Doing Less More Often Gets More Done

Making progress is good for your mood. In the following article, Klassy Evans, the editor of Self-Help Stuff That Works, explains a way of thinking that can help you make progress:

I used to neglect my fingernails. I would garden and fix and repair things and move boxes of books for our business, and all these activities damaged my nails. But I ignored it. My nails got fairly well mangled. Then I tried to make up for lost time by giving too hard of an effort, which left and my cuticles red, and made ridges on my nails.

It was like I was angry at them. I attacked them. I pushed them back too hard in my impatience and they tore a tiny bit. Or I pulled off little pieces of dried skin and sometimes it took a piece of good skin with it, so I got little red hangnails. In other words, when they finally looked so bad I just had to give myself a manicure, I overdid it. I tried to fix the damage from my own neglect. But not in a gentle way.

I lived my life that way, too.

One morning I was looking at my nails, and I thought about something my dear friend, Bonnie, had told me. She'd always had beautiful cuticles. One day I asked her how she did it. She said she didn’t do anything. They just grew that way. Her nails are smooth. Her cuticles soft and even. Hmmmm. When I let my nails go, they don’t look like that, so I pressed her a bit more. Then she said, "I really don't do anything to my nails except gently push the cuticles back." I think the key word here is gentle.

Another woman I know (she’s a manicurist) told me the best cuticles she sees are on women who push back their cuticles when they’re done with the dishes.

So, I got my fingertips wet. Then I got out an old soft cotton napkin and very gently cleaned my nails, just a little bit. It was so gentle it seemed like I was being a pansy. But it worked pretty well. They looked surprisingly better when I was done.

Gentle action had gotten less done, but it was a pleasant process and I had obviously done nothing to harm them.

It felt odd to baby myself like that. It felt sort of silly. I’m used to the more masculine approach to life I got from my dad: Do what needs to be done and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. I’ve been “getting my nails done” like a battle. But I learned to take care of my nails more like a farmer caring for the land.

Battles are often necessary, but they're temporary and harsh. It's not a good way to take care of a body that seems to need daily care. My cuticles and nails are much better off when I do a tiny bit of gentle care each day rather than an intense hour of care to make up for the week or two of neglect.

To accomplish things, both kinds of action are necessary. I think traditionally, men tend to accomplish great things with intense effort; women tend to accomplish great things with constant, gentle pressure. You can’t raise a child or raise a crop by infrequent, intense efforts, just like you can’t work out only one day a week. The body needs to move, but an all-out effort for six hours on a Saturday won't work. Your body wants daily exertion. It wants — and needs — regular movement.

I had taken on my dad's attitude. He was kind of proud of how much he could take. My neglected nails were a way of saying: "See how busy I am, how hard I’m working? I’m not some silly girlie-girl, always worrying about her nails."

This is true for me in so many ways. Is it true for you too? Are you too tough with yourself? Too harsh? Awhile ago I was thinking that I often try to take on too much because I know I’m capable of doing that much, even though I may not be up to it at the moment. This is like going to the gym to lift weights and knowing I’m capable of doing sixty pounds on some machine, but right now I can only do about 30. The way to build a muscle is often trying to do a bit more than you feel you can, but sometimes it's not a good idea to force yourself to do 60, even though the body has done it in the past or could do it in the future. It's best to do what I can do. Even if that seems really “light weight.”

This "male" take on life — that you must give it your all — has its place. But it also causes unnecessary harm if applied to things that grow (like children, crops, muscles, and even habits). Gentle, steady, regular efforts are not weak. A small plant can break through a concrete driveway just by gently pressing upward day after day after day, a little on a little.

This lesson is universal. Would you have more power in your life — and less pain and damage — if you were a little less harsh and forceful with yourself and more gentle?

By doing less more often, would you accomplish more? What if you did what little you can every day you can? What if you didn't worry about how hard you worked out, but focused instead on how regularly you worked out?

It's worth a look. Doing less more often can get more done.

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