email, and feeling guilty that she’s not crossing enough off her To Do list.

I don’t like this reality. I don’t like the fact that both Strange and CnV have suffered from my lack of time to post. (Note: I really should be replying to emails right now, instead of writing this, but people are just going to have to learn to wait.) And I really don’t like the feeling that I have drifted away from my community.

Feast or famine is a familiar cycle for any consultant, and in the nine years I have been working for myself, it’s been a cycle that I’ve come to understand at a very fundamental level. Until now, it’s been a financial cycle – you have a client, so you work your ass off for that client, and then when that contract ends you have nothing to replace it with because you were so busy working your ass off that you didn’t have time to go off and find another client. Blogging kills that cycle because I have a permanent presence on the net, even if it’s not as active as I would like. I have a load of leads for new clients to follow up, and I can’t imagine running out of work any time soon.

But the feast/famine cycle remains – except now it is all about time. I’m suffering a chronic time famine at the moment. Every second of every hour is filled with things I need to be doing, so all of the stuff that I want to do but which doesn’t have a deadline gets bumped, day after day after day. My To Do list has been moved to an A4 notebook, and it does nothing but get longer. Currently, it’s six pages of A4, and I know that I haven’t yet put everything on it. I would estimate that it should be at least triple that, if I honestly wrote down everything I want to or have to do.

I bought Getting Things Done, because I hoped it would help me get things done, but so far I’ve only had time to read the first 45 pages, and most of that was telling me to do things that I already do, or which I’ve tried before but which didn’t work. My conclusion is that the answer really isn’t about becoming more efficient (although patently that can’t hurt).

So what is the answer? On a fundamental level, the answer is ‘Do Less’. For months I’ve been saying it in jest, “I need to do less so that I can do more”, but it’s really very true. If I want to learn Spanish, if I want to take up climbing again, if I want to play my guitar then I need to free up some time in order to do those things, and in order to do that, I need to do less of all the other stuff.

Perhaps there’s a self-help book in there somewhere. Getting Less Stuff Done. Hmm, I think I’ll need to put that one on my To Do list.

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