On leaving high school, I made an interesting observation: My grades were higher when my schedule was busier.
It was easy to make the distinction between busy semesters and less busy semesters. You may have guessed based on reading around here for a bit that I’m a nerd. Befitting that, I was in the marching band in high school.
A marching band that was regularly the number one band in New England.
For those of you who have not been in a competitive marching band, it is very time consuming.
We practiced for three hours after school two days a week and practiced all day on Saturday.
Once competition season started, we would bus out to competitions on Saturday and Sunday each week.
That’s a lot of hours.
Marching band season was the fall semester. The spring semester was jazz band season.
Jazz band was a lot lower key. We rehearsed two days a week after school and occasionally went to competitions. It was nowhere near the strictly regimented schedule of marching band. (Plus, I didn’t even decide to join the jazz band until my junior year.)
Looking back on my grades, though, I discovered that they were better in the fall than they were in the spring.
I thought it was strange that I did better when I had less time to commit to my studies, but I didn’t really do anything with that information.
These days, I see a similar pattern play out on the weekends.
Despite having far more free time available to me most weekends, I seem to get less done than I do on weeknights.
I haven’t written a blog post on a Saturday in many weeks. I am writing this right now on a Wednesday.
Despite having far more time, I am less successful at getting things done.
So why am I more productive (and more successful) when my schedule is more crowded?
I’ve got two theories on this: procrastination and prioritization. The end result may be a product of one or the other, both, or some other factor altogether.
Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to procrastinate when a deadline is farther off?
There’s less pressure to get your work done immediately and less guilt involved in putting it off a bit.
There’s no harm in that, as far as it goes. This type of procrastination doesn’t seem like it would hurt your end product all that much.
For example, if you had two hours to complete an assignment, your results should be similar to a situation in which you had eight hours to complete an assignment but procrastinated away the first six.
The problem that I find is that the procrastination makes the assignment feel larger. More daunting. More important.
This makes it harder to actually end the procrastination and start the assignment. The deeper you dig that hole, the harder it is to get out.
So instead of comparing two hours of work to two hours of work, you end up with only a half hour of work due to procrastination inertia.
In school, when I was forced to get my work done right away, it got done. I didn’t have time to build up any sense of overwhelm. I didn’t have time to develop that procrastination inertia.
Forced prioritization is another factor.
When you have a limited amount of time, you cannot necessarily do everything that you want to do. You need to choose the most important tasks and go forward with those.
You can’t reread the whole text book. You have to skim and review the points that seem the most important.
This process trains you in efficiency. You learn to distinguish between important and non-important. You learn how to properly prioritize everything that needs to be done.
This learning process may often be painful (and unsuccessful) in the short term, but in the long term it leads to better results.
I have been working on restructuring my days and my work to try to get the more positive results from busyness without actually having to live such a busy life.
Breaking my day into small blocks has worked well on this front. Instead of having a daily to do list of ten items, I will have my day scheduled in two hour blocks with one to three items per block.
Instead of having my nine hour work day to complete the ten items, I now have two hours to get a couple items done. This forces me to get right to work and avoid the procrastination inertia. It also requires me to pick out the most important elements and prioritize those.
Another tip that I have heard (although I have not tried it as of yet) is scheduling time to relax. This entails blocking out chunks of time in your calendar during which you will not work. You can read a book, watch television, listen to music, or any other relaxing activity, but you cannot work.
This has the dual benefit of shrinking the amount of time dedicated to tasks and forcing you to get some relaxation into your day.
This is an area that I am still working on optimizing in my own life. Have you found any success with other tips and tricks? Do you have any other thoughts or insights on why we may be more successful when we have less time? Share them in the comments!