Pandemic productivity hack #2: Reconsider what matters

Sage CohenProductive writing4 Comments

These are challenging times. Many of us are living, working, and creating in unexpected, new ways. With a third of Americans now showing signs or clinical anxiety or depression according to the Census Bureau, it’s more important than ever to work and play and rest in ways that fill us up. Last week, I proposed lowering your standards. Today, I want to offer a few questions to put this possibility into practice.

  1. What can I let go?

    If your pre-pandemic writing project (or publishing goal) no longer feels relevant and you are struggling to keep going, I propose that you stop. Shelve it for now. You can always come back to it later.

    You are a different person than you were a few months ago, with different needs and concerns. Letting go of everything non-essential can make more space for all of the new variables of life.

    Some consider unfinished work a sunk cost. I call it compost. Every piece of writing you’ve tackled has fortified to your root system of wisdom and skill from which your future writing will spring.

    Let me be clear: I’m not saying that finishing doesn’t matter! Just that we all want work that matters enough to finish. It’s ok to pivot! Especially now.

    When we give ourselves room to renegotiate, we stay accountable to what’s most alive in ourselves and our writing. (David Whyte shows you how in this poem.)

  2. What fills me up?

    Letting go of what is no longer imperative gives you more room for what matters now.

    I’m seeing a trend with my clients and students who are shelving their “safe” material and getting a little looser and more experimental. They’re willing to say things they’ve never said and create in ways that seemed unapproachable before.

    From risking vulnerability to tackling edgy subject matter to simply diving into the craft they’ve been “planning to get around to someday”, these writers are awakening in surprising ways as they give themselves permission to enter fresh territory.

    What could you try that raises the stakes? What might put you at your growing edge? What is your undeniable, irresistible YES? What can’t you afford to delay any longer?

  1. How much is enough?

    Time is very different these days. For many of us, it’s hard to distinguish one day from the next without the variety of activities that once gave shape to our lives. Some of us have far more togetherness than we ever bargained for—and others far more loneliness. However you were measuring “enough” previously, I propose that it’s time to recalibrate the scale (much lower)!

    Less time for your creative life now?

    Mantu Joshi wrote The Resilient Parent in two-hour sessions every Saturday over the course of two years. Whatever increments of time you have can be more than enough—if you just stay with it.

    Could you wake 10 minutes earlier to write? Listen to audio books on craft while cooking? Generate dialogue or metaphors on your evening bike ride? Take a photo every day to keep your pilot light of attention glowing? Capture acorns—little seeds of ideas—that you’ll return to when life is more spacious?

    Or maybe you have more time on your hands than you ever bargained for?

    Writers are often shocked to discover how confronting it is having all day to write. If this is true for you, inventing constraints is a great way to calm down and keep moving forward. Try doing just one 50-minute writing sprint daily at your prime time. Once that practice is solid, you can add in a second sprint. And so on.

    The best way to imprint the rhythms we want is to notice and celebrate. This fun worksheet makes sufficiency visible as you track your daily steps and successes!

Expecting less can be a path to appreciating more. Doing less can be a surprising path to accomplishing more of what matters.

What’s important to you now? I’d love to hear!

4 Comments on “Pandemic productivity hack #2: Reconsider what matters”

  1. Dear Sage,
    Once again, I’m impressed with your compassionate and overarching view of the general and the specific. I love how you repurpose ideas (such as compost), and invite seeming paradox (lower your standards) all in service to improving writing and life. You’ve done more than develop the habit of finding the silver lining, you’ve cultivated the capacity for devotion – accepting what life brings and applying your creativity, craft and wisdom in order to invite your best writing and your best life. What an uplifting inspiration!

    1. I am so grateful for your thoughtful and inspiring feedback, Allegra! Devotion: yes! Thank you for this insight.

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