It is widely understood that those of us living in developed countries consume far and away more material goods than necessary—or even reasonable. That’s a part of what drew me toward minimalism in the first place, a few years ago.
But another significant motivator for me was the realization that I was consuming more content (news, entertainment, advice, rants, fluff) than I ever had before and that all of that consumption was decreasing the quality of my work, my relationships, and my life, rather than increasing it.
I began every day, for example, by reading news that came to me through notifications on my phone. Because of Twitter, I was well aware of what my entrepreneurial peers were creating, and thanks to Instagram, I also often knew what those peers were having for dinner or doing over the weekend. Facebook brought me more news, more opinions, more success stories, more noise. Sometimes it felt like the volume of information that flowed into my mind every day could knock over a truck.
I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Did you know that TechCrunch has reported that U.S. consumers now spend an average of five hours a day on their mobile devices? (Yes, five hours!)
Did you know that Apple Podcasts features more than half a million active podcasts? Or that podcast listeners report listening to seven episodes a week?
How about the fact that 41 percent of American women regularly use Pinterest?
As much as I wanted to believe that knowledge is power and that everything inside my head would make me a better entrepreneur, a better web designer, a better husband, a better dad, I started to wonder if maybe it was stunting me instead. I needed a clearer perspective on it all.
I remember exactly where I was when I read a single line of text that changed my life.
Where Passion Meets Need
Because of the buildup of stress and pressure I’d been feeling, I decided to read the book Packing Light by Allison Fallon. I had picked up a copy (actual paper!) and had taken a moment to sit with it on our deck, a cup of coffee nearby. As I read, I was struck by these ten words:
“Where your passion meets their need, that is your calling.”
What was I really passionate about? (Consuming podcast episodes, blog posts, and viral videos? My answer: no.)
What did people need?
How could I make those two questions intersect?
As I mulled this over for the next few weeks, I slowly admitted to myself that my passion wasn’t consuming, and that wasn’t what people needed. What the world needed—what I needed—was my creativity.
I needed to create meaningful work, not just consume noise in the hope that it would eventually contribute to my calling. I needed to create now.
Going forward, I determined that I’d operate under a new paradigm: I’d spend less time consuming content and more time creating passion-filled work.
How to Be More Productive
If you, too, find yourself falling into the consumption trap all too often, here are six tips to help you consume less and create more. In so doing, you might bridge the gap between your passion and someone’s need, leading—if you’re lucky—to discovering your calling.
1. Limit the volume of information you take in every day.
It may be the most obvious step, but it’s essential to creating a body of work that makes you proud. You need less distraction and less noise to compete with your creativity.
Curt Steinhorst, distraction researcher and writer of Can I Have Your Attention?, says few things matter more than your attention:
“[Attention] holds the power to unlock your potential. It can be the source of your success at work and the key ingredient to great relationships. Yet, distractions are working around the clock to steal your attention away from you, along with your time and energy. And they’re doing a pretty good job.”
In that case, I suggest the following to help you avoid these drains on your attention:
- Turn off as many notifications as possible on your phone.
- Unsubscribe from emails and podcasts that aren’t serving you creatively.
- Deliberately edit the people, pages, and profiles you follow on social media.
2. Notice when you do your best creative work, and leverage that.
Do you do your clearest thinking right when you wake up? Or are you most creative in the late evening, when your inhibitions are lower? Set up your workflow so that you capitalize on the time of day when you’re most creative, leaving other periods of time for answering emails, scheduling meetings, making phone calls, and other low-creativity tasks.
3. Be honest with yourself about the legitimate work that is taking away from your creative expression.
Often we gravitate to work that requires less brainpower to complete. And we justify it by telling ourselves that it is work that does need to get done. Maybe it does, yes. But does it need to happen during your most productive hours of the day? Does it need to be done by you, or could some else do it?
And even harder to answer is this: Does it really need to get done at all?
For many of us entrepreneurs, posting to social media is a prime example of legitimate work that is all too often taking the place of deeper creative work. Maybe you do need to build that Facebook page for the sake of your platform, but do you really need to put as much time into it as you are? Ask yourself the hard questions, and carve out space for the creative work you feel called to do.
4. Take to the outdoors.
A quick walk outside is a great break for your brain, because seeing nature—when your eyes are so accustomed to artificial surroundings—is restorative and increases creativity. But a word of caution: be sure to commit to yourself beforehand that you’ll return to your work as soon as you get back in. Otherwise, what could have been a restorative break leads to wasted time.
Many times I will run first thing in the morning, setting my brain free to think about the things I will do when I return. I’ve found this is a brilliant way for me to start the day—weather permitting, of course.
5. If you find yourself gravitating back to consumption over creation, consider the impact of boredom.
One of the reasons we consume is because we’ve lost interest in whatever our hands are engaged in. If your creative work is no longer lighting you up, it may be time to shift directions or even start something new altogether. In this way, the temptation of consumption can be a well-timed clue—when you’re watching for it.
6. Set up a life of creativity.
After more than a decade of doing the creative work I feel called to do, I can tell you this: You have to be inspired. Regularly.
You can’t spend all of your time behind a computer or in your workshop, wherever your place of work may be. You need to do the activities that fill up your soul. You need to travel to places that inspire you, climb mountains that challenge you, and have conversations with people that make you think about something in a new light.
Creativity isn’t just about the work. It’s about designing a life that allows ideas to flow to you. Design a life of creativity, and I can promise you that you’ll experience the satisfaction that comes from production instead of consumption.
This article is featured in the June 1st (Technology) Simplify Magazine—a quarterly, digital publication that I created with my friend, Joshua Becker.
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