On How To Save Time, Gain Control, and Focus Your Energy – Using One Piece of Paper

The difference between those organizing at the local level to shape democracy and those raging ineffectually about democratic backsliding — myself included — reminds me of the old line about war: Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. Right now, Trumpists are talking logistics. ~Ezra Klein, Steve Bannon Is On To Something

I am the very first one to say there are not enough hours in the day.

I have two different planners, and use them simultaneously. (Really.) I have alerts, email notifications, and set timers for tasks. Even so, I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels.

And I thought perhaps you feel the same, sometimes.

Because the world itself is spinning pretty quickly these days, and it can be hard to keep your bearings, let alone maintain focus.

So I had an idea.

Bear with me for a sec, because I think the end result will be useful.

I follow a lot of marketers and writers. One of them has very simple, practical trick to evaluate where you’re spending your time.


Take out a sheet of paper and a pen. Now split the paper into quadrants – either by folding the page into quarters, or just drawing them in.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now, on the left-hand side of the paper write “can I do something about it?”

Put “NO” at the bottom of the page, and “YES” at the top.

Now, on the bottom of the paper, write “AM I doing something about it?”

Write NO on the left side and YES on the right.

It should look something like this (except that to be 100% clear I should had added the NO at the bottom/left and YES at the top/right, but you get the drift):

A helpful hack to determine where you’re spending your time.

Now for the tough part.

Think about where you are spending the time you devote to politics each day.

Are you spending more of your time in the upper right hand quadrant? Where you CAN do something and ARE? In this quadrant go things like registering voters, direct advocacy, and directly assisting candidates and causes.

Or are you spending far too much time in the bottom left hand quadrant? The place where you can’t do anything about it … and aren’t. The Quadrant of Insatiable Anxiety that is fed by social media algorithms and 24-hour news cycles. Where you can only stew in your own stress?


This, friend, is why articles like Ezra Klein’s Opinion piece in the New York Times, Steven Bannon is On To Something, are spot-on.

In case you missed it, it’s all about how so many people feel personally invested in politics right now, and spend extraordinary amounts of time staying up-to-date on what’s happening. In fact, according to Klein, a recent book claimed 1/3 of Americans spend two to three hours on politics daily.

But of those people, four out of five said that none of that time – not one minute! – is spent doing actual political work.

Think about that for a second, because it’s jarring.

Two hours a day, seven days a week. A whopping 14 hours a week. Basically two full workdays … each and every week … multiplied by millions of people.

People who are very invested in politics, and already spend gobs of time on politics, but aren’t taking direct action.

That’s a massive, untapped resource that we need to unleash.

In contrast, Steve Bannon and his comrades spend the majority of their time getting things done. They have what Bannon has coined a “precinct strategy,” going hyper-local and running candidates up and down the ballot – even in school board races. (You can see their results in the headlines about book bans.)

They’re finding, targeting, supporting and funding … spending their time in that upper right hand quadrant.

It reminded Klein, and me, of the old saying “amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.”

To be fair, I firmly believe we need to do as much as is humanly possible to educate ourselves and those around us – and that’s not an insignificant accomplishment these days.

Education and enlightenment are not illusory goals, and just because we can’t measure their impact with call sheets and knock counts doesn’t mean they’re not important.

But if you are spending a significant chunk of your time consuming on Twitter and then not taking action… It’s time to ask yourself if that’s the highest and best use of your time.

To make it even simpler, just look back down at your quartered paper. If you are spending the majority (or all?) of your time in the Quadrant of Despair, then shifting your time allocation will not only give you more feelings of power and control … it means you’re going to have a much greater impact.

That’s why I like this simple, pen-and-paper system.

It helps you move from passive consumption to effective action.

So today, go split up a piece of paper and see if it doesn’t make your life more productive.

Because I did this exercise and realized that I was spending far too much time in the bottom-left-hand Quadrant of Anxiety. I needed to shift things to another quadrant.

When I did, I felt more in control, more productive, more effective.

I want that for you, too.

Now, let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of February 1, 2022

Add Voter REgistration to Your Personal Mission Statement (And Resolve to Spend More Time in Your Upper Right Hand Quadrant!)

Today is the Lunar New Year (Happy New Year!) and I’ve got a great feeling about the Year of the Tiger. And hopefully you’ve had an opportunity to get out that piece of paper and conduct a simple personal time-management assessment.

Let’s all resolve to spend more time in that upper right-hand quadrant!

Please add voter registration to your list of things to spend time on, if it’s not already there. Over the next week, think about how you personally can impact voter registration. Are you an elected official? How can you add voter registration to your office’s day-to-day work? Are you an office manager? What about having an office-wide voter registration day? Maybe you work in food service – what about having voter registration information available at the check out? Hair stylist? Register your clients! Dog walker? What about other walkers at the park? Mom’s groups, dad’s groups, book clubs, sports teams… the list is endless.

My point is this: if we all resolve to add voter registration to our personal mission statement, we can dilute the impact of the GOP’s voter suppression.

Join Field Team Six to Write Postcards (More Voter Registration!)

We can all help register more voters – and here Field Team Six is having postcard events to help register voters in flippable districts. These happen each week on Wednesdays at 5pm eastern.

From their Mobilize event: Join Field Team 6 at our weekly Postcarding Parties! We’ll teach you everything you need to know about our voter registration outreach through postcards. (We welcome those who have already completed this training into our breakout room to write postcards and talk politics.)

There is no need to bring any materials to the party. Many participants wait until after the training to decide which materials, if any (beyond postcard stamps of course), they may choose to purchase. Just come and learn how to Postcard with Field Team 6, using our QR codes. Register Democrats! Save The World!

Click here to check out our campaigns: https://fieldteam6.herokuapp.com/getting_started

Join here: https://www.mobilize.us/mobilize/event/375701/

Combat Book Bans With Local Advocacy:

Unfortunately, book banning is not uncommon, and since the 1980s the American Library Association has had a Banned Book Week to raise awareness. Within their resources on Banned Book Week there are a bunch of wonderful ideas of things you can do – both individually and in a local group. Here are some of my favorites:

Write a Banned Book author: Take some time to thank a banned or challenged author for their words. Author addresses and Twitter handles can be found on the Dear Banned Author page. **This is such a great idea for students!

Inform OIF that there is a book challenge – they don’t hear about them all! If you hear of a challenge at your local library, support your librarian and free and open access to library materials by contacting the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). OIF estimates it learns of only 3-18% of book challenges.

Start Your Own Banned Book Club: Be a rebellious reader!

There’s even more at the ALA, including ways you can advocate for a Banned Book Week at your local library. Check it all out here: https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/activity

Feb. 3: Join The Democratic Volunteer Center and the Center for Common Ground

On Feb 3, the DVC and CCG are welcoming Congressman Mondaire Jones to hear about the Right to Vote Act, Inclusive Elections Act of 2021 and expanding the Supreme Court.

This is part of an ongoing series, “Road to the Midterms: Looking Forward and Federal,” where we will be joined by members of Congress for in-depth discussions on important pro-democracy legislation and efforts that you can help support as we gear up for the 2022 midterm elections. Sign up here: https://demvolctr.org/event/congressman-mondaire-jones-freedom-to-vote-ccg/


P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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