Many of us have more to do than we can get done. To improve personal productivity, the solution isn’t to find better ways to do more but to find ways to do less . . . of the unimportant things.
Choosing The Right Thing To Do
“As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him in her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching. Martha was upset over all the work she had to do, so she came and said, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!’
The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.’” ~ Luke 10:38-42 Good News Translation (GNT) [Bible Gateway]
Too Much To Do
Last week, I got two e-newsletters on the same day. One was entitled “Too Much To Do, Too Little Time” and the other was “Not Enough Time”. I believe I detect a pattern here.
Many of us find ourselves with “too much to do, too little time” and with “not enough time” to do everything there is to do. However the answer may not be in finding ways to do more (or trying to get your sister to help!) but in finding ways to do less. If you have difficulty doing all that you want to do, here are some ideas to consider to help you improve your personal productivity.
First Things First
You already have more to do than you can possibly get done. That makes it extremely important to prioritize, so that you are working on your most important tasks first.
For example, many people find it nearly impossible not to answer a ringing phone. A ringing phone has the appearance of urgency, although it isn’t always important. On the other hand, we frequently find it difficult to start a book that we want to read and that may be important to us — but, books don’t ring.
When you prioritize — and stick to your priorities — you begin to make sure that you are getting to the important things, even if they aren’t urgent.
Another way to improve your personal productivity and to find time for the things that are important to you is to buy someone else’s time. Some of the things that need to be done don’t necessarily have to be done by you.
Driving a clean car is important to me for a number of reasons. But it can take me two hours or more to wash the car, vacuum and dust the interior, and clean the windows. (Believe it or not, I can be kind of slow and methodical.) I can take it to the car wash and get it expertly cleaned in less than 1/2 hour. And on Wednesdays, I can get it done for the special price of $12. So for $12 (plus a couple of dollars for tips), I can save at least an hour and a 1/2.
Other chores that are usually relatively inexpensive to hire out include house cleaning, laundry, and yard work. Consider ways you could buy some time. You don’t always have to spend money to do it. Perhaps you could barter services or trade off chores with a friend or neighbor.
Just Say No
This is a tip I heard a couple of weeks ago and it sparked my imagination. Usually our default answer when someone asks us to do something is “Sure”, or “OK”. Only later do we think (often with regret) about how much time it will take or where the time will come from.
Change your default from “Yes” to “No”. Let “no” be your first answer. Or, if you find saying “No” too difficult, start with “Let me think about it.” Then, if you want to consider taking on whatever you are being asked to do, you can say “yes” later. You’ll be doing it from choice, having had the opportunity to think it over and to decide what you are going to give up in order to do the new thing.
Once, as I was driving and having a conversation with my daughter, Rachel, I got on the subject of multitasking and how multitasking was actually less productive than doing one thing at a time. When multitasking, you’re still doing one thing at a time, but your brain just moves super-quickly between the tasks. “So”, I said, “there’s really no such thing as multitasking.” “Oh,” said Rachel. “You mean like driving and talking at the same time?” Touche’.
Now, I have a come back. Chunking. Chunking is the combining of two tasks, but it isn’t multitasking.
Multitasking doesn’t work because it involves multiple activities competing for the same resources, such as reading e-mail and talking to someone – both primarily mental tasks.
Chunking, on the other hand, is doing two things at the same time, but the two things require different parts of you. One task is physical, i.e., driving the car. And one is a mental task, i.e., conversing. It could be walking on the treadmill and listening to a recorded book. Or doing the dishes and talking to someone on the phone.
What are some tasks you could chunk? Driving time is an excellent time to listen to a book or catch the news. So is exercise time. Or doing household chores.
Make a list of the tasks that you do that are mainly physical. Then make a list of tasks that are mostly mental. Now, take the two lists and see how many of the two you could “chunk”. This is often a good way to get some of those less-than-urgent tasks (which are frequently mental tasks) taken care of.
This is a good exercise to do at least once or twice a year. Look at all your commitments. Take each one in turn and ask yourself this question: Knowing what I now know, if I had it to do over again, would I take on this commitment?
If your answer is “yes”, keep doing what you’re doing. But if your answer is “no”, begin making arrangements right now to extricate yourself. Do it as gracefully as you can — there are likely some parts of it that you must see through to the end — but get out as soon as you can. Don’t continue to give your time to something that no longer has value for you.
Stop Doing What Doesn’t Have To Be Done
A simple way to improve your personal productivity is to stop dong things that don’t need to be done at all.
What are some things that you do that don’t have to be done? You may not even be aware of these. Try keeping a diary for a week. It doesn’t have to be precise down to the minute — just guesstimates of how much time you spend at all the activities that take up your day.
How much time did you spend catching up with your Facebook friends? How many hours in front of the TV? I’m not suggesting you cut out all of these activities — but be honest with yourself. What could you be doing instead?
The Real Reason To Improve Personal Productivity
The reason to improve personal productivity isn’t so you’ll have more hours to devote to busy work or to have more time to spend playing mindless computer games. You do it so you have more time to spend with family and friends, in building relationships. You do it to have time for deciding what your life’s purpose is and how you’ll live out your purpose. And you do it to have time for setting and achieving meaningful goals.
I hope you’ll find some useful tools among these suggestions, to help you reclaim some of your time. We all have the same 24 hours per day – how will you use yours?
When you spend less time on the things that don’t move you forward, you have more time to spend on the activities that are important to you. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Productivity™ — improving efficiency and effectiveness — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Bible Gateway, “Jesus Visits Martha And Mary”. Bible Gateway. The Zondervan Corporation,,. 11 January 2020.