Creating space to be more productive

When you are happy to plan and run with routines, it can have the drawback that if you don’t plan time for leisure or relaxation, you have a week that is full of preplanned commitments and there is no space for time out. Often we think the more we do, the more productive we will be. Factoring in time for relaxation doesn’t seem a productive thing to do.

I used to think like this and found myself exhausted by the process of not having enough “white space” in my calendar, not having time in my daily schedule where I wasn’t supposed to be something. It took me reaching burn out before I made a change.

I write regularly for the Problogger blog and recently I shared how by working less and having more rest time, I actually increased my productivity. And this isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to me:


The above graph shows the productivity (GDP per hour worked) in relation to the number of hours worked in OECD countries. The trend is clear: the more hours worked the less productive we are.

Personally this is something I have worked out the hard way. At the end of 2014 I was so close to quitting blogging. I was caught in the working longer hours trap. I would work some hours while the kids were at school, then once they were off in bed I would start my second shift and work late into the night.

I found myself in the position where it seemed, no matter how many hours I worked, I couldn’t keep up. Sometimes we need to reach a low point before we make change and this was the case for me. I shared on ProBlogger last year the steps I took to turn this around and you can read more about it here, but the biggest impact was changing my work schedule and working fewer hours.

Working fewer hours when you are struggling to keep up can seem contradictory, but productivity isn’t about the volume of hours you work, it is about your work output. I set new work boundaries for myself. I was no longer going to do a second shift. My workday would end when the kids were home from school and I would have at least one day every weekend that was work free.

As I made the changes to my work schedule, the results on my productivity were instantaneous. Working tired all the time is ineffective, things take longer, you are more easily distracted and there is an increase in procrastination. Taking adequate breaks away from the blog allowed me to refresh, rest and have time for thinking, all of which helped increase my productivity when I was working. {an excerpt from my post on Problogger}

The approach I take to my work is now how I also approach my work in the home. When I put together my weekly schedule I carve out blocks of time for particular activities and I ensure there is plenty of space within each activity so I don’t have to rush and there is buffer in case something goes wrong.

For example from 7.00am – 9.00am on school mornings I dedicate this time purely to the school morning routine. Many mornings there is time that I can put on a load of washing or start some prep for dinner that evening, but they are no longer scheduled activities – they are no longer on the list of must do’s for this time. Previously if they were on my list as must dos, it meant I would then have scheduled the rest of the day so there wouldn’t have been any time to do it later and would have had to rush through the morning routine to make sure I got them done. Now though, even though many mornings I have time to do these activities, I don’t. I will choose to play a game with one of the kids or read a story to them.

This leisurely start to the morning and the connectedness I feel to the kids makes such a better start to my day. I am not coming home from the school drop off already feeling frazzled. I feel content and have a clear mind and am ready to focus on first task of the day. The ability for me to get started on my work and work productively has been significant.

You can see how I put together my weekly schedule in this post – How to create a weekly schedule. Not everyone likes to write up a schedule and will prefer to have a more fluid approach to their day. What ever your approach, my recent experience has taught me to err on the conservative side and not fill my days to the brim, in order to have a productive day. To be productive we need space and we need time to recharge.

And I will leave you with a beautiful poem from William Henry Davies titled Leisure. It is an eloquent reminder of what we miss when we are too busy.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

William Henry Davies

How do you create white space or buffer in you week?