Make More by Doing Less
If I’m being honest, I don’t work very hard.
To start, there’s the obvious fact that my life requires very little physical labor (outside of being recruited to help my future-in-laws with yard work). And there is some guilt in that…which might explain my obsession with stories of artists who keep manual labor day-jobs:
“The avant-garde composer Philip Glass shocked at least one music lover when he materialized, smock-clad and brandishing plumber’s tools, in a home with a malfunctioning appliance…“What are you doing here?” It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him that I would soon be finished. “But you are an artist,” he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.’”
And while I do work a full-time job, I am fortunate that it is one where ideas (and time to come up with those ideas) are valued, timelines are reasonable, and management is understanding and accepting of the fact that their employees have lives — families, passions — outside of the office. I occasionally work late or on a weekend, as does everyone these days, but it is not frequent. There is a reason I’ve held this job longer than any other.
Outside of the work I do to make my living, I’m engaged in various other projects like my weekly blog, my tarot podcast, improv performance and teaching, writing a second book, etc. When I mention these various projects to friends and co-workers, they always make some off-handed comment about how they’re amazed that I’m able to do all of these things in a week. They want to know where I find the time, the motivation, and the work ethic?
I always thank them for the hidden compliment, but I can’t help feeling guilty. To be honest, I don’t work that hard on any of these “extracurricular activities.”
No, that’s not quite right. I do work hard, but not long. I spend many many evenings reading for pleasure, washing dishes and doing laundry (a perverse pleasure), walking my dogs, playing board games, spending time with my bride-to-be.
How is that possible? Primarily through the accumulation of small things.
Bill Gates famously said:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
When I mention all of my extracurriculars, I receive a wide-eyed stare. I assume that’s because people look at their lives today and imagine what it’d take for them to start doing all of those things tomorrow. But of course, that’s not how I did it. All of those practices were developed over the course of five years.
In 2013, I started taking improv classes. Then I joined independent teams to improve my improv skills. Eventually, I started blogging about improv as a way to force myself to think more deeply about it. The writing on that blog constituted 50% of a book — I just had to write the rest. The book was a foot in the door to start teaching improv more seriously. That work brought me into closer contact with my friend Brian. Our regular conversations ultimately led to a shared interest in tarot, and he encouraged me to join him in starting a podcast.
Of course, there’s an investment of time in every one of these activities, but there is also momentum. I slowly added to an empty slate, layering practices up over years until they formed mega-habits. It wasn’t all built in a day.
I follow a few writers (although it used to be more) who glorify how hard they work. The 24/7 commitment they dedicate to building their businesses. I believe them. I believe they are working that hard. I believe they are sacrificing free time, family, and hobbies to make their dreams happen. I believe they are right in making those sacrifices. No one creates and scales the next Facebook, Uber, or Amazon by working like I do — which is to say, very lazily and ad hoc.
The difference is in our goals. I have little desire to build a tech platform. I have little desire to truly be an entrepreneur. I don’t want to own a company, manage employees, or find clients. I like the clean separation between my 9–5 and my “art.” My deadlines are self-imposed. My projects are successes based solely on the fact that they exist, not how much money they make.
If you want to make more or do more in your own life, it doesn’t require much hard work.You don’t need to give up every weekend for the rest of the year, or time with your family and friends, or your day job. You may have to get up a little earlier once in a while, give up a night at the bar, quit checking facebook as much. But these are easy things to sacrifice.
You can make more by doing less than most people. And the easiest way to start is with something easy and small. You never know what you might be able to build on top of it.
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