How to Get More Things Done…by Trying Less


We rarely if ever get everything done we hope to on any given day. Which can be very frustrating, to say the least, and, not surprisingly, it’s one of the most common productivity complaints I hear from my busy clients and Crusher™TV Members.

But my advice to them often gets a look of skepticism, if not contempt: “Try less,” I say.

I mean this in two ways: Try taking on less, and stop trying so hard. As my clients will attest, it actually works. Hmmm. OK, how?

In this post, I’ll share three ways to get more things done by trying less. But first, we look at two culprits in not getting as much done as we’d like.

Magical Planning: This is when we plan our day with an unrealistic schedule to accommodate an unrealistic list of to-dos we think we’ll get to today.

And usually being frustrated at the end of the day that we didn’t get all our planned to-dos done.

Second is…

Our Perceived Need to “Catch Up”: This takes many forms: Focusing on non-important to-dos for the sake of “catching up” on our to-do list; deleting emails thinking it will “catch us up” with our inbox; checking the news or social media feeds because we think something salacious may have happened in the last 45 minutes that we need to “catch up on”.

Mostly, such “catching up” just contributes to our overwhelm and stress. (More about that later.)

Let’s get to those three ways to “try less”…

How to Get More Things Done…by Planning ‘Light and Loose’

As noted above, we too often plan “perfect” days in which we’ll get this, that, those, and these other things all done – by filling every nook and cranny of our calendar.

But as the day unfolds, what happens? Life happens. Reality happens, and we end up at day’s end frustrated, having completed maybe a couple of our many planned tasks.

As Stanford’s Bill Burnett says, “No plan for your life will survive first contact with reality.”

Even if you leave some buffers of breathing room in your day’s plan, it’s likely you’re not accounting for what I call Personal Admin: all the little things we need to do throughout our day for which there are no calendar entries: bathroom breaks, grabbing another coffee, back-and-forthing with your friend via email or text, etc.

Plus there’s the significant amount of time needed to transition out of and back into the primary tasks that got interrupted in attending to these things. (Research suggests that each transition can burn 6-15 minutes. Ten transitions a day then equals between one and 2.5 hours!)

So…Let’s stop planning “perfect” days, and instead start planning “lighter and looser.”

Plan Lighter:

If something doesn’t have to happen today or tomorrow, don’t cram it in your calendar today (but you might put it on a “could do” list for the day).

woman with notebookAnd yes, there will be things that don’t have to happen soon, but that are super important – like working on a big project, certain self-care, etc., but more about those “Biggies” below.

But know this: research tells us that the more to-dos we schedule, the less likely we will be to accomplish any of them. Planning less is doing more.

Plan Looser:

Try not to plan in minutes, e.g, “I’ll schedule time to work on this from 9am to 9:45am, then I’ll work on that from 9:45am to 10:45am…”

Sure, some things only take 15 minutes, but you should really be “batching” such little things together into a longer work session you might call Misc. To-Dos.

For all significant tasks, block off bigger-than-you-think-needed chunks of time if possible.

What you should end up with is a schedule for the day with plenty of “white space.” Cuz…life happens!

How to Get More Things Done…by Focusing on Fewer Biggies

You probably know what I mean by “Biggies” – those Quadrant II (important but not urgent) items, per Dr. Stephen Covey’s Eisenhower Matrix.

They’re the things that move our business, career and personal life forward and upward: big projects, longer-term planning, education and training, relationship-building, etc.

So we’re not talking here about the miscellaneous things we might need to deal with on any given day – renewing our insurance, returning those phone calls, planning the birthday party or picking up the dry cleaning.

Biggies are your top priorities. And per the aforementioned research, the rule of thumb in productivity circles is to focus on no more than three Biggies per day.

But for those of us who feel the least bit overwhelmed, three is too many. We should really narrow it down to one per day (I typically work on one or two – and I’m a productivity coach!) – knowing that we must leave some time/energy for those Misc. To-Dos.

How to Get More Things Done…by NOT Trying to Catch Up!

Think about how much time we devote to trying to “catch up” – on our emails (checking our inbox multiple times per hour); on our to-do list (by focusing on non-urgent, non-important to-dos); on the news or sports headlines (even though we just checked a couple hours ago); with our friends and on social media, etc.

Now, all of these activities are valid on some level, but here’s the problem…

They tend to be things we do to escape from working on our Biggies!

We’ll never actually get caught up on any of this stuff. There’ll be more of it an hour from now.

As such, “catching up” is a key contributor to our overwhelm and stress.

Now, this is a big issue – way bigger than one section of one blog can deal with. But here’s the basic upshot:

Take a look at your “catching up” activities and ask if they are…

…truly urgent

…truly important

…truly resulting in more spaciousness

Because when we recognize “catching up” as the false friend that it is, and focus more on the truly urgent and truly important, guess what happens. We start actually getting… caught up!

A Closing Quote

Productivity guru Brian Tracy says, “Every minute of planning saves you 10 minutes in execution.” There’s certainly truth in that (and I do hope you’re starting every day with some kind of pause-and-plan to ask, “What’s this day gonna be about?”).

But the benefits of planning don’t pan out when we’re planning “perfect days.”

Get imperfect with me. Try less.

And remember – whatever’s in your way is yours to CRUSH!



P.S.: Have you ever thought about coaching, but assumed it’s too expensive? I invite you to consider weekly Group Coaching – a way to work directly with me in a group of no more than six like-minded people battling the same battles you are. If you’re even 1% curious, grab a spot on my calendar, and let’s chat.

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