#2 & #3: Stop Doing Everything

I don’t know when or how I learned about Temple Grandin and her work.

She’s lived in my mind for so long that I can’t remember not thinking about her work.

There’s one story that’s on a loop. I can’t tell you if what I’m about to share is 100% accurate or if my mind changed the story the way our dreams play with our long-time memories as we age—blurring the lines between what really happened and all the dreams that followed—but, this is how it plays out in my head:

Temple designed a livestock handling system. Upon getting it up and running, she saw that someone had hung a shirt or cloth, or something of the like, on the edge, and upon seeing it herself, she knew right away that it would be a problem—that the material would be a distraction to the cattle, to the point of causing them to riot.

I apologize to Temple if I got this wrong, but, again, this is how the story runs through my head.

Why do I think about this?

Distraction and Genius share the same road. Those thoughts that are sparked by reading a book, listening to a song, seeing a picture or painting, could be born of Distraction or Genius, so you have to keep the road clear, and make sure Genius can out-tortoise Distraction’s hare.

In an interview with with NPR’s “Fresh Air” Temple discussed getting into the chutes on her aunt’s ranch to obtain a cow’s eye view:

I got down there and looked through the chutes, and I began to see the sort of things that would bother the cattle: a shadow, a little thread out of place, any little thing, a coat or a hat hanging on the fence, and see the things that would make them balk.

In Tim Grahls’ new book Running Down A Dream, #2 on his list of tools is “Stop Doing Everything” and #3 is “How to Stop Doing Everything . . . Literally.” In this section of his book he talks about trimming the fat, about getting rid of the non-essential stuff.

As I read this section of his book, I thought about Temple identifying the importance of cutting out all distractions.

I know that in my own office, I work best with an empty desk, no pictures on the walls, no music playing in the background. The rest of my house might be a wreck—unwashed dishes in the sink, kids’ baseball and softball socks fermenting under the sofa, and shredded wood and paint chips all over the floors, from the window sill, stairs, and chairs that our 5-month old puppy Fletch (a.k.a. Mr. Underhill), has teethed on—but as long as my office is clear, I’m good.

I can’t work with distractions.

As I type this, my son and my husband, who are now the same height, are bickering over wearing each others sports shorts, there’s a baseball game on TV that’s cutting through the few silent gaps in the bickering, and my daughter wants to know if we left her bathing suit hanging on the hotel door last weekend, which was spent at a softball tournament in Pennsylvania. Me? I’m on the verge of rioting. I’m struggling and frustrated that my daughter also sees the need for a sunglasses case, for her $10 sunglasses bought at King’s Dominion, to be a must-discuss-now talking point, too.

I love them all and made the choice to marry my husband and have my kids, so when they send me over the edge, love balances everything out.

All the rest of the stuff, though? It’s out. No meetings during certain periods of the day—or e-mails or Facebook or texting or laundry or anything else that can muck with a home office.

In The Artist’s Journey, Steve talks about the stages of the hero’s journey.

This portion of eliminating the things we don’t need—at least for this gal—lives in stage # 5 and stage #6:

Hero says goodbye to the familiar, sets out into the Extraordinary World (or, in Blake Snyder’s very apt term, the Inverted World.) Dorothy leaves Kansas, Conan the Barbarian sets out from the Wheel of Pain.

Huck and Jim fend off rednecks, crackers, peckerwoods, mob attacks, not to mention the king and the duke. The Inverted World tests our heroes, but sends allies and teachers as well.

Getting rid of the distractions is like saying goodbye to the ordinary world, which is actually #1 in Steve’s list of stages:

The hero, i.e., you or me or Dorothy or Rocky or Luke Skywalker, is introduced in his or her regular, normal world. But beneath the surface, powerful currents of change and transformation are already in motion . . .

The ordinary world is where all the distractions exist. Rocky could keep being a thug, or he could take it to the next level. He could remove all the distractions and really start training.

#2 on Steve’s list of stages is “The Call” which is just what it sounds like—and which has to precede the work.

Check out The Artist’s Journey for the full list, but the point here is that if I look at each day as an individual hero’s journey, I have to leave the ordinary world and get my stuff done, which also means putting up a forcefield.

The forcefield is different from the fight.

If you’re slaying distraction, that takes time. Instead of slaying distraction, I can’t let the bugger get anywhere near me in the first place. I have to set up a forcefield. I don’t have time to fight.

What does this look like? It looks like that list of no’s that I mentioned earlier. It also looks like me not answering the door or the phone, unsubscribing from lists I don’t read (one less e-mail to spend time deleting), asking to be removed from catalogs (less recycling to manage), and guarding my time from toxic invaders. No bad juju.

I stop doing everything—except doing the essential.

And when the non-essential creep occurs, I know I need to hack it like ivy on a tree. It has a way of taking off and strangling even the strongest—especially when I don’t know it for what it is until it is too late.

Cut the crap.

Trim the fat.

Cross the threshold.

Fend off foes.

Call it whatever you want to call it. Just get it out.

If you haven’t already checked them out, Steve’s The Artist’s Journey and Tim’s Running Down a Dream were released this past Wednesday by Black Irish Books. Until July 20th, the two are available as a special bundle: ebooks and audio for both, for $24.95. Both books are available as standalones, too:

The Artist’s Journey ebook (mobi, pdf, epub)
The Artist’s Journey audiobook (read by Steve)
The Artist’s Journey audiobook (read by Steve) / ebook (mobi, pdf, epub) bundle
The Artist’s Journey paperback

Running Down a Dream ebook (mobi, pdf, epub)
Running Down a Dream audiobook (read by Tim)
Running Down a Dream audiobook (read by Tim) / ebook (mobi, pdf, epub) bundle
Running Down a Dream paperback

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Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Mary Doyle on July 13, 2018 at 5:50 am

    Thanks for this one Callie! I’m with you in terms of distractions. When I’m working I shut down the internet and email. No music, no television in the background. I don’t have others in the house to distract me anymore, but I’ve had to get very firm with myself about remaining planted in the chair. “Genius” hasn’t showed up yet, but if it does, I’ll be there with open eyes, ears and mind.

  2. Brian S Nelson on July 13, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Solid points, I love “Distraction and Genius share the same road.” The ‘insight’ genius for great ideas seem to happen when our minds are relaxed after hard thinking, but I think that is different from ‘production genius’ that requires the utilitarian approach.

    Either way, the noise of the real world does seem intent on pulling us all away from our true intentions and values.

    I like the meditation app “Calm”. It has a music section of all instrumental songs, sorted by ‘focus, relax, nature, etc’. I do find listening to these songs helps me clear the path, and stay on the path.

  3. Emanuel on July 13, 2018 at 7:28 am

    thank you for this posting. Distraction is my own hell, I create over and over again. Its almost unbearable … yet I feel addicted to my own need … my own addiction to the bland dopamine-spitting images of tv and social media / wikipedia. Every time I sit down, every day for the last 8 years, resistance (or “the swine” i call it) starts to talk to me, whisper to me, yell at me. This daily trial is necessary to get my writing done, exhausting like crawling through a sun-burned suburbia with pools everywhere … but they are never my pools. My pool is at the end of the street, when my story or book or project is done. Still, I can hear the people jumping into their pools and having fun. And I feel more than alone … and the tv or the internet behave almost like friends. Almost …

  4. Jon on July 13, 2018 at 8:19 am

    Love your post. I work a full-time job that is riff with distraction through the day just juggling clients, calls, agency meetings, stupidity, etc. Your post is spot on. I’ve had to set up a separate writing area for my WIP just to keep from the clutter and chaos of my regular job. Not sure how you manage it with kids, mine are grown and gone, but distraction still lurks everywhere.

    I bought the bundle, and even though I’m still in the middle of my WIP, I’m finding them a great read. First Tim’s book, then Steve’s. I alternate chapters. Brilliant and insightful. If only I can apply it all…..

  5. Lary on July 13, 2018 at 8:19 am

    When did Steven stop writing on his own blog?

    • Barbara Newton-Holmes on July 14, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      He still writes his own posts — on Wednesdays (called “Writing Wednesday.”) On Fridays, his colleagues Callie and Shawn write posts. We like those, too.

  6. Bing on July 13, 2018 at 9:17 am

    I love you Callie.

  7. JP on July 13, 2018 at 10:54 am

    And don’t forget to charge your vacation to Mr Underhill’s American Express Card.

  8. Joe Jansen on July 13, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    I like how you tie Steve’s and Tim’s work together with your own experiences. A three-legged stool is stable.

  9. Anonymous on July 14, 2018 at 7:05 am

    Brilliant, Callie! Couldn’t be a better week to hear this. Or better morning. Thank you!

  10. Peter Antony on July 23, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks Callie, informative post 🙂 “Distraction and Genius share the same road” is a good way of putting things. I’m thinking being distracted is just noticing the traffic on the road and it’s a good idea to look around every so often 🙂

    Timely read for me (have to admit I got distracted only one time!) as just purchased Turning Pro and reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport.

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