Tuesday, August 21, 2012

More to Do Leads to More Done

Years ago my dearest friend from my grad school years learned she was pregnant - unexpectedly. Her husband wouldn't graduate for another semester and then they were going to move back home to Florida.

Days before she learned of her pregnancy, she'd been asked to take a leadership position on her church's women's ministry team.  So she sat before me this Saturday morning, picking at her blueberry muffin, wondering  out loud if she should say "yes" or "no" to their invitation.

I thought maybe she needed "permission" to decline the position now that she had this baby on board.

"Christie," I began, "Maybe this isn't a good time for you to take that position. You're working full time, plus now you'll probably be tired more often. You might have morning sickness. And at the end of the semester, you'll need to pack up this whole apartment to head back to Florida. And they'll have to replace you at that point anyway."

I waited for her to say, "Yeah, you're right." But she remained quiet, picking at the muffin.

"Now that you're pregnant, you should probably be looking to take things off your plate rather than add more on. You've already got a lot to do," I tried again, assuming she wanted if not needed to say "no."

Finally Christie spoke. "Yes, but that's just it.  The less I have to do the less I get done. If I have all day to accomplish one thing, it will take me all day to get that thing done. The more I have to do, the more I get done because I think I'd better do this now because I won't have time later."

Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

Have you ever gotten to the end of a work day and been shocked at how little you accomplished? You checked email. You attended a meeting. You thought about some things. And you answered the phone the three times it rang.  And that seems to be pretty much it. Where did all the time go?

Christie had just acknowledged the human phenomena known as Parkinson's Law:

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. 

Have you found this to be true?

Next week I begin teaching a new semester at the college. I need to create my syllabus. The syllabus is important as it's the general outline and the contract for the entire course. 

But I've taught this course many times - and tweaked this course many times. And while I could spend 2 days working on my syllabus - tweaking this and contemplating changing that - instead I'm giving myself 2 hours today to complete the syllabus. And I've already scheduled things for this afternoon so I'm forced to finish this now.

{Reality is I can still tweak things this semester as needed as we go along. And, most students lose their syllabus by October.}

What task is taking you forever to get around to completing?

Perhaps you need more, not less to do? Or perhaps you just need to give yourself a short leash on getting it done. 

Try this: Schedule yourself a quick and clear deadline to complete it by - complete it, and then move on to the next thing. "Finishing is better than starting," according to Ecclesiastes 7:8a (NLT). Don't worry that your performance on task will suffer - it won't because you'll be highly focused during the shortened completion phase.

Focus is a wonderful thing.


  1. Rachel,

    I am struggling with my autobiography. This sounds like a great plan. I will try it and follow up with you.

    Dolores (Dee)

    1. Start writing, Dee. And give your self a clear, limited time to complete it by! I pray God meets you in the writing.

  2. You know, I tend to be the same way. If I give myself all day to do something and it is not accomplished by the end of the day, I tend to wonder what happened to the day. It is my spouse and child with the tendency toward ADD, not me. :)

    1. Certainly it's not us with the ADD. :)

  3. I needed this today! Thank you Rachel!

    1. Great to hear from you, Shalissa!

  4. I often start my work day with a prayer that includes a request to focus.

  5. Great post Rachel! Maybe that explains why, at almost 50, I'm busier than ever! There's too much to do to put things off and time is too short to waste doing nothing. And I love how Ecclesiastes 7:8 reminds us that the end of a thing is better than the beginning. So much sweeter to see what the Lord has done rather than just dreaming about what He will do. :-)


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