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What Not To Do

Balls of wool and knitting needlesOne of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes is about choices. “Deciding what not to do,” he said, “is as important as deciding what to do.”

I thought of these words this morning because this is the time of year when I inevitably have the urge to start knitting. Knitting is something I tried for many years. I wasn’t too bad at scarves –– being long, straight and uncomplicated I could handle them. Indeed, the year during which I was in Journalism School in Ontario and Peter was in the West Indies, I dealt with some of my loneliness by knitting him a beautiful dark gray scarf that ended up being about twelve feet long.

At some point a few years later, after I’d created a number of unwearable sweaters for a very young Kenneth Tam –– the one that stands out in my memory was white with sleeves that were so long and skinny he couldn’t even bend his arms when I tried it on him –– I finally accepted my talents in that regard were limited, and there were much better things to be spending my time on. So the knitting needles were given away.

Now when the first snows start to swirl, the winds grow bitter, and the mood to knit inevitably hits, I simply remind myself that knitting is something I’ve decided not to do. And then I turn my attention to what I decided to do. In today’s example, the activity was sewing. Which meant in 15 minutes during lunchtime (between a visit to a long-term care facility where I visited an Alzheimer’s program, and a health sector funding announcement regarding an Adult Day Program expansion in Southern Ontario) I was in Fabricland looking at coat fabric, and trying to choose between the red and steel gray.

That’s a rather lighthearted illustration of a fundamentally important life lesson, but hopefully it’s an effective one.

Ultimately, we’re programmed to do things… we’re not programmed to not do them. Making conscious decisions regarding what not to do frees up time, as well as the mental and physical energy to ensure we can focus on what’s most important… on what we should really be doing.

It’s true, of course, that deciding to do something means that by default you’re deciding not to do something else. But I’ve come to appreciate there’s a distinct difference between conscious decisions and by-default ones. And that holds true for pretty much every aspect of our lives –– work, home, hobbies, and certainly writing.

It definitely has had an impact on my writing and publishing journey. Indeed, if my decision in 2002 had been to sign with the agent instead of not signing with him, Iceberg wouldn’t even exist.

So I highly recommend that every so often you take a moment to stop and decide not to do something. I speak from experience when I say chances are you’ll be amazed at the results.