Getting Less Done

My touch-phrase for 2019 was, “no.” In terms of self-imposed stress and crippling depression, 2019 was the worst year ever; I’ve more than 10 years of journals and I’ve checked. 2018 was bad, but 2019—the year I set out specifically to reduce the problems—was definitely and significantly worse than 2018.

I remain convinced that it is not possible to optimize one’s way out of burn-out. If I have 500 things I want to get done and I’m burnt-out, the solution is to reduce the number of things, not get better at getting things done. I’m speaking from personal experience, not from theory.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In 2019, the “no” touch-phrase was meant to guide me to developing the habit of saying no to things coming towards me. A huge amount of ideas and opportunities come at me, and I’ve gotten much better at saying, “no.” (I’m not quite ready to say I’ve gotten “good” at it; but I’ve definitely gotten better.) I’ve gotten better at evaluating Big Asks from the world, and saying, “no.” A textbook example of that is people/groups which reach out to me, asking for my input or participation.

“No, I do not have the time to do that well.”

“No, I cannot to do that the way it deserves to be done.”

…and so on. Note particularly the absence of the societal lubrication, (a.k.a., the usual lie,) “I’m sorry, but…” Because, I’m not sorry. I’m defending myself, and I’ve reached the point where if my candid, timely, and honest response feels like a wack on the head… Bummer. Life’s hard; get a helmet.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In a previous post (on my personal blog) I mentioned the idea of leverage; positing that I should focus on asking myself, “how much leverage does this opportunity afford me?” This still doesn’t feel quite the right fit for 2020 because leverage per se isn’t a value I’m interested in maximizing.

So that leaves me where?

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

GLD — Get less done.

Maybe that’s the touch-phrase for 2020?


Meta: I had posted this in the Movers Mindset Forum early in 2020. But, for some reason I cannot fathom—perhaps it was simply an oversight—I didn’t post this here on the ‘ol blog in very-early 2020 when it was written. ;)

The writing is easy

The hard part is deciding what to share.

At no point am I at a loss for something to write. Instead, I’m at a loss to decide what is worth sharing. This is true for this web site, conversations I have with podcast guests, and my personal journal. The way I sort out whether something is worth sharing is to think about who is it for. I read my personal journals in an ongoing way—each morning, (give or take,) I read that day’s entry from various numbers of years ago. So in my journalling I know that capturing my struggles and frustrations will serve me well; 9 years later, I read those entries and am relieved to see how that story turned out.

Other things—this web site, the podcast conversations—are not meant primarily for me. And so with pieces like this I try to have a point. Today it’s: Language, writing, conversation, reading, etc. are tools. As with any tool, it’s the intention of the user which matters most. You can break things or build things up using any tool you care to consider.

But first you have to ask yourself are you using your tools intentionally?


Self-esteem box

Today, two thoughts popped into my head in rapid suggestion: “Self-esteem box,” and “I’ve never pull-quoted Movers Mindset.”

Brandee Laird

Craig: So for me it’s I know if I go for a walk that’s almost, not always, almost always enough to make it so I can go back into the cave of ugliness and get back to work kind of thing. So what are some things that will help you turn that corner, brighten you up or energize you?

Brandee: Yeah, that’s a great question, because I do get very dark moods pretty often actually, because with compassion comes the pain of caring so much about all these people and all this situation, it feels very futile a lot of times, like what can I do to change this. Yeah, I get there and I have a few tactics, I basically build protocols for myself for when I get in those moods. So one of the first things I go to is my self-esteem box.

Craig: This sounds like a good idea.

Brandee: And my self-esteem box is digital, it’s a digital self-esteem box and what I have done, is I have taken screenshots and copy/pasted and just dumped in all kinds of nice things that people have said, either to me or about me over the years.

So I have this file that is just full of gratitude and compliments and just stuff that I have had to read over and over and over in order to actually believe it. So that’s actually more like last resort is the self-esteem box. If nothing else works, open the self-esteem box, look through here.

Craig: In case of emergency, break glass, right?

Brandee: Totally. Totally. So that’s something I think everyone could and should do that. I guess I’ve never really told anyone about that. But it’s a nice thing.

Craig: I think that’s a really good tactic. People talk about doing gratitude journaling, but the gratitude journaling. I mean, I know that you know what it is, but gratitude journaling is a process which you have to execute on the spot when you feel like you’re having a bad mood. But the idea of having a self-esteem box is a clever one.

Brandee: Why, thank you.

~ Brandee Laird from 46’30”,

I think these two thoughts popped into my head as the photo-frame on my wall changed. One of the smartest things I’ve ever done is set up a digital photo-frame. I email it photos of things—you know, all those digital photos you never do anything with. :)

Anyway. I love love LOVE my photo-frame. It’s chock full of hundreds of great photos. It’s not quite a self-esteem box. But it generally has the same effect. Every single time I glance at it it makes me smile.

Meanwhile, ever since I had that conversation with Brandee, (in September 2019,) I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a self-esteem box. I’m not quite sure where to put it [digitally] though; Also, I really do not need to make up yet another system for myself for organizing and storing things.

But the idea keeps calling to me.


Old dog

I don’t think that anymore. Those fantasies are silly really. As the character Judge Smails played by Ted Knight in Caddyshack so aptly put it, “The world needs ditch diggers too.” … Accepting the fact that you are a contributor to a larger community as opposed to being a Demi-God uberman is not just humbling…it’s a huge relief.

~ Steven Pressfield from,

But my biggest challenge is the closely-related problem of continuously thinking about all the things I “should” do. Where, “should,” is a self-evaluated judgement that arises from my thinking about all the things I could do. …and HFS I could do all sorts of things.

Having happily set down all the Big Picture “shoulds,” I’m currently trying to pick off all the true “shoulds.” I’ve learned to stop looking to the stars, and to instead set my sights on the next hilltop. I should put the finishing touches on the garden we built last year. I should get that tree trimmed professionally so it’s good for another 10 years. …those aren’t so bad. But some: I should finish going through all this photography. I should find a home for this pool table. …I’ve been trying to get done for like 10 years.

Overall, there’s a pretty big list, but importantly, the list has not been growing in recent years. On the other hand, it weighs on my mind none the less.


Herky-jerky breakthroughs

The trajectory is not a smoothly-ascending curve, but a herky-jerky spasm-fest marked by seeming dead-ends, plateaus, dark nights of the soul, intervals of boredom and stasis, not to mention bouts of terror, despair and self-doubt, which are followed, if we’re lucky, by quantum leaps to the next level.

In other words, we advance by breakthroughs.

~ Steven Pressfield from,

The key is to turn around and look back at how far you’ve progressed. Set goals, plan, and take aim by looking ahead. But when you want to assess your progress, do not look at the goal. I spent far too much time looking at my goals and invariably saying, “I surpassed the goal… I should have set a bigger goal. I could have done more.” …or saying, “I fell short of the goal. I suck.” Both of which are dangerously negative.

Instead, leave markers along your journey—you can look at your earlier writing, look at your earlier paintings, reminisce with a friend, etc. Look at the markers you’ve left along the way and think, “look how far I’ve come!”

This is the only way I’ve found to maintain a positive outlook.

Think of a goal you currently have; something you’ve been working on for a while. When was the last time you looked back to assess your progress?


Bashing against the resistance

… Resistance is natural, just a sensation in the body that is a response to change, discomfort, uncertainty. Our minds have a hard time dealing with these things, because we like routine, comfort, certainty.

Here’s the thing: the resistance isn’t always at a constant, full-on intensity. Resistance ebbs and flows. 

~ Leo Babauta from,

Steven Pressfield also writes a lot about resistance. (For example, see his book, The War of Art.) The approach he advocates is one of showing up and doing the work. He has a lot of good advice around preparing for the inevitable arrival of resistance, and even goes so far as to consider it a necessary evil; it’s a thing within each of us that cannot be avoided and which must be faced in the process of heading the call of the work.


Me? I’m just exhausted from should’ing on myself.

These days, I’m definitely in a Leo-zen phase where I’d like the path of least resistance. My personal challenge is not that I’m going to get sucked into video games and sit around all day. My personal challenge is that I’m going to bash myself on the task-of-the-day one time too many… or a thousand times too many. For me, the path of least resistance is obviously still a path towards the goal; I still have goals and I cannot help but choose paths towards those goals. I’ve permanently ingrained the habit: Here’s an idea. Here’s the goal. Here’re the first 10 next-actions. I’ve got that. Can’t avoid it. I could never not do that.

But do I take those next-actions now… like, right now? Perhaps it would better to relax doing nothing for a bit, and take those next-actions tomorrow? …or maybe even next week?


Enough already of having the dial at 11

This is the fear, when people start being kind to themselves — that they’ll be too soft, they won’t get stuff done, they’ll let themselves off the hook too easily, they’ll just lie around doing nothing.

~ Leo Babauta from,

There was a time, not too long ago, when I felt this way. I had the work-ethic, grit, stick-to-it-iveness, determination, bull-headed, finish-all-the-things dial twisted to 11 and covered in duct tape.

I believe I have learned the lesson. We’ll see what 2020 brings.

I’ll know I have it sorted when it only feels like an “idea” to tackle some new thing, help someone do something, implement some idea, accept a new challenge… When it feels only like an idea, rather than an urge like an addict has urges.

…because ideas I can say ‘no’ to.


I am not my work

“I am not my work,” is one of those aphorisms that I need to have etched into my cornea. Have you seen watermarks on images? I need this phrase watermarked directly onto my vision.

Long ago–if memory serves–I was motivated by extrinsics. Doing something well resulted in external confirmation; so generating that external confirmation was easy for me. But–as everyone knows–it’s a vicious cycle of saccharine sweetness. Eventually, that lesson was learned. The obviously better option is to be intrinsically motivated. Check. Got it.

Unfortunately for me, there’s another onion-skin layer to peal away below, “be intrinsically motivated,” which is to not take criticism of work done as criticism of myself. The immediate hack is that I’ve inserted a mandatory, “thank you,” in response to criticism. This doesn’t fix the problem of identifying myself with my work. But it does buy me a few moments. By the time I’ve said thank you and acknowledged the critic, it’s become possible to see the criticism as being ‘of the work.’ Crucial moments indeed.



Renunciation is one of ten trainable qualities known traditionally as the paramis (the others being generosity, resolve, patience, morality, effort, insight, loving-kindness, equanimity and truthfulness).

~ David Cain, from

This feels—perhaps—like a more nuanced version of my, “just say no to everything,” theme for 2019. That may should harsh, but it’s not. I say, “yes,” to many many things. When I try to say, “no,” to everything, I end up saying, “yes,” to only one-many things.

I’m not a Buddhist by any stretch of the imagination. So I’m not about to take up the paramis as an explicit practice. But the idea of actively renouncing things gives me a positive practice; something I can actively do, rather than something I have to avoid doing.

If you have an elephant problem, “don’t think of a pink elephant,” isn’t going to help. “Just say no,”—despite it’s possible utility as a drug use prevention program—isn’t working very well for my problem. So instead, “think of flowers,” works better for the elephant problem.

So maybe, today I can practice keeping space.


The solution is simple and difficult.

We can turn it off.

If it’s not getting you what you need or want, turn it off for a few hours.

~ Seth Godin, from

Hear! Hear! …and, once more, louder for those in the back!


That’s easy, but it doesn’t count

In other words, the only way for a person to experience that particular place and time was to experience that particular place and time, and I although I was in the right place, I spent much of that time goofing with my phone.

~ David Cain, from

I have become a master of not goofing around with my phone. I have become a master of experiencing certain moments; leaning into the present one might say. Engage with random dogs. Wander that interesting side street. Stop and actually smell that flower. Take off my shoes and play barefoot in this tree. Pause and enjoy the sunshine and blue sky during this nice walk.

But that’s trivial. And it doesn’t make my life terrific. I’m still profoundly unhappy and stressed out.

Know what’s hard? Leaning into, and enjoying, the experiences which are stereotypically the things I dis-prefer. (I’d prefer them to be otherwise, but in fact I have no control over.) That chunk of boring software I have to write. Staying up until 1am, (I’m normally asleep at 9:30,) to babysit a computer system that has to be rebooted in off-hours. Dealing with burnt-out headlamps on the car… when it’s raining, and I had an appointment to get my Mac fixed. Pouring my life into a project and watching no one support it. And so on. Lots and lots of moments that suck the joy of life right out of me.

Yeup, lots more moments I need to lean into.