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Edit Your Schedule, Practice Self-Control

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I had a couple of ruthless high school English teachers who routinely "bled" across my and my classmates' papers with their red pens - fabulous teachers who taught us to write. One point they eventually got across is how much harder it is to write a short paper than a long one. This is counterintuitive but true. Today this point re-emerges when a client is relieved to learn that a permitted proposal length is only 25 pages instead of 100... And I have to explain that the short proposal will actually be a lot more work than the longer one would have been.

Why is producing a short document - a quality one, I mean - usually harder than producing a long one? Because each word in a short document must be well chosen, providing a comprehensive picture in a limited space. This takes planning, editing, and painstaking revising. And the writer can't indulge in any luxuries a longer text affords - lengthy explanations, sidebars, a little redundancy.

Basically, you have the opportunity to be lazy in writing a longer document - blatantly or subtly. But you can't get away with that in a short text.

It recently occurred to me that this principle isn't just true in writing; it's true in a lot of life. Sometimes doing more is actually lazier than doing less.

Think about a jam-packed day filled with 20 activities - errands, work tasks, social gatherings. You come home exhausted.

But while doing 20 things in a day may be tiring, it's not really difficult. It's like spewing hundreds of words onto a computer screen as fast as possible. Anybody can do that. The difficult thing is only doing three things in a day - three selected, planned, prayed-over things, conducted with conviction and excellence.

Most of the tasks that fill my time on 20-task days are reactive and even compulsive: living life in a knee-jerk fashion. Hurrying through, I skip reflection, prayer, and paring down my list to the truly important. These omissions are actually a form of laziness -

a reluctance or unwillingness to do necessary work; seeking the easy way out. We think of laziness as idleness and procrastination, but it can also come in the shape of frenetic activity and over-full days.

Combating laziness - whether slothfulness or frenzy - requires self-control. By harnessing self-control, the lazy person takes herself in hand and does the hard work of remedying the situation. An idle person gets off the couch and finds her car keys. An over-active person ceases bustling and does some prayerful revising of the overly long, rambling document that her life has become.

June07, 2007 at 10:43 PM

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