Do More by … Doing More?

“Work expands so as to fill the time available …” – Cyril Northcote Parkinson

Do more by … doing more?

Today I’m going to share a piece of contrarian advice: You can maximize your productivity by increasing the obligations on your plate.

Conventional wisdom says that you should limit your obligations. Focus on just a few things. Say “no” to requests.

That’s good advice … but only after you’ve reached a certain “busy-ness” threshold.

But what about Average Joe, who’s only moderately busy? Sure, some days seem more packed than others. He wakes up at 7 a.m., grabs a cup of coffee and a piece of fruit, and drives to the gym. He runs on a treadmill from 7:30 to 8:15, jumps in the shower, and arrives at the office at 9 a.m.

He clocks out at 5 p.m. and drops by the grocery store for 30 minutes on his way home. From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., when he goes to sleep, he enjoys five leisurely, unstructured hours of making dinner, hanging out with his 15-year-old son, surfing the Web and watching TV.

He tells himself he’s being productive by watching the news. It makes him a more informed citizen. And of course he’s also being productive by clipping coupons during the commercial breaks. He’s saving money, right?

Yet at the end of the evening, he finds himself wondering where the time has gone.

He’s so efficient in the morning — shaving in a few minutes. Getting dressed for work quickly. Showering at the gym quickly. He has a routine, and it’s down pat.

But in the evenings, Joe realizes, he’s not moving at the same speed.

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Joe Packs His Schedule.

Now let’s pretend Joe signs up for some other obligation — a side business, perhaps, selling puppy toys online. Suddenly his evening needs to be more carefully planned. He compresses cooking dinner and spending time with his teenager into a two-and-a-half hour affair from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., during which time the father-son duo bond over conversation about cars, sports, school, and their usual conversations.

Afterwards, his teen slinks off to his room to play video games, while Average Joe works on his side business. He devotes two hours each night to the business, then spends another 30 minutes on household chores: watering the plants, unloading the dishwasher, shaking out the rug. He hits the sheets at 11 p.m. for a full eight hour night sleep.

How Busy Are You Really?

By scheduling a commitment into a wide, unstructured block of time, Average Joe learns to use that block of time more efficiently, rather than letting it pass by before wondering, at the end of the night, how his evening disappeared.

By setting limits — and forcing himself to work inside these limits — Joe ruthlessly culled his priorities. He blocked out chunks of time for the things he found most important: 45 minutes on the treadmill, 30 minutes at the store, 2.5 hours with his son, 2 hours building a side business, and a solid 8 hours of sleep.

Don’t Be Productive. Be Intentional.

What if you scheduled your evening in the same way? Pretend you’re in high school again:

  • 6 pm – 7pm is Dinner period
  • 7 pm – 8 pm is Paying-my-Bills, Checking-my-Credit-Score and Opening-my-Mail period
  • 8 pm – 9 pm is Reading a Book period

Heck, you don’t even need to be productive. You just need to be intentional.

That’s the beauty of not being in high school anymore: you can schedule yourself for an hour of watching romantic comedies while eating chocolate ice cream straight from the carton, followed by another hour of chatting with your best friend on Skype.

It doesn’t matter that you’re not “achieving” anything (I’d argue that you’re achieving lots: expanding your movie repertoire, bonding with a friend, savoring ice cream life.) What matters is that you treat your time with full intention. You don’t just wonder how the evening slipped away.

Readers, have you “scheduled” your evenings? What have you found?


  1. says

    This is so great, paula and SO true.

    It’s midnight and I am thinking – okay where has the time gone?

    I think if I structured my time, I would feel like I’ve tackled my goals more than if I didn’t.

    I find that unstructured time- I tend to procrastinate etc (like go on facebook).

    I’ll try and structure my time and see where that takes me for the rest of this week.


  2. says

    @youngandthrifty — Me too! I surf the web, click on whatever is interesting, and “twitter” away a lot of time. As a blogger, I can even justify this as “productive” — which it really isn’t. :-)

  3. says

    Paula, I eat up anything productivity related. In concept, I really like your article especially acting with intention. But, by 9:00 I have no energy for “productive” activity! In fact, if I have to do something that requires lots of thought (ie writing) needs to be done earlier in the day.I liked it!

    • says

      @Barb — That’s a great thing to know about yourself! It means you should probably schedule anything after 9 pm for “relaxing” activities: taking a bath, stretching. Heck, you could even intentionally schedule that time to watch re-runs of The Colbert Report (I do!) It’s totally intentional fun time.

  4. says

    Just a follow up comment :) I’ve been trying your tactic and its working a little better for me.

    I am more cognizant of the time I allot to things, though I need to start making a set schedule now.

  5. says

    That’s great!! I’m glad it’s working for you!! I find that using a stopwatch or an eggtimer helps me keep projects within a timeframe, especially when I’m writing, commenting on blog posts, or doing other things that could potentially take as much time as I allow it. Try

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