The Power Of Constraints

There’s something absolutely kinetic about constraints.

When there’s nothing on the calendar, no looming deadlines, my productivity drops by, oh, 80%. I loll around doing not much of anything, even though there’s plenty of stuff I could be getting on with.

But when there are 3 calls, 2 deadlines and a social outing in the early evening, you can bet your little tush I’m going to knock it out of the park.

It’s why there’s a whole saying about “if you want something done, give it to the busiest person you know.”

Having constraints makes you focused. It hones the mind and shakes you out of the go-slows. You simply do not have time to faff around and so you don’t.

It can make for some truly glorious achievements.

However, being under that kind of pressure at all times is exhausting and will drain you, so I’ve started engineering ‘rest constraints’, so that I have the time pressure, but not the stress.

For example, I’ve started scheduling Fridays off so that I have to be more focused for the rest of the week. Tonight I booked a massage for 6pm so I have to be done by 5.30. Other days I’m arranging lunch dates so that I have two shorter windows in the work day which to crack on.

All these things force structure into my day, but have the added benefit of helping me recharge and come back more energised and creative.

This is not only useful for when you’re writing, but what you’re writing.

Whether you’re journalling privately or you’re writing for an audience, constraints are how you are going to do some of your best work.

Limiting your focus to one question, one experience, one theme — it forces you to get granular, to get up really close with the material, and to truly see it.

When you can write about anything and everything, it’s too easy to resort to vague, sweeping statements that skim over the surface, leaving plenty of interesting detail and revelations unexamined.

It might feel counterintuitive to do this in private writing — to limit yourself to a particular theme or experience when journalling, for example — but it can yield some pretty profound stuff.

Constraints take you on a deep dive, and it’s down in the depths where our most interesting secrets are hidden.

You don’t have to do this every time you sit down to write  — it’s good to splash around in the shallows too sometimes — but when there’s something you’ve really gotta unpack, just get down in there and ignore everything else until you’ve figured it out.

It can be intense, it can be scary, but it can also be thrilling, and even glorious.

Try giving yourself some constraints today, and see what happens.