I used to call myself a dreamer.
And by that I mean I used to look at my ambitions, say out loud “I’m going to get there someday,” and then proceed to do a million other things that often had nothing to do with turning that dream into a reality.
Eventually, I progressed into something not much better: Doing a bunch of things that all had something to do with my goals. Not great, but still progress. It’s scientifically proven that the more you try to multitask, the less productive you’re going to be. We like to deny that truth, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
We often hear stories of entrepreneurs and other successful people who “made it” by working hard and refusing to give up. These stories are meant to be inspirational, and maybe a little bit educational in some cases. There’s nothing wrong with letting someone else’s progress motivate you to make your own.
But we have to be careful about our big dreams and ever-growing to-do lists. Because there’s this misconception that if you do more — as in, right now, fill more of your days with more things — our odds of living a successful life are somehow increased. Which technically isn’t true in the long-term.
Hard work gets results. But working hard does not always mean working MORE.
Some people have started saying we need to work “smarter,” not harder. You can call it whatever you want. You just can’t be a superhuman.
You can do a lot of things. But it’s very likely you cannot successfully do a lot of things all at once.
I’ve learned this, time and again, the hard way. Burnout is not fun. I’ve failed classes because of it. I’ve lost clients because of it. I’ve almost lost jobs because of it. You don’t know it’s happening to you until you’re just starting to recover — and by then, it’s often too late to fix the damage it’s caused.
You can dream big. In fact, you should.
But don’t let your big dreams convince you that you need a full schedule and minimal amounts of sleep to achieve big things. Success does not happen in a day, and it’s impossible to maintain success over many years if you work yourself straight into exhaustion, sickness, or worse.
Dream big. Work slow. Take small steps. Do all the things.
But enjoy it all. Take moments away to think, to reflect, to breathe. Focus on only a few things at a time. Don’t run yourself down before you have the chance to experience what it feels like to Make Big Things Happen.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.