Leveraging The Power Of Time Constraint To Get More Done

Finding contentment amid snow and ice

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of less lately. Living on less money was the origin point of this reflection and it’s where I began my journey. I learned how to live on less money and how to thrive as a result. It’s sheer liberation to live on less money (a concept I riff on all the time around here), and it leads you to financial stability, independence, and ultimately total freedom from worrying about money.

After coming to this realization a few years ago, I began to apply these same principles–of wanting less, of needing less, of being truly content with less–to other areas of my life. I recently wrote about my latest foray into the minimalism of my stuff when I did a whole-house de-cluttering project, which resulted in me getting rid of a bunch of unneeded stuff and, as a result, reducing my stress level.

Parallel to using less money and less stuff is my investigation into using less time. Or more accurately, getting more done in less time and not wasting time doing things I don’t enjoy.

You Have Enough Time And Enough Money

Choose your highest and best priorities… and apples!

My belief is that extreme frugality is a question of using both your money and your time only in pursuit of the things that matter most to you. Ultimately:

You can afford to buy the things that are most important to you and you have enough time to do the things that are most important to you. In order to do this, however, you have to eliminate all of the unimportant time and money drains from your life. There are also, of course, many caveats for privilege, which I discuss here and here.

The money part of this was easier for me: I just stopped buying stupid stuff (ok it’s a tad more complicated and you can follow my exact steps in my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge). The time aspect, however, presents more of a conundrum, especially since Mr. Frugalwoods and I are the parents of two very young children (one of whom was born last month!).

However, in a great twist of irony, I’ve found that I actually get more done now that I have less time. My days are firmly constrained by the schedule of a toddler and a newborn. There’s not a lot of room for error and yet, somehow, I find that I’m able to accomplish more of what I want to accomplish than I ever did pre-kids.

Leveraging The Power Of Constraint

Babywoods created a seat from a woodpile

I thought I was a little crazy for thinking this until I started having similar conversations with other parents of young kids who’ve also made tremendous professional and personal leaps under the time (and money and emotional) constraints imposed by parenting. I’m using “parenting” as my example because that’s where I’m at in my life right now, but you could substitute any number of classic time constraints, such as: starting a business, going back to school while working, developing a side hustle, pursuing a challenging hobby/sport… you get the picture.

Then I read the book, Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined, which further illustrated for me that there really is something to achieving at a high level while experiencing major constraints, either on your time, your money, or any other resource. So I started thinking about how to apply these principles to my own life.

Before having kids, I wasted inordinate amounts of time doing the following:

  1. World-class stressing out about random, meaningless things, especially as they related to my job at the time (a standard 9-to-5 office situation).
  2. Being anxious that I wasn’t accomplishing enough with my time (I’m not kidding; very meta).
  3. Reaching for perfection in EVERYTHING I did. Like I could not just clean the bathroom, I had to scrub the bathroom as though surgery needed to happen in there (newsflash: it did not).
  4. Wasting WAY too much time on daily maintenance activities. These are the things we need to do on a regular, repeated basis and which, if allowed to run unchecked, will in fact gobble every second of our discretionary time. Examples include:
    • Laundry
    • Housework
    • Personal grooming
    • Commuting
    • About 19 million other things when you have kids: diapers, feeding, baths, washing hands and faces, dressing, blowing noses, playtime, etc
  5. Watching TV and drinking wine. After a hearty day of doing items 1-4, I’d sink into the couch thinking “poor me” and enjoy some Trader Joe’s wine while watching TV.

I couldn’t seem to ever buckle down and get things done because I was spending so much time worrying about other things that I should perhaps be doing instead. Now, I frankly do not have the time to do anything on the above list. I do still watch TV with my husband, though much less, I do still drink wine, though much less, and OF COURSE I still stress out about stuff, but it’s quite diminished on account of… you guessed it… not having enough time!

I wrote a book using the power of constraint

I’ve also realized that my opportunities for doing things other than daily maintenance activities are quite limited. I could, in truth, spend all day every day doing nothing other than keeping our little family going. And this is with an equal parter who does all of this work alongside me (not to mention that he does ALL of the cooking).

Even still, if I wasn’t ruthless about my time, I’d find myself wiping counters and noses all day long. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but there’s more that I want to do with my time. I love my work. I love to write. So, I wrote a book this past year, and I write this blog. Surrounding this writing work, I do interviews, mastermind sessions, speak at conferences, mentor, and more.

When my first daughter was born two years ago, I didn’t do any work for a month or so following her birth and I sunk into a depression of sorts. Through that experience, I learned that I need to pursue projects I’m passionate about. In order to be a balanced, well-rounded, happy, fulfilled person, I need to write. I need to follow my calling of challenging people to be better with their money, of encouraging people to take charge of their finances, and of demystifying what it means to live a financially stable life.

Doing More With Less

I am shocked that I’ve been able to do more in the two years since becoming a parent than I ever did before and I attribute this to the inherent constraints on my time.

The cutest constraint on my time

I once wrote over 2,000 words in 20 minutes because that’s all the time I had before I needed to go pick Babywoods up from preschool (to be clear, I had to majorly edit this later on, but the key is that I got it down on paper). My book was largely written in hour-long increments. I didn’t have the luxury of going on a writer’s retreat for a week or spending full days writing or even of having an interrupted afternoon to write. Instead, I squeezed my writing into naptimes and after Babywoods went to bed and all the other little moments of each day that present themselves.

At this very moment, for example, I’m writing at the kitchen table while Babywoods intermittently romps around the house, sits beside me and plays with play-doh, and reads books with Mr. FW. My work/life balance is unusual and highly fluid, but it’s also convenient for me, allows me to do the things I want to do, and spend lots of time with my daughters.

Knowing that my time is always limited–at present, I have about 15 minutes before we need to get dressed for church–prompts me to get more done in less time. I don’t have the luxury of procrastination or hesitation or scrolling through Facebook for half an hour before settling down to write (something I used to do every time I opened my computer). It sounds overly simplistic, but it’s honestly no more complicated than that.

The Seven Steps To Getting More Done In Less Time

(…at least, the 7 steps I’ve discovered. Probably there are more, but hey, 7 seemed like a lot)

1) Ruthless prioritization

Identify your highest and best goals every single day and work only in service of those goals. This one’s short because only you can identify your highest and best priorities. It’s exactly like spending money only on what matters most to you. Set those priorities and then…

2) Eliminate unnecessary tasks

This is an old photo of me with my first daughter, looking very, uh, real. As you can see, not a lot of fabulous grooming on a daily basis ;)… and that’s Mr. FW’s bathrobe I’m wearing.

These tasks are also known as anything that didn’t make it onto your list in step #1. The quickest way to fail is to try and do everything. So while, yeah, I’m talking about tapping into your internal ability to do more, I am not talking about doing it all. Kind of like how you cannot spend your money on everything and still expect to create a life of financial stability, you similarly need to let go of stuff that you don’t need to do.

For me, most of these unnecessary tasks actually take very little time individually, but they tally up to a fair amount of time over the course of a day and a week. By giving myself permission to stop reaching for perfectionism and stop trying to do everything that pops into my head, I’m able to recall the ruthless prioritization of step #1.

Here’s a quick list of stuff I don’t do anymore:

  • Look fabulous on a daily basis. I’ll be honest here, I save a lot of time by not fixing my hair, not wearing makeup, not painting my nails… the list goes on. I get dressed up on occasion, but what I recognized is that getting dressed up on a daily basis wasn’t a priority and was consuming a lot of my time. Sure, maybe only 30 minutes per day, but people, that’s 3.5 hours per week!!!! Do you know how much I can get done in 3.5 hours?! A lot.
  • Maintain a constantly clean home. Our house is not clean all the time. That’s all there is to it. Mr. FW and I tidy up together every night and we both clean as we go from room to room throughout the day, but in terms of deep cleaning? Doesn’t happen all that often. And that’s ok.
  • …now I can’t think of anything else, probably because once I stopped doing it, I forgot about it… which means I shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place!

3) Dedicate your time and don’t deviate

I’m writing this paragraph during Babywoods’ afternoon nap because her nap time is my 100% dedicated writing time. The house is quiet, no one needs me, I am happily and in solitude at my laptop writing. But it’s not like there aren’t other things I COULD be doing right now. There are always other things to be doing. The crucial factor is that this block of time is already committed.

Dedicate your time in advance

Determine what you’ll do when and then write it in your calendar or make a to do list or promise yourself that you will identify the highest and best way to use your time during specific blocks and then do it. Don’t be tempted to do ANYTHING else. This is hard for me and so I often think of myself as operating with blinders on during these dedicated times.

If I were to walk through my house right now–at this very moment–I would be able to find at least 19 things to do that would occupy the remainder of Babywoods’ afternoon nap. I’d see that there are dirty dishes in the sink, I’d notice I need to make more bread, I’d then clean the counter and probably sweep the kitchen floor too. Moving into the living room, I’d pick up toys for awhile before drifting upstairs and noting that I could get a jump on the laundry.

Yes, this stuff all needs to get done at some point, but right now is not the dedicated time for this stuff. I will put away dirty dishes while Babywoods plays in the other room and I will have her come watch me make bread (an activity she finds fascinating), Mr. FW will pick up all the toys after Babywoods goes to bed tonight, and Monday mornings are my dedicated time block for doing the laundry.

This approach does mean that I have to live in some discomfort right now as I sit at my laptop–I have to accept that there are in fact undone chores and things that will, at a later time, demand my attention. In the past, I absolutely could not abide this discomfort and so I’d fritter away my hours flitting from one chore to the next, never giving myself the opportunity to settle into meaningful work.

By dedicating my time in advance, I’m able to stay on track and accoplish my highest priority tasks every day. Some weeks, I prioritize writing and it’s basically all I do in every spare moment. Other weeks, I need to clean the house or run a bunch of errands or weed the vegetable garden. My priorities vary, but dedicating my time in advance is the constant. There’s also a great deal of spontaneity in my life since toddlers (and newborns!) have a way of changing their minds about what they’d like to do on a dime, which brings me to my next tenet…

4) Be agile

Ok I realize I just outlined how I rigidly dedicate my time in advance, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t always work out that way on account of people not napping or being sick or needing snuggles during a time that they are normally independently playing… and so, I’m agile. Some might say frenetic, but I think agile sounds better. I will often hop from task to task until I land on something that suits our present situation.

Babywoods… super not interested in what I had planned at that moment

For example, say I’d planned to load the dishwasher while Babywoods played on her own, but she is livid that’s not going to happen. In that case, I’d redirect us upstairs to her room where she can investigate different toys and I can put away her clean laundry. Then, halfway through putting away laundry, Babywoods’ll decides she’s done with that activity, so we’ll pop back downstairs and bake some bread. Next, we’ll sit down together and read a few books, which will prompt her to want to read on her own.

While she reads books (out loud–very loudly–to herself), I’ll sit next to her and respond to emails. Eventually I’ll circle back to those dirty dishes and clean laundry, but in the interim, rather than waste time, we pivot from task to task. I will not say that this is an ideal mode of existence for my linear, efficiency-oriented brain, but I will say that it does allow me to get a lot done. This agility and ability to task-shift is something I’ve cultivated while parenting because kids are often in need of a change of scenery or a mood reset or a cuddle. In this same vein, I’ve learned to…

5) Acknowledge every window of time as an opportunity to get something done

I used to think I needed massive chunks of time at my disposal in order to accomplish anything. However through constraint, I’ve realized that I can get a lot done in 15 minutes. A LOT. I was talking to my sister–a working mother of three–on the phone the other day (while we both multi-tasked) and suddenly she said, “Ok, I’ve got to go because I have 15 minutes alone in the house before the kids get back.”

I immediately agreed and got off the phone because the amount you can accomplish in a house sans children in 15 minutes is ASTRONOMICAL. Probably you could discover a cure for cancer. It’s likely you could figure out how to colonize Mars. Doubtless, you could write half a blog post, clean your entire kitchen, race through all of your email, and start a load of laundry. It sounds ridiculous until you try it. When you leverage every window of time, it is profound how much you’ll get done. The caveat is that you might need to make some concessions in how well these tasks are done, which brings me to…

6) Letting go of perfection

To be clear: these tasks are not all going to be done perfectly and you’re going to discover a dehydrated piece of partially toddler-chewed green pepper embedded under a couch cushion (I don’t know how these things happen to me… ) and you will need to edit that blog post and you might’ve missed a few socks when loading the washer, but, the crucial element is that you accomplished at least 80% of the task at hand. That remaining 20%? That elusive ‘perfect’? Forget about it. Let it go.

Letting go of perfection: some bread I baked that, uh, broke in half. Ate it anyway.

It’s difficult for me to even write that as a constantly recovering perfectionist (can I just say I’m “living with a perfection addiction?”), but I try to remember this mantra every day. In truth, I am nearly tortured right now by the knowledge that there’s a miasma of salt and pepper on my left kitchen countertop, which I failed to clean up after lunch. But I am allowing it to sit there, in all its salt and peppery-ness, while I sit here and write. Also I just looked down and realized there’s yogurt smeared on the front of my sweater. But I will not waste time going upstairs to change clothes (also let’s be honest, more food will get smeared on me before day’s end) because this is dedicated writing time.

I will myself on a daily basis not to go down the spiral of perfectionism, not to run around with my dust pan trying to coax every last piece of detritus into the trash can, not to berate myself for imperfectly written words and typos and emails not responded to and interviews I could’ve done better. Because what’s the point? I used to strive for 100% success in everything, which meant I did very little. It’s tremendously time consuming to be 100% perfect; so, you can do one thing per day perfectly, or you can do a million things per day mostly OK. I get bored doing the same thing all day long anyway, so that was a failed approach for me to begin with.

7) Know when to stop and rest 

This right here is perhaps the hardest step of all. When you’re on that treadmill of your daily activities, it’s WAY too easy to just sort of keep going… on into the night… on into the wee hours… on until 1am! Eek! Yep, you guessed it, yet another thing I used to do that brought me nothing but grief. If my work was good at 6pm, shouldn’t I continue until 11pm? NO!

Our bedroom: a haven for rest

Another wonderful change that extreme frugality, and then parenting, brought for us was the enshrinement of “evening time together” (that’s dumb-sounding, but I don’t have a better name for it… ) and a set bedtime. Every night at 7:30pm, Mr. FW and I stop what we’re doing, sit down, eat dinner together, and watch exactly one television show while cuddling on the couch. Then, we clean up the kitchen and get in bed by 9pm.

Of course there are nights when this doesn’t pan out–when Mr. FW has a board meeting for one of the nonprofits he volunteers with or when we’re over at a friends’ house for dinner or when I have an evening conference call–but on the whole, this is our nightly routine. It’s forced relaxation and decompression, which sounds weird, but totally works!! If I’m all wired up and frazzled from being toddler-ized all day and falling behind on writing and etc, etc, etc, it astounds me how calm I become after eating dinner with my husband and going to bed on time. Simple, no frills, and a surefire way to set myself up for a good next day.

We do this by the clock–7:30pm for dinner and 9pm for bed–because that’s easiest for us. But you could identify any other metric for when you need to cease for the day and allow yourself to surrender to the undone. My OB recently told me that “nothing good happens after 42 weeks of pregnancy” and I like that so much that I’ve decided “nothing good happens after 7:30pm in my home.” I’m too tired, too taxed, and too done by that point for productivity. Best to accept that fact and sink into the knowledge that I lived a full day and that I’ll have another chance tomorrow–starting very early since we live on toddler time around here :).

Constraint: The Best Motivator

There is no motivator like constraint because you’re left with few options other than: a) get it done, or, b) don’t get it done. I have limited choices in how I use my time, but that also means I have less room for error and more impetus to sit down and get right down to it. I used to be a pro at waffling, hesitation, contemplation, procrastination, and worry. I’d run through this full panoply of emotions before bothering to ever actually get started on the task at hand. This is how I spent years talking about being a writer without ever writing a word. Oh yes, let me tell you, it is highly possible to do that.

I’ve said before that I think spending is like a gas, by which I mean it’ll expand to fill whatever space you give it. Time works in much the same way. If I give myself an hour to clean the bathroom, it’ll take a full hour. Conversely, if I need to squeeze the exact same job into 20 minutes? It’ll get done in 20 minutes.

Mr. FW and Babywoods on a hike

Before having kids, I wondered if I’d lose my capacity to pursue my own interests after they were born. And my life is radically different and my time is much less discretionary, but I’m shocked at my ability to accomplish. I don’t say this to talk about how awesome I am, but rather to expose this bizarre power of leveraging constraint to achieve.

Rather than viewing constraints as minimizing, I’m starting to see them as propellants to the next level. Constraints can translate into opportunities and ways to eliminate the mentality of defeat. I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about how I might fail because I don’t have the time. I fail a lot (at a higher rate than ever before), but I’m more resilient and better able to move onto my next project, thanks to constraint. I used to surrender to limiting beliefs and put all kinds of restrictions on myself–now, I’ve largely let those go in favor of bolding charging forward and doing the stuff I want to do.

How do you leverage the power of constraint to do more?

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86 Responses

  1. I love this post as I struggle with time like every other person. I’m still detoxing from the constant, nagging stress to do more now that I’m semi-FIRE’D. What I’m finding is that taking a mid-day nap is really what’s important. Time to do nothing, or maybe just light reading. I’m trying to contain the inner voice that’s always screaming “you’re not being productive!!”.

    • Kristine says:

      I am so jealous of your mid-day nap! That’s just about the only reason I’d want to FIRE. But then I think about all the rest of the time, and about how I enjoy my job, and decide it makes my Sunday afternoon nap all the sweeter. 🙂

  2. Steph says:

    Wow! I was always thought I was crazy thinking I could accomplish more when I had less time. In college, I didn’t think I’d have the time for a part time job. But once I got one, my grades went up, and I was so much more productive. Now in my career, I thought I was just “too busy” to work overtime at work. Now that I started working an extra 10-15 hrs a week, I realize just how much I can get done at work and home in a day.
    Feels like productivity begets productivity!

  3. Mrs. Kiwi says:

    What perfect timing. My households’ schedule and responsibilities are in a major period of change right now. My husband just went back to school for husband PhD after working for nearly a decade, and that job comes with lots of freedom and vague expectations. He could spend every hour of every day reading, but in reality that wouldn’t be all that helpful. He has the luxury of picking when he does most work, so he hasn’t identified the most productive block of time for him (9-11 am) and focuses on the important stuff then. (No email, no calls, no wandering the house looking for a snack.)
    I’ve worked hard to not need perfection and a fully clean house. It’s helped ground me to get more done that I truly care about.

  4. This is reminiscent of my high school days when I first realized the power of time constraint. Whenever I had a full plate and was part of a sports team, the business club and working or babysitting on the side, I studied more efficiently and my grades bumped up a few % points. But when I was free of after-school activities (offseason for sports, no club or after school job), I wasted time, pushed studying late into the night and noticed my grades drop a few % points. It was never drastic, but it quickly made me realize the benefits of time constraints (especially with my Type A personality) and importance ruthless prioritization (although I didn’t use such a cool term back then) when time constraints start squeezing me into “efficiency mode”.

  5. This is slightly off topic, but I’m kind of in a strange situation since I have LOTS of time, so I feel almost unconstrained. This is because I was fortunate enough to FIRE back in 2012.

    We downsized our house in the burbs to a downtown Philly apartment, so I have have zero maintenance work. I no longer have a job I have to got to, so no commute, no meetings, and no cube farms. I don’t have a car anymore because I bike or walk to almost all places, so no driving or car maintenance. My two sons are adults, so no childcare.

    I have a sense of freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want. I realize that this is a rare position of privilege and I’m very grateful.

  6. Thank you for the great guide, Mrs. Frugalwoods! I feel like I waste a lot of time on multiple mundane daily tasks like taking a shower, doing the dishes, and commuting.

    Sometimes I get super upset wondering if there’s anything else in life I can do. However, part of me also thinks it’s life. I should feel happy I have the energy and time to do those seemingly meaningless tasks. Overall, however, I’m trying to declutter my living space and my schedule. I just cleaned out out pantry and closet the other day. There was SO much trash and expired food sitting there for months!

  7. Great read, it explains why I always waited to the last minute to write papers in college. Well, it at least justifies my excuse for doing so, ‘I write better under pressure.’

    I’m glad number 7 made the list as this is my biggest struggle. I tend to get passionate about something and throw all my free time (also have 2 kids, so it’s not as free as it once was) into what I’m working on. But this approach always leads to burnout. Finding balance and even forcing downtime is such an important part of long term success.

    Great read!

  8. Nichole says:

    I love this! You realize how precious time is when you have so little of it. I’ve heard it said that the worst thing you can tell an engineer is there are no constraints.

    PS #4 Be agile definitely speaks to me as the mom of a two-year-old!

  9. Great article! I loved your reference to being a “constantly recovering perfectionist”, as I feel it aptly describes the struggle of this Type-A personality as well.

    “Reaching for perfection” takes an inordinate amount of time, as you so eloquently stated. While my affinity for perfection has never challenged the dedication to frugality in the FFP household, it certainly has my own personal level of productivity.

    Mrs. FFP and I are still working on trying to ruthlessly prioritize our time. Part of this for us is renewing a focus on minimalism and de-cluttering. Though our efforts in these areas have helped, it’s still far too easy to become sidetracked in today’s world.

    Sometimes I wish we lived in a location more remote than merely the country outside of a small community, as I feel it would help limit much of the time constraints we experience due to social obligations. No matter how many discussions we have about cutting back on them, it seems we always have multiple engagements per week, which interfere with our ability to pursue what we feel is important. Then again, as an introvert this might just be my inner hermit talking!

    Despite being a new parent for a second time over, do you feel that living in a more remote location helps at all with your time management, or vice versa?

  10. Mimi says:

    Mrs. Frugalwoods, I don’t believe that your husband is real, he works full time, he does all the outside work, he grows the vegetables, he does all the cooking, helps you clean, and helps with the kids – MAGICAL!!! Can we get a post from him on how he manages everything? I could learn a lot from that man and so could my husband 😉 ok, now I feel bad for asking more of him….

    • Caroline Bowman says:

      he’s a lot like legions of women all over the world really, who do all this and be pregnant at the same time quite often. They’re obviously a fantastic team and I think at least some of it is to do with him being physically there, as in, working from home. Travel to and from work, being out of the home and literally not present would definitely limit a lot of people in traditional jobs from doing more home admin, whether male or female. Then of course it becomes habit and these tend to get entrenched over time. If both parents are physically there, it’s less helping and more just working cooperatively.

      It used to wind me up almost to raised blood pressure when older generation women married to what can only be described as inanimate objects who hadn’t lifted a finger OTHER than simply rising in the morning and going to work and very, very occasionally the odd ”manly chore” over weekends, now retired and complete wastes of space, would exclaim and marvel at my husband when he… participates in cooking and can even hang out laundry. ”Does he babysit often”. No. No he co-parents all the time that we are both home and on his own if I am out… and I do it if he’s out.

      I may be writing an essay!

      • Laurie says:

        LOL! I’m not a parent, but it sends me through the roof when men my age grump that they have to ‘babysit’ their own children.
        Of all the *BLEEPing* things to say.
        Or even better, “My wife said I couldn’t go out because I have to mow the lawn/do dishes/tidy up the livingroom….”
        Argh! NOT any kind of relationship I’d ever be in (for longer than it took me to see it!)

      • GrowMadGreen says:

        I can see your pain! This old-fashioned mentality is so unfortunate, and I can’t stand the kinds of people who continue to enable it (of which, sadly, there are still many).

    • MS Barb says:

      Mimi–that is a good suggestion for Mr. Frugalwoods to share how he manages his time! It would be interesting to hear from a male perspective!

  11. Lynn123 says:

    You’re an inspiration, thank you!

  12. Jess says:

    This was a really great read, thank you! I’m definitely more efficient if I have some time constraint at the end if the day, instead of letting work stretch out forever into the evening. And learning to not write perfect emails and agonize over the tone of every word is also a useful skill that falls in line with what you wrote about not requiring perfection.

    I think that some tasks naturally require more time. I can bang out an email in a short time if I force myself, but writing something creative or working on a problem tends to take more time, at least for me. It takes time to “load” the context into my brain, get the thinking juices flowing, and actually output something. So maybe the task should be carefully chosen to suit the window of time available.

  13. Pratheeba says:

    Great post and I agree that I’m so much better at time management after kids. Because I know I have very little time available to get each of the stuff done.

  14. My husband would fight hard against your #5 but I’ve sided with you on the issue. Pockets of time can be very productive no matter what. 15 minutes is a lot of time to get something done and for me, I always always feel AMAZING after the spurt of motivation and productivity.

    We all get the same 24 hours and I’ve seen single moms, working, supporting themselves, raising kids, paying bills and it makes me clustered with wonder. Same 24 hrs but a mountain of tasks accomplished. All by the power of constraint.

  15. This is a place where having a kid – and subsequently reducing my hours at work – forced me into time constraints I wasn’t used to. I thought I was always so busy before, but I’ve come to realize I can now get the same amount of work done in less time (now that I don’t have a choice). Cutting my hours to 80% time, while keeping *most* of my job duties, was the best thing I’ve done in the past few years.

  16. Laura Lee says:

    As a stay at home mom, whose husband works full time, and a homesteader and trying to have a farm that earns us some money, my biggest time suckbis interruptions. I am constantly interrupted by my Littles when working on projects. And trying to do some things with the Littles results in major frustration, for instance, planting seedlings, the mess, the seeds all over, bahhh, this wasn’t such a big deal as a homesteader, but as a farmer, I struggle with not having blocks of time. Yes 15 minutes by myself with no children, wowzer, I can get so much done, so efficiently! It is having the 15 minute blocks that is the challenge!

  17. I agree, it’s crazy how time constraints can help you get things done. It’s like when you don’t have time to dread/worry/over analyze things, you just get things done instead.

    That being said, I’m also a firm believer in not wearing the “badge of honor” for being overly busy. We shouldn’t try to compete with each other or try to out busy other people. It’s okay to just say no. Everyone has their different comfort level and life situations that dictate how busy they must be, but there is also value in slowing down and not forcing yourself to be busy for the sake of being busy.

  18. Teresa says:

    This is all so true! I have a home daycare and get so much more done with 12 kids under 5 around then I do on the weekends! I would also add that a good routine makes a huge difference in getting things done. I don’t even realize I’m starting the laundry or unloading the dishwasher every morning, I have made these things so automatic that it would never cross mind to “do it later” or not at all.

  19. Bethany says:

    I’ve discovered the exact same thing! Before we had our baby, the dishes would pile up by the sink, sometimes for days. Since baby was a few months old, though, the dishes have been done EVERY SINGLE DAY. That’s because if I don’t do it during her naptime, it won’t get done. Then it will pile up, and I *really* won’t have time to get it done.

  20. Carol says:

    Working only party time and being older with no children at home means we have plenty of time to do things but so easy to put them of for another day. I keep a running list of maintenance and cores that need to be done. This is kept on the fridge and is a reminder of what needs doing. I think a list is fabulous as it motivates you to actually DO the chores and rewarding to cross them off once done.

  21. Kari says:

    I really like this post. I’ve always found that when I am really busy I get so much done, but when I have a big chunk of free time, I accomplish nearly nothing. Now I am retired and the kids are gone. I have many things I want to do, but feel like getting little of it done. I plan to review this post and apply it so that I can focus on what actually matters to me.

  22. Emily says:

    Great post! After kids, I work from home about 10-15 hrs/week. A similar struggle for me is accurately assessing the amount of work I can get done in various pockets of time (while maintaining my sanity and a baseline pleasantness). Because I find my work compelling and enjoyable, I have a hard time turning down projects and take on too much. It’s a work in progress!

  23. Candace says:

    It’s funny – I find on those rare occasions when I have a big chunk of time, it’s almost paralyzing. I can’t decide in which direction to jump. On another note, although I’m sure the bread was delicious, if you want to avoid breakage – put a parchment paper “sling” in the pan. Just a strip of parchment paper across the wide sides of the pan with some left over so you can use that to pull the bread out rather than turning it over and dumping it out.

  24. Brook says:

    I am so relieved to hear that I no longer need to scrub for surgery. I need permission to relax. Being a perfectionist has harmed me in so many ways. Thanks.

  25. Tracy says:

    These also work for managing illness! I’ve done little bits and pieces of those seven steps without realizing, and they’ve definitely helped. But reading this was the perfect prompt to take a closer look in an organized fashion, and recognize that they’ll really help me better manage my time…and in turn heal faster, thank you!

  26. Oh my gosh, yes. I notice exactly the same thing at my job. During summer when I have no teaching duties, it takes sooo much longer to finish tasks, even with all that extra time suddenly freed up in my schedule.

    By contrast, now that I am in the lab with students 20 hours of the week + correcting lab reports/preparation, I find that I get so much more done in whatever hour I can scavenge in between. It is a very frustrating paradox, but very true!

  27. Olivia says:

    This is awesome. Sometimes I procrastinate on the blog by doing really useless things instead of writing or fixing up content. It makes me feel good and is easier than other things, so I guess that’s why I do it! I need to do some form of Pomodoro technique it seems.

    Maybe if I write in 30 minute increments, with 5 minute breaks, it’d be much easier to accomplish everything. Your do get more mentally tired throughout the day though, so hardest tasks should be done first in the day I feel.

  28. Love this Liz. Reminds me a lot of Parkinson’s Law – that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
    BTW I heard you on the Afford Anything podcast, great stuff!

  29. GettingThere says:

    Ahhh yes – as a working mom who also has 2 kids, I call this “time optimization.” It’s amazing how the days you prioritize feel so much more productive than the days you are flailing about trying to put out every fire instead of the top 2 or 3 you have decided are most significant. I could spend endless hours on laundry, tidying the house, etc. I really need to work on staying focused on each day’s Top 1-3 tasks instead of getting lost in the minutiae and then ultimately wasting time and feeling burned out and like I can never stay in the proverbial saddle.

  30. Iris says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t. Newly retired, (unpaid) treasurer for a religious congregation, and still figuring it out.

    I do just have to say, though, that I have not read every single word of this post, but the one thing that jumps out at me is that ASTONISHINGLY ORANGE hat. Looks like Photoshop was at work. Blinding. If that is for real, no worry about hunters.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Haha, yep, that’s the actual color of the hat! It’s called “blaze orange” and is worn during all hunting seasons 🙂

  31. So much yas to this! I’ve been dealing with time management issues ever since I expanded my freelancing. At first it felt like I had zero time. But like you mention, it’s not an absence of time that’s the problem, it’s an absence of focus, motivation, and discipline. If you carve out the time to do the important things, they will happen.

  32. Julie Tucker says:

    I’m semi-retired and work 4-5 months a year; my job is quite stressful so I’m good at letting go of perfection during that time. However, the other 7 -8 months, I feel that because I’m not working that I should be able to accomplish everything with a capital E! It is so hard to stop doing that and beating myself up. I most enjoy working in my gardens when weather permits and I do have days set aside where I go outside as soon as it is warm enough and stay out there until I can’t move. Whatever time is left, I will move onto chores inside. I believe it is even more difficult for women to say that the house is clean enough because there is always more to be done.

  33. Oh yeah as someone with 4 kids, every moment is an opportunity to get some things done. Or veg out… which I still enjoy, but I find myself feeling unaccomplished after too much time watching a movie or playing a videogame. Often the push to do the stuff that needs to be done is tough, but knowing that I only have X minutes to do Y before Z and A and B wake up from their naps, or until C needs to get to the bus stop or D needs driven to kindergarten is motivation enough to get things done.

    I too often save the house chores for when the kids are awake and wreaking havoc and the computer chores for when they are asleep since the former is not really an activity that requires a whole lot of concentration and the latter can be disrupted by one little whine.

  34. GrowMadGreen says:

    I can so relate to this Mrs. Frugalwoods! I lost my job a few months ago and it’s scary how the time seems to fly by being home alone all day, and how few things I seem to be able to accomplish. It’s something I’m working on, so your advice and article are much appreciated right now.

  35. Jane says:

    Very relevant post for me as a work-at-home mum with a newborn and a toddler. And I love the word “toddlerized”. I will be using that. 😉

  36. Pat Pickett says:

    This is great it works for you! Honest! I do have a question: is this kind of scheduling a fit for all personalities? On the Myers Briggs I’m ENFP and I can assure you that I would never be able to live under a strict schedule of any kind. While I do have to submit to a fair amount of scheduling because of my job and others’ needs – when it comes to my time – it is painful to do the same thing twice in just the same way every time, every day. I’m not wired that way BUT I do accomplish a great deal. What I really like about the ideas here is the discussion about de-cluttering. Keep up the good work!

  37. MS Barb says:

    I went back to college when my youngest of 4 turned four–one of my single college classmates came over & she commented that my house was clean & organized… I laughed & told her that I only cleaned on school breaks! Also, thatI had decluttered my home before returning to school, & that I was very organized. The less STUFF you have, the less there is to take care! I had a master grocery list; a list of meals to make (used my crock pot a lot) did laundry Friday nights & Saturdays… I told the kids that I went off duty at 10P & they couldn’t interrupt my studies unless there was blood, someone stopped breathing, or the police were at the door! After I graduated, the kids were old enough to be in after school activities, and I limited them to two each, and band counted as one! The biggest help to me was when my oldest girl got her license & could help with chauffeuring! My home is 1½ miles outside of a small town & not safe for the kids to walk/ride their bikes. I was blessed to have other parents who helped me out, especially when I had 2 children scheduled for softball at the same time, in two different towns in our school district!

  38. Ginny says:

    Constraint has led to much more creativity in my life. I am Mindful of Time! Not driven just mindful. And that has led to what I call creative contrivance. We are all artists of our lives and constraint is the edge of the canvas. It’s why the movies that Hollywood made after a content code was established are the beautiful classics we watch over and over!

  39. Laronda says:

    This post really resonated with me–and clearly with plenty of others, as well! I think back to life before kids and wonder what on earth I did with all of that time–and money. We’ve become so much more frugal money-wise after becoming a one-income family, and I don’t think we would have gotten there nearly so quickly without that push. Similarly, as you said, you can accomplish sooo much in 15 minutes without your kids once you have that constraint to work within, and my husband and I are both so much more efficient with our time now than pre-kids. One area I struggle with is creating more of a routine for myself. The kids largely force routine on me, thankfully, but while my husband is very much a creature of habit, I find it much easier to get lost in a book, putzing around online or doing endless minor housekeeping–sometimes intentionally as a way to decompress, but far too often just because and for far too long. I also tend to be more spontaneous with my days–something that has worked well with stay-at-home-motherhood through 10+ years now of having someone 3 or under who is often fickle or not up to the original planned activity–but I know I do better, feel better, and accomplish more of what I want to do when I have more of a structure in place. Now to work on bringing more of that into my life!

  40. Singlemalt says:

    I went from being an owner of an a small off-grid ranch in Arizona to being a caregiver to a wife with bone cancer. In 2015 we went north to Nevada for a vacation. My wife collapsed with two broken vertebrae from the cancer.. Total shock. She couldn’t go home ever. Our place is 60 miles from the nearest town over dirt roads. To make a long story short I am now a house husband, lousy cook, and understand well your time situation. I have done something of the same with my time. I developed an ‘aw F**k it attitude’ if I thought it wasn’t necessary. The nomenclature may be crude, but it works for me…

  41. Kris says:

    I’m having trouble with dealing with time. I seem to slack off more whenever I have a 3-4 hour period to get something done but what do I first, watch youtube videos that has no real purpose for me other than getting some entertainment in. After that I have limited time to get something done like writing up a blog post. I should do the opposite where I work on something productive first then do whatever I please after.
    But if I have a 30 minute to an hour limit, I really focus to getting tasks done and no fooling around. It’s really weird like that. Just need to prioritize my time more.

  42. Christine says:

    I love this post. Funny that I am procrastinating from what I need to do as I read it. As a teacher, I am constantly thinking about work. There is always something more to be done. (Like report cards that I need to go work on soon:). I have found that setting a timer and working for a certain period of time helps me to feel more accomplished than just worrying about how much I have to do. I also set times when I am cleaning up the kitchen or picking up the house. You are right, 15 minutes is a lot of time to get stuff done. Especially when they kids aren’t around.

    Also, as hard as it is, you have to let stuff go. We both work full time and have two kids. Yes, there are dishes in my sink. Does it bother me? Yes, but who reminisces about all the cleaning they did when they are 80? Great post. Thanks!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I love this: “who reminisces about all the cleaning they did when they are 80?” I am going to remind myself of that every day!!! Thank you for sharing!

      • Carol says:

        I have a fridge magnet that says “A clean house is the sign if a wasted life” Not completely true but a reminder that you need to sieze the fun times that come up and drop the cleaning for another day

  43. Jesse says:

    Great post! I know you’re married, but could you write a post on how you would tackle dating if you weren’t married? I think you’d have a lot of awesome things to say.

  44. Lee says:

    awesome advice all around – thank you!

  45. Kay says:

    Such a great post! I think you’re absolutely right that time constraints can propel us to do what really needs to be done (NOT perfectly, but our perfectly well enough). I remember that when our kids were in high school, they generally played two or three team sports each school year (cross country, soccer, and baseball for the boys, and cross country & soccer for our daughter), which meant that they had to prioritize doing homework in between practices & games after school, and even during out of town competitions. They maintained excellent grades for the most part. But every spring, our daughter’s grades would dip a bit, because while the boys played baseball, she hated softball and wouldn’t go out for the team, so she had MORE time on her hands, and she didn’t have to make such good use of every minute during that season. Consequently, she would be distracted more with social things (this was before cell phones were ubiquitous) and didn’t focus as much on schoolwork. As a retiree, I can see in myself a similar pattern. I begin thinking that I have plenty of time to get stuff done, and then I fritter away my time on distractions, instead of having to be organized and focused as I had to be when I was working full time in a stressful job. I think need to create a sense of making the most of time so I will get more done, so I am trying to ramp up my volunteering and learning activities so I will have to move more quickly in the course of my days. A scheduled calendar can help keep me from drifting! Can anyone out there identify with this?

  46. Lindsay says:

    Oh my goodness! Thank you for taking the time to write this. I can’t tell you how helpful I found your description of balancing childcare, household, writing, etc as a recovering perfectionist. I have 2 sets of twins (the younger 2 started school in September). And as my primary role was toddler/child-wrangler during the day, I’m still trying to figure out what’s next. The constraints are still there, the school day whizzes by, but they are different from my days with toddler & babies at home. I’m finding that once again my perfectionist inner self is running the show. I’m frequently ending the week feeling exhausted & like a failure because the to do list isn’t complete. I read your post and really recognised so much of myself in your descriptions. I’m going to come back to some of these principles – prioritising & being satisfied that completing 80% of a task is often good enough. Thanks for the sound advice! And congratulations on your newest additions (baby & book!).

  47. Laura says:

    I couldn’t agree more on all these points. I’ve recently started planning to restart my online business which had been on hold for four years doing the kiddo thing, and I’ve also started a blog on my passions of food and gardening. It’s amazing what I’m getting done…and letting slide! Love the post.

  48. Cubert says:

    You must have kids! I smiled as I read this. We have twins – boy and girl, about to turn five this June. It seems to get tiny increments “easier” over time, but we still find ourselves utterly exhausted in the evenings, vegging out on the sofa to watch our YouTube clips of the late shows.

    Funny how being “retired” never implies the absence of “work”, right? At least you’re not commuting, dealing with office politics, or the reliance on a paycheck. As for finding efficiencies, stop over and check out my post on the Eisenhower Box. You could print and magnet that bad boy to your fridge! Cheers!

  49. Jill says:

    I’ve fallen in love with bullet journaling which really helps me prioritize my goals and only focus on those tasks that will help further those goals. And I agree it’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you get rid of all the unnecessary stuff you were previously spending time on.

    • Amy says:

      YES to this. Bullet journaling changed my life! The constant merry-go-round of unfinished to-do lists was demoralizing. The bullet journal is so different, though. I use mine not just for to-do lists, but also to record funny snippets of kid chatter, books I want to read, houseplants I want to try, notes from talks with kids’ teachers and therapists, etc., etc. I can’t live without mine either. Total game-changer.

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Ooooo, what’s bullet journaling? I am intrigued!

        • It’s a simple and really flexible journaling system! If you Google it, don’t get intimidated or overwhelmed by all the beautiful, artistic, interesting, and time-consuming bullet journals out there–they’re great to look at, but bullet journals absolutely do not have to be artsy. They can be extremely simple and plain, as long as they’re useful to the user. http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/

          • Amy says:

            ^What she said. When I first looked it up, I was like, WHO has time for coloring beautiful pictures in a journal for hours every day? (some of them look like art) So I used the original system and just started adding to it over time. I love how personal it is. I make it exactly what I need, and that changes day to day, week to week. And I just finished my first one and feel so proud of it. It’s like a record of my life!

  50. When I was working more (because I had a newcomer ESL student), I realized I was getting a huge amount done. Now that I’m working less (because my student moved back to PR), I am not near as efficient. I love the idea of ruthless prioritization, bullet journaling, etc. I just don’t always do it!! 🙂 But I have tried to use my windows of time more efficiently (early morning writing time means writing!). Mr. ThreeYear and I do the same thing at night–after kids are upstairs at 7:30 reading, we hang out and read/watch a show together. I love it. We on-purpose zone out. I think that helps us in getting more done at other times.

  51. Shelby says:

    You’re so right when you say you need to be able to tolerate some discomfort with letting tasks sit undone for a time while you focus on what’s in front of you. Developing agility in switching between activities is critical: being nimble is a strength borne of constraint.

  52. Kara says:

    Reality is an excellent teacher! Having children certainly has a way of making us more efficient. I get so much more done post-kids than before. When you don’t have time to trifle with all the stuff that used to seem like such a big deal, you become a streamlined machine! I had to laugh at your list of things you used to stress about, because I did the same things, and now I don’t even know why I spent the energy fretting over them. Being lightweight is so much better, isn’t it?!

  53. Mrs. Money says:

    I was thinking this morning- what did I worry about before I had kids?! I feel like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done and feel like I’m failing a lot. I have to learn to let go of perfectionism too! I’m raising children, and that’s the most important thing in the world.

  54. Linda says:

    A long time ago, I became acquainted with the saying, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy woman!”.
    How true.

  55. Go Jules Go says:

    “…now I can’t think of anything else, probably because once I stopped doing it, I forgot about it… which means I shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place!”

    This. Yes!

  56. I was always wondering why the busier I get, the more I seem to get done! I never put much thought into it. Thanks for articulating it – really puts things into perspective! 🙂

  57. I’ve always believed that people make time. Time constraints force us to be more productive and efficient. We are forced to use the 80/20 rule, which is to do the things that produce the most results. If we just do what works and skip out on the rest, then we’ll be a lot more productive in work. The time we save from that can be better spent elsewhere e.g. with our families

  58. Marij Derksen (Holland) says:

    Are you familiair with the book
    Scarcity: Why having too little means so much?
    It explains why too little time or not enough money alters your brain and has deep impact on your ability to focus.
    Very interesting!

  59. Jamie says:

    I stopped washing my hair. Initially I just used water, then I used baking soda and apple cider vinegar, now I’m onto a homemade shampoo bar + ACV. Although it does require a few minutes of scritching and preening every day, I am amazed how much time this has saved me not only trying to ‘fix it’, but also how often I shower, and how long I spend bathing. I feel like I have added hours to my week.

  60. Aaron says:

    This post really resonated. My wife and I have a 16-month-old and we’re struggling with how to maximize our efficiency. We both work at an office, so our weekends are full on: grocery shopping, making lunches and dinners for the week, and spending some time playing. Before you know it the weekend is gone. Then 5:30 – 9:00pm during the week goes by quickly as well. I suppose the main challenge for us is feeling OK with not accomplishing everything. But this seems to be a common issue for most on the FIRE path.

  61. Thom Wilson says:

    ………..you’re getting a very Zen outlook!

  62. Julie Quates says:

    Really eye opening for me. I’m a SAHM of two on a bustling homestead. I’m just flitting from one small task to the next. And realizing that I’m letting my children’s often and unpredictable needs become an excuse for never accomplishing anything of significance.
    Great post as usual and so helpful.

  63. I need to apply this notion to my current day job—-I am crazy-overworked mostly because I am very efficient at managing my time. (The problem is, if you become known at work as The Person Who Gets Things Done, then the bosses start piling everything on you. I need to be less perfectionistic and more task-completion oriented. Plus I need to hire a housecleaner, so there’s that.

  64. I read somewhere recently, “Don’t put off something you can do in 5 minutes or less,” and that has greatly helped me use my time more wisely and stay motivated. I used to put off picking up a few toys on my way to the kitchen because I wouldn’t be able to pick them all up. But using the 5-minute rule, I am able to do little bits at a time and, overall, get more accomplished.

  65. I think you and I are secret twins. I too get more done now that I work full-time with two children. It’s the abundance versus scarcity principle—scarcity forces you to take advantage of scarce resources! (ie, time!)

  66. daisy says:

    fantastic article!

  67. Lauren says:

    This article was so relevant and valuable. I am very guilty of not utilizing small blocks of time, especially at work. Sometimes I even convince myself that 30-minute spans are too short to get anything done, ridiculous! I am considering a child in the future, and was also so inspired to read that you are still able to get done most of what you need and want to do. It gives me hope!!!

  68. thakur Nitin says:

    Great article! I loved your reference to being a “constantly recovering perfectionist”, as I feel it aptly describes the struggle of this Type-A personality as well.

  69. Ian says:

    Apologies if another commenter pointed this out, but what you are describing in a round about way is Parkenson’s Law loosely being – “a task will expand to fill the time you designate for it”

  70. Cindy says:

    After alot of decluttering, simplifying, and what not, I have streamlined quite a bit. I try to take time to do-nothing-just read to the kids, play, or take walks outside with them. Honestly, sometimes I think of all the things I have to do, and as long as I make a list or put things on my schedule (groceries/events) they generally get done. What is most important to me now is that I can be there for my kids, even if I’m just reading and they are around me playing-I think they get a calming effect of being able to play without me rushing to do this or that. But I’m at a very different point of my parenting and ‘frugal living’ journey. I’ll probably do another declutter soon while the kids are on summer break-get rid of baby things my 1 year old won’t need anymore. It doesn’t help that he has a fit when I leave the room, so generally this is the time of my life I’m going to just enjoy the fact he wants me right by him and savor it. I’ll do it one bag at a time at this rate, and yes, I use my time super efficiently so I can maximize the value of every moment, while also remembering to sit down and enjoy the real things in life.

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