It’s happening again. I took a break, got some sleep and relaxation in, and started feeling pretty good. Got some energy and that itch to get back into the swing of things. So of course I dove head first into the metaphorical pool because I can DO ALL THE THINGS. And then I promptly discovered that whatever energy I had was now dissipating with all of the things now needing my attention. (The same things I hadn’t been thinking about while on break, so clearly they weren’t all truly needing attention right this moment. Greedy bastards.)

So, yeah. About limits . . .

Why limits are good

Limits are Very Good Things and should be embraced, delighted in, and revered. But why should you embrace limits? Aren’t we all supposed to believe that we have limitless abilities, that “the sky’s the limit,” that anyone or thing that limits us is bad? Limits are evil, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

  • Limits keep you safe. There is a reason there are speed limits on roads: because the majority of people (not you, obviously) can’t drive safely at high speeds. The speed limit is there to help those drivers maintain a degree of control.
  • Limits make you more creative. What happens when you have all the resources you could ever need or want? When I’ve had a day to myself to just write, my Muse takes a vacation. When the fridge is stocked, I get stumped on what to put together because there are SO MANY OPTIONS. “Well, clearly, you don’t need me, darling. You have all you could need!” Muse says in a Zsa Zsa Gabor voice.  But when I’ve run out of time to workout, or I don’t have the black art kraft paper I was planning to use, or I used up the last eggs in Tuesday’s dinner, or I only have space for three sentences (and not three pages), that’s when Muse comes back and says, “Oh, you need me! Here, let me help you, darling.” Can I fit in a set of pushups at my desk? What about using the art kraft paper I can find and making that work somehow? What can I bake that does not require eggs, or is there something I can substitute for them? How can I get to the heart of the matter and lose all the extra words? Limits force your mind to make connections that it wouldn’t otherwise make. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
  • Limits help keep you sane and healthy. Knowing you can push yourself is good, but even better is knowing what exactly your limits are. What is the minimum amount of sleep you need to function? How much/often do you need to create to stay happy? How many cookies can you eat and not feel sick? Determine your minimums/maximums (i.e. your limits) for staying physically, emotionally, and mentally in balance.
  • Limits make you more productive. When you only have X amount of time to do something, your brain will go into problem solving mode. It’s all about Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Inversely, by limiting the amount of time to do something, you may be able to get more done. What if you only had ten minutes to work out? What if your story could only be 1000 words? What if your deadline for creating that artwork was the end of the week? How would those limits change your priorities, or the way you do your work?

How to create limits

These examples are aimed at writers, but adapt to your own art/situation. I’ve used these with cooking, working out, reading, and more.

  • Tick Tock. Set a deadline or allow only a certain length of time.
    [Due by 5 pm this Friday.]
    [As many words as possible in 15 minutes.]
  • Numbers. Allow only a certain number (words, tools, items, etc.)
    [500 word story.]
    [Use only 1 program/application.]
    [Can contain only 2 characters.]
  • Must have. Require the inclusion of something (a phrase, an object, a genre, etc.)
    [“Everybody wants one.”]
    [A pocketwatch, true love, and a cave.]
    [Superhero AND Noir.]

What are your limits? Have you been able to maintain them? What causes you to break them?