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February 4, 2020

How Much Can You Do in a Day? - #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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"If you love life, don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of."

Bruce Lee, Hong Kong-American Actor 

Reflecting on My Day

It was around 10 p.m. when I finally sat down to take stock of my day. As I ran through the day's To-Do list, I suddenly felt defeated. I had only managed to check off 11 of the 20 items on my list.  

That night I lay awake, wondering why I had become so ineffective. When I was younger, it seemed like I could do an almost impossible number of things in a day. What's gone wrong? What is wrong with me?

As my mind spiraled, the word "wrong" seemed to constantly appear in my thoughts and reflections. "Wrong, wrong, wrong." The word echoed around my head. 

Breaking Point

When I finally fell asleep, I dreamed of not being able to escape a burning house. I woke up crying and thrashing to get the "burning" duvet off me. Alarmed at the state I was in, my husband, in the middle of the night, declared, "You can't go on like this. Up to here, and now no further." 

The next morning, I protested against his suggestion that I should drop some of my activities. He calmly asked if I would mind sharing the previous day's To-Do list with him.

As we went through the tasks, he asked me how long it would take to complete each activity. The total came to 16 hours. That meant 16 hours without a break, without time to eat, without even going for a walk.

Considering My Values 

When thinking about it realistically, I knew that I couldn't do all of that in one day. Maybe at an earlier point in my life, I would have gotten it all done. But my values have changed.

Now I spend more time with my loved ones. It's also important for me to exercise every day, to prepare a good meal from scratch, and to make a point of reading for at least 30 minutes a day.

With this new, balanced lifestyle, it was unrealistic to have a To-Do list worth 16 hours of work.

Reassessing My Productivity

I also had to admit to myself that, when I was younger, I wasn't Superwoman: I often left things to the last minute, sometimes through pure procrastination, but other times because I was over-busy. I used the power of adrenaline to maintain that impossibly high energy level. This was never a realistic long-term approach to work.

We know that hard goals are more motivating than goals that don't challenge us. However, it's up to each person to find the balance between not overreaching all the time, and having enough to do to keep you motivated.

How Much Can You Do in a Day?

During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about how much you can realistically do in a day. Here are some of the most interesting and insightful responses:

Q1. What do you think you can do in a day? Is it realistic?

@JoanaRSSousa Nowadays, I do my best to have a realistic schedule. I write a To-Do list, every day, and make sure I have time between things, so I don't have to rush.

@Yolande_MT I often think I can move mountains in a day. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can't.

Q2. In what ways do your personal standards of performance affect the volume of work you produce in a day?

@JThiefels It used to play a bigger role – I used to track my time and judge my "productivity" on how many hours I worked. Now, if I get all the high priority items on my To-Do list done, and I'm not stressed or anxious at the end of the day, I'm very happy with the day.

@PG_pmp Yes, personal standards of performance affect the outcome... so I believe in continuous improvement to increase productivity.

Q3. How much does the organization's (or team's) culture play into the workload you take on in a day?

@GThakore Leadership and teamwork have a major influence. The moment you feel that you are an asset to your team... your performance doubles.

@carriemaslen A patient manager helped me make the mental switch from quantity of work to quality. It's not about activity level, it's about results.

Q4. What impacts upon you not doing all that you planned to do in a day?

@realDocHecht If something gets in the way or laziness. Sometimes I just need to sit down and rest and then it's hard to keep going.

@Mphete_Kwetli The lack of actionable plans.

Q5. Is getting things done all down to discipline and self-control, or a lack thereof? Why or why not?

@J_Stephens_CPA We interact in a human world which has many variables.  Urgent and important can come up unexpectedly. Others can bring you interruptions and you need to be present to them‪.

@yehiadief Flexibility is a kind of discipline, but too much “self-flexibilty” can become out of control.

Q6. What role does being in a state of flow play on how much you get done?

@SayItForwardNow Being in a state of FLOW means that I am not resisting the work I am doing, but finding ways to ENJOY it.

@shamikv Flow is KPI of passion. It’s [the] power behind effortless success.

Q7. What strategies do you use to get more accomplished in your day?

@JKatzaman Set aside time for what you want to do and preferably for how long. That builds refreshing breaks into the schedule.

@SizweMoyo I write a list of things that need to be completed today, a list of things that need to be completed in general, and also prepare for what I could do if I can't complete a scheduled task. I've found that I get more done this way.

Q8. Why can we do so much before we go on leave? What can we learn from that?

@Midgie_MT I see that rush to get things done before leave due to wanting to not leave any loose ends or "unfinished business". We can create that sense of deadline also for regular work weeks.

@DrRossEspinoza Perhaps we think faster because we are thinking of the gratification we are about to have, perhaps we get more practical and see things clearly without attaching too much.

Q9. How do you decide when to end your workday? What factors do you consider?

@lg217 My workday ends once I feel a sense of accomplishment. Once you feel good about where you are at when the day ends, then your day is done.

@MicheleDD_MT If there’s an immovable deadline, I work until I am done. Then I reward myself.

Q10. We need to work smarter, not harder. What does working smarter look like?

@MarkC_Avgi THINK!! Find better ways to accomplish your tasks, whether it is through technology, people or new methods. This idea of working smarter is nothing new. My late father always told me to work smarter, not harder, when I was growing up.

@harrisonia Working smarter is saying NO (or not right now) when others commit you to projects or infringe on your time.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of the whole chat.

Coming Up

You need to be assertive to manage your time well. The topic of our next #MTtalk chat is “Assertive, Aggressive or Arrogant?” In our Twitter poll this week, we’d like to know which of the given characteristics you most associate with assertiveness.


In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed:

In Flow

How to Start Your Day

How Can I Stop Procrastinating?

Finding the Right Work Life Balance

Physical Relaxation Techniques

Effective Scheduling

How to Be Conscientious


How to Get More Done in Less Time

Managing Conflicting Priorities

Is This a Morning Task?

Managing Interruptions

Minimizing Distractions


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