20 ways to achieve a lot in life


After I posted this photo on Facebook of a tutu I made to sell at our school fete, I got a letter from an old friend. The gist: "Seriously, you seem to achieve so much. How do you do it? I genuinely want to know because I'm trying to write a book and I just don't seem to be able to do it."

Personally, I don't think I particularly do a lot. And when people comment on it, I find it slightly embarrassing. 

So when I sat down to answer my friend's question I had to think about it a little bit. 

Here are my answers.

1. It helps to be naturally quick. I took a job at a newsagent after high school and before uni. They said, "Okay, so this is how it works. You serve the customers, and when you're not doing that, you clean the shop."

Three hours later I had done it and was bored. They looked at me and said, "It takes us all week to clean the shop."

When I worked as an editor the manager of my section couldn't believe that I'd done the work in a third of the time of everyone else and checked me even more thoroughly than usual to make sure it was error-free, but it was. I'm very lucky that way.

2. It also helps to be *ahem* smart. We Aussies do not blow trumpets belonging to ourselves, but in some areas of life I'm reasonably intelligent. (Not all, I hasten to add. An online philosophical discussion spins my head around and I'm absolutely rubbish at physics or chemistry.) What I can do is to see how something goes together reasonably quickly.

3. Be a bluffer. If you approach things with confidence and pretend that you're okay at it, eventually you'll probably achieve something. If you think, "oh, I couldn't do that," or, "I don't know what I'm doing," you probably can't and don't.

4, 'Good enough' is good enough. I'm not really a perfectionist about much that I do. My craft is mostly mildly shonky. I'm very happy with 80-90%. I don't spend hours making decisions about the 'very best' way to do things.

Mostly I take a 'screwed up eyes' approach. If it looks okay through a blurry lens, it's probably going to be okay. Getting rid of perfectionism reduces pressure and increases speed and creativity.

5. Be willing to scrap it. I can't tell you the number of things I've made which really haven't worked out. Or the things that have worked out but which no one else has liked (here I'm talking about cooking for my fussy eating children.) If you can walk away from it without too much emotional attachment it frees you up to be willing to try again, which means you can do more.

6. Know your limits. Because I know I'm not a perfectionist, I refuse to make things that need a classy finish or are really detailed because I know I won't do it well enough. I'm quite aware of my limitations as a creator so I try to work within them.

7. Dedicate time to what you want to do. Theoretically, achievement should take a lot of organisation. I'm actually NOT that organised. I often forget appointments and the house is only ever about 80% tidy. (Kids rooms... we don't go there. And nothing is ever shiny unless my mum comes over and does it for me.)

What I am good at though, is planning time to be given to different things - and sticking to it. For example, I have two three hour blocks for writing in the week. In them, I write. I don't do housework or other stuff. (I do get distracted by Facebook though...)

To make the tutus and other things for my craft stall, I planned to spend 2 hours every Thursday morning for a whole term making things with a friend.

8. Use the small bits of time you have. Whenever my husband is out at night I make sure I use at least an hour to blog or do emails or book promotion of some kind. If I find myself with a spare 10 or 15 minutes I can put it to use as well because...

9. I make lists. I can't carry it all in my head so I make many, lengthy lists. Then when I find myself with a small amount of time I look at the list, do something from it and cross it off. 

10. Have the right personality. You could see it as a bad thing, but I am definitely more task focused than people focused. I will leave a conversation with a friend when it's 'time' for me to go do the next thing I've planned. I never stay till the end at parties and I always stick to my bedtime. Boring or rigid? Maybe. But it's hard for me to be the relaxed person carrying on an endless conversation. 

11. Don't sit down much. Or if you do, not for very long. I have a couple of times where I sit down in a day. Usually they involve a cup of tea. But I find it hard (and a bit boring) to sit down for too long.

12. Enjoy doing stuff. If you don't enjoy the buzz from achieving something, then obviously, don't try to do too much. I love it, so I do it. (I don't love sport or running or bushwalking or conferences or too many parties. So I don't do them. Everyone's different.)

13. Know what you're aiming for. I am completely dedicated to making this writer thing work. I deliberately picked a genre which I felt I could do without too much pain, and in which I thought I could produce two books a year. My aim is to make enough money to theoretically be able to support our family with income from my books. 

Writing is hard. I hate doing it. I like having written though and I try to keep that in mind. I imagine a line of 20 Cecily Anne Paterson books in public libraries and it keeps me going.

14. Don't give yourself permission to have writer's block. If you're writing, get SOMETHING on the page. It doesn't matter if it's rubbish or not. you can always go back and change it. But it gives you a feeling of achievement which helps move you forward. 

15. Don't compare yourself to other people. Other people garden, have shiny houses, do sports, get fit, have amazingly fun social lives, wear better clothes.... you name it, other people do it. There's always someone who does something you'd like to do. But there is limited time and energy in this world, and we can only do what we can do.

16. Don't work all the time. Take a Sabbath day off. One day in seven, you should plan to be quiet and thoughtful and do very little at all.

17. When you're tired, take a break. Every six months or so I sit down for a week, miserable and wondering what the point of my whole life is. And then, after crying on my husband's shoulder for way too long, I say, "Oh, I must be tired. I'd better take it easy for a while." And then I get my energy back.

`18. Don't eat sugar. Actually, don't eat refined foods or things that come from colourful packets either. Whole foods, lots of water, lots of vegies and protein. The other stuff slows you down. I don't drink alcohol either.

19. Do some regular exercise. Even if it's just a half hour walk in the morning. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and stick to healthy habits.

20. Twenty-five minute naps are amazing.  Get a kitchen timer. Set it for exactly 25 minutes. Now lie down on your bed, relax and pretend to go to sleep. When the buzzer goes off at the end of the 25 minutes, you will be perfectly refreshed. Don't go longer. Thirty minutes gets you into that groggy phase of sleep and you'll feel terrible.

Bonus: 21.  Remember you're just human and therefore, not really in control of much. My worth shouldn't come from what I achieve. (And here I use the word 'should' because this is a lesson I still am learning.) My worth comes from being loved by my Creator, and it keeps me grounded to think that while doing stuff if fun, in the end, there's a lot more to this world than just me and the tutus I produce.