Living To Do Everything–And Getting Nothing Done

We want it all.  To do more, see more, go more, feel more, taste more…

We rush to fill every hour with more activities.  We hate to miss anything our heart desires.  Yet, how much do we really get done?

Patricia Hampl said in Blue Arabesque:

Isn’t that why I’d majored in English to begin with, without knowing it?  Not to teach, not to be a librarian, not for a job.  To be left alone to read an endless novel, looking up from time to time for whole minutes out of the window, letting the story impress itself not only on my mind, but on the world out there, letting the words and world get all mixed up together.  To gaze at the world and make sentences from its passing images.  That was eternity, it was time as it should be, moving like clouds, the forms changing into story.


By doing too much, we do too little.  Hampl blames modernity on our failure to see the sublime in life.

Is it more enriching to hear 1,000 different songs than to get to know 100 songs by playing them 10 times?  Is it a richer experience to study 10 songs by living with each a 100 times?  Or should we devote ourselves to 1 song until we can sing and play it note for note, either in perfect imitation or in wild improvising? 

The time spent is the same, but how deeply do we experience time when listening to 1,000 songs versus listening to a song 1,000 times?  How productive is contemplation?

I woke up this morning, lingering between sleep and wakefulness, entertaining myself with thoughts about what I would do today.  I’d like to pick just one goal and accomplish it each day, but no matter how hard I try, the whirlwind of life diverts me from the ambition I pick.  I can never focus because my environment pulls me in endless directions.

For example, between all forms of books, hardbacks, trade editions, paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks, I have about 1,000 books waiting for me to read.  What would life be like if I only had one?  Ditto for friendships, movies, television shows, photos, albums, hobbies, household responsibilities – all vying for my attention.  Not that I have a 1,000 of each – some much less, but others much more.

I can’t honestly say I have 1,000 essays and stories waiting to be written, but the number is large.  If I had no other distractions and only one idea I wanted to write about, how much more could I accomplish in one day?

I think we all want too much.  Wouldn’t we all benefit from a stay at Walden’s Pond and being Thoreau for a year?

While laying in my dreamy state of mind this morning, my subconscious told me I could get more done if I did less.

Why don’t I listen?

JWH – 8/26/12

5 thoughts on “Living To Do Everything–And Getting Nothing Done”

  1. I am in constant debate with myself with regards to re-reading books and reading a new one.

    In fact many times in i find myself thinking about what book i will read after the one i am currently reading. I had 3 chapters left on the book i was reading yesterday and could not stop thinking and debating about the next, new, book i would read.

    If i had more limits on my options i think i would have been more focused on the present (book).

  2. Jim, I tend to think that distractions are beneficial. Oh, not always, of course. But I think it does us good to switch gears, to think about a variety of things and let our subconscious work on an issue for awhile.

    Admittedly, it probably depends on the details. But delving deeply into a subject isn’t always the best course. And sampling from a wide cross-section, broad but not especially deep, isn’t always a bad thing, either.

    Of course, I have a broad interest in almost everything, and little interest in specializing. That kind of thing is just fitting to my nature. Others develop an intense interest in a very narrow specialty. Well, we need both kinds of people, don’t you think?

    1. I’m like you Bill, in that I’m interested in many things, and I specialize in none. However, I would like to be good at something. That would require focus, concentration and lots of applied effort. It’s my regret in life that I’ve never picked one of my many interests and specialized. I’m a generalist by nature who has always dreamed of being a specialist.

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