6 min read

Doing More vs Doing Better

Are you the kind of person trying to always throw more at your fitness problems? Well, stop it! Do better, not more.
Doing More vs Doing Better

As most people who follow my twitter account, have probably realized, I dig Seth Godin. Or at least I used to.

He just seems to stumble across great little concepts better than most people I follow.

This title is more or less based off of his title, but with an entirely different twist.

Is it really the duration of your life that matters or the quality lived?

I’ve noticed, in years of coaching, that there are certain behaviors that certain individuals elicit, some positive, some not-so-positive, and if I can help change the vital behaviors into positive behaviors, even slightly, it opens up the flood-gates of results.

One belief structure that permeates Western Culture is that if you’re not getting the results you seek then you should just ‘try harder‘ or ‘do more.’

The easiest way to account for a lack of progress at the gym, or with our eating is to assume that we’re simply not doing enough.

Therefore we often think, we’ve got to throw more at the problem.

Happens in business, happens in scholastics, happens in our personal lives.

That’s why when things are going roughly at work, we simply put in 60 hours, rather than our usual 40.

It’s why students cram before exams, putting in 12 hours of study right before a test.

It’s why people want to just exercise or diet more or harder if they aren’t gaining muscle or losing fat.

It feels intuitive. If you just do more of something, surely you'll have more success. What we don’t realize is that "doing more" is counterproductive.

More ≠ Better

The reason the 40 hour work week became the standard wasn’t by chance. Research suggested that it allowed workers to achieve an optimal balance of efficiency.

When people work 60 hours a week, they are only slightly more productive, despite spending 50% more time and after about 2 weeks of 60 hour workweeks they become less productive than those working 40 hours a week.

And newer research out of Sweden suggests that a six hour workweek might even be more productive, than what has long been the standard 4o hour workweek.

Six Hour Workday infographic

Ohio University

Like so many things in life, it's about striking a balance. Recovery from work or exercise is at least just as important as actually doing the work or exercise.

The human brain expects linear changes, but working 60 hours doesn’t make you 50% more effective, it’s maybe more like 10-15% so you’re doing all that extra work just to get a little more productivity and risk burnout after a couple of weeks of doing it. Fine maybe in a pinch to hit a deadline, but should be followed by a break.

At a certain point too much exercise is just impossible to recover from. It disturbs sleep quality/quantity. It also lowers NEAT — Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or how much you move around without necessarily deliberately doing so.

Reducing caloric intake to impossibly low levels lets your basal metabolism just adjust accordingly and lower the amount of calories your body needs to run. Too low you start losing muscle mass, mineral density in your bones and you’re probably irritable as f$#^$!

It doesn’t seem so obvious to most folks in these situations to consider:

A) Taking a break.

B) Re-thinking their approach.

Surprisingly doing less tends to help a lot better than doing more but really doing less means that you have to do it better. It's not always about what you can add to your life, but what you can subtract.

I’d rather teach someone how to get phenomenal results in 3 hours a week, than force them to dedicate 5 or 10 hours a week to training.

It’s possible, but it might require a little more learning and dedication up front.

I’d rather teach them how to use a diet break, a refeed period or a free meal to keep fat loss from stalling. Notice I don’t call it ‘cheating’ but you need some sanity in your life to do things well.

That means approaching things fresh, from a new angle, from a new perspective and generally just giving yourself permission to take some time off.

Most people in North America don’t even use close to the amount of vacation time they are allotted each year.

You don’t have to exercise like a rock start every day either. Being sore should not be a badge of honour.

Exercise & Diet Extremes

We get more extreme in the time we spend training, risk our safety a little bit more at the gym, reduce our calorie intake even more, or even go on some ridiculous over the top diet that only lets us drink a special shakes 5 times a day.

Many coaches, in my opinion, openly encourage or simply demand that you just ‘do more,’ in order to reach your goal or objective.

You gotta stop eating any and all carbs,” they may say, or “you gotta do cardio every single day this week.”

Maybe they talk (wrongly) about the need of giving more effort, or they may just tell you to do whatever you’re doing, faster.

I see it on Instagram and Twitter all the time. If you’re not working more or harder, you’re basically lazy.

I’ve got new for you: You’re not lazy.

This is absurd position, and more often than not, ineffective.

From a client point of view, one of two things will result:

A) You’ll think this is great, someone else is motivating you and pushing you along (an extrinsic motivator) so you’re going to do great, because you just don’t have the willpower or the motivation right?

B) You push back because it’s just too overwhelming to make that much change at one time, eventually dropping off from a fitness or nutrition program.

From these coaches point of view, it is easier to go with the flow, and just ‘tell’ people what they need to do.

It’s a lot harder to work with a client to find a limiting factor or identify vital behaviors that are holding them back.

The truth remains though, that you cannot outrun a bad diet or bad habits by simply doing more exercise or doing it faster.

You need to learn to do it more effectively, and more efficiently. Do more with less. Make better use of the time you have available.

This is easier said than done. Better is trickier to do, because it requires a little more creative thought.

The better equation requires education, coaching and patience.

Ironically, the "more is better" crowd could and should be spending that additional time they are trying to dedicate to the situation on optimizing their time more effectively instead.

Where to Start

First, analyze the problem you are trying to solve. Do you understand why you are doing it?

If you don’t, ask questions of yourself, your coach or your mentor. Too many people leave a room with questions, so they’ve already limited their ability to get better.

I know, because nobody wants to be that guy to put up their hand in a seminar to ask the first question, for fear of seeming dumb or like they weren’t paying attention.

On the contrary, people like me love questions!

Check out this article for more info.

Second, how are you going to do it and does it correlate with why?

Don’t be consumed by ‘what’ you think you should be doing, think about how your real lifestyle fits into the equation and make decisions based off of that.

What small incremental changes can you start making now that will pay dividends later? Don’t try to do 5 things at once, pick a vital behavior or limiting factor and work on developing the skill to manage it effectively. Time is the single biggest excuse people make when it comes to exercise.

Review this article for methods.

Lastly, take action!

It’s fine and dandy to write about this kind of thing, but the reason I make more of an impact on people I work with on a regular basis than I probably do writing this blog is that the people I work with actually do the stuff I recommend doing.

I’m there to guide them along the way. If you don’t get involved with a community of people and take action, get involved here as a start.

An idea without execution, is merely an idea.