How to Improve Your Life by Becoming a Better Quitter

by Sarah Winfrey on 8 April 2014 2 comments

"Quitter."

If you're at all like me, that word brings up all sorts of negative childhood memories. I was a particularly tenacious kid, but I remember cringing when kids used that word to describe each other. I even remember a friend getting chewed out by her dad when she wanted to stop playing soccer mid season.

With all of these negative associations, it's no wonder Americans are working longer hours with less vacation than ever before. Add to this the pressure to make more money so we can consume more stuff, and our busy, busy behavior makes a lot of sense. (See also: You're Too Busy: Stop!)

In recent years, though, some people have begun to see the value of doing less, of quitting some of the nonessential activities in their lives so that they can focus on what really matters. There are lots of reasons why this might make for a better life, even if the idea seems counterintuitive at first.

Why Quit?

Whether the idea of doing less resonates deeply within you or you're still skeptical, there are several compelling reasons to consider applying these ideas to your life.

1. You're Not as Important as You Think You Are

When you quit some things so that you can do less, you will see that your presence isn't absolutely necessary for everything. In fact, you may even come to realize that many of the tasks you thought you had to do can easily be done by someone else. (See also: How to Delegate in 4 Steps)

While this may seem threatening at first, the truth is that it opens the door for you to take better care of yourself and your family. If you aren't essential for every single project, there's more motivation to delegate the ones that aren't close to your passions or your heart, and instead focus on the people and the things that matter more to you.

2. Quitting Helps You Focus on Quality

It's easy to focus on producing as much as you can, as fast as you can. However, higher quality work has a greater impact, gives you the time and space to enter a state of Flow as you work, and produces a greater sense of pride, which motivates you to do more good work in the future.

Quality is often harder to measure than quantity, which is why we take on so much and try to produce so much, so that, at the end of the day, we feel like we have done a lot. However, quitting things that aren't essential will give us the space to determine what, exactly, determines quality in our line of work, and then allows us to pursue that. (See also: Work Smarter, Not Harder)

3. You Need the Rest

When we feel like quitting, when we are tired and strung out and anxious, it usually means that we need to rest. Instead of shutting this down, we can listen to our bodies and our hearts and give ourselves what we need, but we can only do that if we are willing to quit some of the things we're doing. (See also: Simple Ways to Fight Burnout)

So many people right now struggle to rest. We struggle because we know that there are emails to answer, texts to respond to, and items that desperately need checking off on our to-do lists. If we quit many of the projects that are producing those tasks, then we will find ourselves much more disposed towards rest. In addition, if we know that we work better when we are rested and we feel passionate about everything we're doing, we'll have more motivation to figure this rest thing out.

How to Become a Quitter

If quitting some of what you're doing sounds like a good idea, here are a few steps you can start implementing today to get more space in your life.

1. Single-Task

Multitasking is almost ubiquitous in our work culture, and many people find that trying to walk away from it feels like trying to break an addiction. However, our brains aren't good at multitasking. They aren't good at focusing on more than one thing at a time, and when we do that we aren't doing the hard work of training ourselves to focus well.

Quitting our multitasking ways is hard because it means breaking habits. However, focusing on mindfulness can help. Being mindful means keeping your mind centered in the present. When you do this, you are more likely to focus on one task at a time. You are also likely to notice when you fall back into your multitasking ways. (See also: How to Make Multitasking Actually Work)

2. Savor Everything You Do

Mindfulness is also central to this step. When you are doing a task, be all there. Be present with the things you love about the task and the things you hate. Pay attention to the way your body feels when you do the task and to the ways your mind is (or is not) working.

Finding the richness in the tasks that you do will help you determine which ones you want to quit. If there's a nonessential task that doesn't make you feel good, that causes stress in your body and anxiety in your mind, then don't do it anymore. If, on the other hand, you find yourself engaging with a task on a deep level, try to do more of that.

Once you've chosen the tasks to keep in your schedule, the practice of savoring will help you focus on those tasks and relish every moment that you spend doing them.

3. Put Boundaries on Communication

With communication as easy as sending an email or a text message, it's usually necessary to put boundaries on the ways that people communicate with you and the times that they do it, if you want to do less. Quitting constant communication often opens up a lot of space for you to do quality work that you love.

This is an area where the boundaries you set will be determined by your job, the ways in which you prefer to be contacted, and the logistics of your situation. Some people choose not to use email, while others reserve texts for their friends. Some only answer email a couple of times a day, while others reserve particular email addresses for particular types of communications. Figure out what works for you, and then communicate that to the relevant people.

Have you found freedom and rest in quitting? What was the most important step you've taken towards doing less?

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Guest's picture

There is one major aspect that I would like to elaborate on. The article is right, quitting sometimes can feel like a negative trait. However, the way to look at it is that if you “quit” one task, you are freeing up to do something else. For instance, if you quit TV for a night to go volunteer at a homeless shelter, you are ultimately giving back more than had you not quit something. Quitting can be a very powerful tool!

Guest's picture

We're raised to think that busy-ness and productivity are the hallmarks and routes to success. But really, most often, all the crap we do is just busywork to cover up feelings of insecurity. There is deep wisdom in becoming the best quitter you can be.