Secrets to achieving more in less time

Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Everyone seems to notice how busy our lives have become — and how hard it is to allocate time to all the important things we want to get done.


“Sun Dial” by russellstreet (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You’d think, by now, in the year 2017, something would have been done about it. Where are our leaders on this issue? Why hasn’t our government done something and added at least two, maybe three hours to each day? With that bit of extra time, maybe we could all do those things we just can’t find the time for!

Of course, I jest. But while lengthening the day is not possible, some people try a close alternative: reduce the hours spent sleeping. For some people this seems to work … but most of us just end up tired, grumpy, and even less able to use those precious minutes and hours productively.

But what if there was another option — to take less time on each task?

For many people this is a very real option — an untapped boost to productivity just waiting for you to take advantage of it. The good news is it is also very simple.

Here’s the key to getting more done in the time you have:

Do less.

Don’t go away! This isn’t a trick. Read on …

The key here is in finding the right balance. A good analogy here is physical exercise — if we do too little we become unconditioned and even small amounts of physical exertion wear us out; if we do too much we become exhausted, out-of-breath and lose strength in our muscles. For many of us, the fast pace of our lives creates a situation that is equivalent to being perpetually physically worn out.

Imagine your job is as a bricklayer. Over the course of a day of repeatedly lifting and laying bricks, your muscles will begin to tire. Of course, if you get sufficient rest and eat well your strength will build over time, and your capacity to lay bricks will increase (up to a certain limit). But what would happen if every day you pushed yourself to do more? If your body does not have sufficient time to recover between work days, the result is your capacity will diminish over time: On Tuesday you will be able to do less per hour than you did Monday, because you are already a bit worn out. So you work longer hours to achieve the same total you did Monday. That means on Wednesday your per-hour rate is even less — so you work longer again … and so-on.

We can trap ourselves in a similar cycle of inefficient productivity by working long hours or taking on too much in any area of our lives. If this is what is happening to you, then doing less might just be the secret to recovering the energy and motivation to be able to do more.

There exists an optimum balance, and it seems to differ between people. Finding that balance is likely to require some experimentation. But you can be guaranteed of this: perpetually pushing yourself to work longer hours and achieve more will soon reach a point where you are achieving progressively less

Now, how much you do is not the only secret to achieving more: what you do is also important. That, however, is a topic for a future post.

About Paul McQueen

Dr Paul McQueen is a Clinical Psychologist, holding a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Melbourne. He has experience working in both adult and child mental health services in Queensland and Victoria. Dr McQueen is comitted to providing high quality, evidence-based interventions for a range of mental health conditions. He specialises in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Depression.

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