Busy. We wear it like a badge of honor in our society. Competing for who’s the busiest, most stressed, most exhausted. I get it. I live there, too. Yet, after a summer spent doing a little less, I’m re-examining my ways with an inspired eye to change—to invite in space, growth, thinking, action, spontaneity. What started as a small summer experiment to soak up a slower pace, more time with my daughter and with friends, and the unexpected adventure that summer brings, is now my new favorite practice.
A type-A, overscheduled, multitasking, list lover by both nature and hard training for the past 20+ years, shifting my mindset was a little like doing shock therapy. Managing my days not focused on checking boxes was so foreign to me I almost threw in the towel. And yet, having sensed a need to slow down—partly forced by the schedule of my daughter’s summer—I leaned into the discomfort.
The real shocker though in this journey? I was more productive in this season of doing less than I had been in the entire first half of the year. Yes. You read that right.
The mostly unstructured days unfolded into play and art and messes mixed with work and impromptu get-togethers and adventure. Joy and connection were woven into each day, possibly because I was actually present to experience them versus obsessing over the next thing on my list. The real shocker though in this journey? I was more productive in this season of doing less than I had been in the entire first half of the year. Yes. You read that right. Big goals that had been on my list since January for work, home, and life saw big progress in this season of doing less. How could this be?
Here’s what I learned from this season of doing less and living more:
Get really clear on your priorities.
My typical to-do list can be pages and pages long, mostly full of the mindless + the mundane. Everything that needs to be done—from appointments to schedule, things to buy, work tasks to complete, and home life to live—usually find a spot on my list. Overwhelming and restricting? Yes to the yes. Productive and focused on moving the needle on my biggest projects and goals? Ummm. NO.
Not having a set to-do list frees me up to get really clear on what progress needs to be made each week in terms of work, self-care, family, and social life. It frees me up to leave bits undone, celebrating the progress I’ve made while embracing the messy imperfection of a full and busy life.
More doing, less overthinking.
Always, always I’ve been an overthinker. An obsessive researcher. A student full of curiosity and wonder. Most of the time, this serves me well. But when it comes to taking action and making decisions, not so much. This step away from the to-do list leaves me getting straight to the work of the work—eager to maximize my days and make progress as I can. This small shift in thinking focuses and encourages me to listen to my gut, instead of second-guessing and spinning in indecision.
I reembraced a favorite Sheryl Sandberg quote, “Done is better than perfect.” It’s allowed me to move with speed and confidence through my must-dos, knowing I can always revisit a decision, a design, or a project later as needed. It’s reinforced the notion that making progress is so much better than spinning in indecision.
Listen to your body.
The old me loved to cram as much as possible into each day. I was going through the motions of being a creative, fostering self-care, and building strong relationships with friends and the community around me. But, I was somewhat checked out. My mind always raced with what needed to be done next and if I was staying on track. This obsessive focus on doing numbed my brain and body, stalling the connection between the two.
As I’ve lessened my grip on being the best taskmaster in the room, I’ve found my body to be a brilliant communicator—guiding me to a workout, a meditation, my art practice, or a late-night power work catchup session as needed. Giving myself this space has helped me to find the flow in my days, allowing me to be more open and present for each moment I am choosing to show up for.
As the season of summer comes to a close, I’m taking these lessons with me into fall and breaking up with my to-do list as I formerly knew it. Maniacal lists make for maniacal living—always feeling like I’m chasing down the next to-do with no end in sight. Instead, I’m simplifying a bit in order to find more balance, joy, and, most unexpectedly, more true productivity.
Jill Elliott is a creative consultant, strategist, and thinker constantly seeking inspiration and balance. As a writer, artist, and founder of The Color Kind she seeks to inspire others to live creatively every day. She can often be found making art and messes alongside her 7-year-old daughter and Goldendoodle puppy.