There are a lot of folks out there peddling “Productivity Hacks” or “How to be more productive” “Get More Done in Less Time!” and for the most part, I ignore them. I do a lot, and I think I work pretty well. If I use someone’s hacks to work faster, I’ll just end up working more, and eventually, I’ll be working too much, and I’ll burn out. No one wants that.
But here is something that I DO commit myself to doing every so often. The point of it isn’t to be a productivity hack per se, but it’s the best way I know to get amazing, focused work done without feeling exhausted at the end of it. In fact, I usually end up feeling more refreshed than I have in a while.
Have you ever read or done The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? I first came across this gem of a book when I was in my mid-20’s, and I still take it out and go through the 12-week process of journaling and exercises every few years as a sort of “alignment check-in”. I have found it enormously helpful at various stages in my life and career. It’s currently guiding me through the most monumental change I’ve gone through.
One of my favorite exercises in the book occurs in week 4, and that is the exercise of “Content Deprivation”. She calls it “Reading Deprivation” but she also wrote it in the ’90s, and back then, actual reading was pretty much your only option for taking in content!
For 1 entire week, you are not allowed to read anything, nor are you allowed to watch TV. In the 2022 version, that would also include no social media scrolling, podcasts, audiobooks, youtube videos, gaming, or Netflix.
The idea is that for 1 week, you stop consuming content, and instead, you spend more of your time producing content. That can mean:
You will feel the results of this exercise both internally and externally. Yes-you will get more accomplished, but it will change the way you think, and the way you see the world around you. Bold statement? Yes. Also: True.
I dare you to take a guess at how much of a normal day you spend consuming content. If you’re like me, you’ll say something like: “Well, I scroll Instagram or Twitter for a few minutes in the morning, and then I listen to a podcast when I go for a walk, and I watch an episode or two each evening after dinner.”
And then try it tomorrow. Put the phone down (posting your own content is okay). No clicking on those medium articles that pop into your email. In fact, no clicking on anything that will take you down a content-consuming rabbit hole. No watching someone’s Live that pops up when you were in the middle of something else, no staring at Pinterest for 45 minutes looking for just the right minestrone recipe. You get the idea. You’ll be shocked at just how much time you normally spend consuming content.
Since The Artist’s Way is a book on cultivating creativity, the main point of this exercise is to get us to take creative action in those moments we would otherwise be enjoying someone else’s creative output. But here are 4 additional (and amazing) reasons to do a content deprivation day or week.
I’ve always considered myself a pretty efficient worker. I get shit done. But during Deprivation Week I am much better about how I use my time. I realized that I would go to linked in to check someone’s title, and I would get distracted by a notification, click on an article, and 10 minutes later….there I was. Doing and thinking about something completely off task. I’d get right back to my task, and I’d finish it, but usually not without getting distracted by several more emails, videos, and articles first.
Now? 1 tab at a time unless I am actively using something for immediate, in-the-moment research. The result? Not only does my work get done faster, but my head remains clearer throughout the process. I’m not having to constantly bring myself back to the task at hand. There is less time transitioning from one thought world to another.
All of those small bits of time–the 15 minutes before you start teaching, the 10 minutes until dinner is finished when you’re sitting in the car picking someone up? Normally you’d use that time to consume something, right? You’d open up Facebook or Twitter, or you’d have a book with you or a podcast. There is always something there to fill the void.
But when those things are off-limits? You’ll find yourself remembering that you need to refill that Rx or order more contacts. Make that appointment, water the houseplants, or put that bag of clothes to be donated in the car. As you cross off those little things that have been on your to-do list for months, go ahead and feel like the gold medal olympian you are. You deserve it.
I was walking Tango this morning in the Botanic Gardens––one of our favorite spots. I usually spend this time listening to a podcast, feeling very smug that I am accomplishing 3 things at once. Walking Dog. Spending time outside. Learning something new. But today there was no podcast. It was just me and Tango. We watched the butterflies dance around the wildflowers that were blooming in the back trails, I noticed different flowers, people- (and dog-) watched and soaked up the morning sunshine. Getting back in my car, instead of thinking intensely about whatever I had been hearing on the podcast, I felt relaxed and free.
This is prime time for your best ideas to make themselves known to you. No longer blocked by information going in, your own thoughts start to pop out. Especially when you’re just about to get bored. Don’t be surprised if sudden thoughts about starting a festival, the most perfect concert program idea, or an idea about a resource you could put together for your students appear out of the blue.
I’m 3 days into my content deprivation week right now, and besides all of the work I’ve managed to do in half the normal amount of time, I have planted my broccoli seedlings, made vet appointments for the animals, renewed my Rx, had a lovely long chat with an old friend (her life is as interesting as the best Netflix series anyway, so…) cleaned out the guest room, and made a new soup recipe.
But more importantly, I’ve had some lovely quiet walks, took a long bubble bath, had a 1 person dance party in my kitchen, had interesting conversations with my husband (that didn’t revolve around a TV show), and just got quiet with my own thoughts. I’ve gotten more work done, yes. But I also feel calmer, more relaxed, and more centered.
What about you? Could you do it? If you really can’t fathom a week (you’d be surprised!) maybe you could do it for a day? Maybe you could get your whole family in on it and report back on the experience.
Leave a comment and let me know if you do try it, and how it was for you!
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