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How To Live A Less Busy, But More Productive, Life

This article was based on episode 106 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get 20% off InkWell Press until September 1, 2020, when you become a member at

How many days have you spent running around, checking items off of your to-do list, only to lie in bed at the end of the day, unfulfilled and depleted? I’ve had my fair share. While it feels like I’m being productive because I’ve crossed things off my list, in reality, those days don’t move me forward. Tonya Dalton, a productivity expert and founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co, a company centered around productivity tools and training, wants to teach us how to change course, by achieving more while doing less.

Tonya’s book, The Joy of Missing Out, was named a top ten business book of the year by Fortune Magazine, and her podcast, Productivity Paradox, surpassed more than a million downloads. By redefining our misconceptions of what it means to be productive, developing individual methods to understand our deepest priorities and how to reach them, and advising how to have healthy boundaries to protect those goals, Tonya teaches simple ways for us to live a more manageable and powerful productive life.


We’ve been duped into misunderstanding how productivity operates. Tonya breaks down these misconceptions, to realign us with a new way to envision how we can be most productive.

Productivity Isn’t About Doing More

When we cram our lives full of a million things to accomplish each day, we’re not being productive, we’re just being busy. We need to stop glorifying busyness. Instead, we must remember that productivity isn’t about doing more but about doing that which is most important to us. When we realign our daily tasks with our mission and values, we can focus on what’s important. This means we do less work while making greater progress.

As Tonya explains, we can take fifty steps over the course of a day, each in a different direction. At the end of the day, who knows where we’ll end up. Or, we can take five deliberate steps in one direction, bringing us closer to our desired destination. Through choosing quality over quantity, we walk slowly but surely towards achieving our dreams.

There Is No Work-Life Balance

Tonya wants us to forget the myth of a “work-life balance”. Simply put, striving for balance and overemphasizing it’s importance can actually be counterproductive. Instead of obsessing over balance, Tonya promotes concepts of “leaning” and “counterbalancing” to illustrate the ideal rhythm for choosing where we want to spend our time and what actions to take.

To illustrate this, imagine riding a bike; sure, being balanced on a bike is great if you always want to go in the same direction. But if you want to turn left, you need to lean to the left, which means you go off balance. In order not to fall, you then need to counterbalance the weight of the bike to right yourself back up. This leaning and counterbalancing produces the type of harmony that coincides with a sustainable, productive life. Practically, you may need to lean into work for a while, before then counterbalancing and leaning into home life, before counterbalancing again and leaning into self-care time. It is not about an even distribution, but an understanding of when we need to shift gears. Through periodic leaning into different aspects of our lives, we are able to focus. This focus, Tonay promises, is why we see the biggest results.

Stop Trying To Be A “Good Person”

By telling ourselves stories of what a “good person” is, we impose counterproductive limitations on the type of life we can lead. Beliefs that a “good mom” is there to help her kids with their homework every single day, or that a “good employee stays later than his boss”, isn’t true. Not only might these goals be constraining us, they may also be impossible to achieve, setting us up for constant feelings of failure or guilt.

Instead of looking at day as the unit of analysis, zoom out and look at the seven days of the week. In those one hundred and sixty eight hours, there's a lot more opportunities for counterbalancing and leaning. That might include a goal of having at least two family dinners a week, or working out at least three days per week, or staying late in the office 2 days a week to work on getting ahead. Over the course of the week, you can hit the priorities that really matter to you.

Zoom out even further and you might see months or quarters of time where you lean into a big project at work followed by a period of vacation or leaving the office in time for family dinner most nights. By catching yourself from self-judgment about what a “good” person is, you give yourself permission to craft a life that will most benefit you and your loved ones.


Trying to squeeze your life into a one-size-fits-all productivity system, rather than developing a system centered around your personal mission as its driving force, rarely leads to success. Tonya devised the following four-part Live Well Method to help people concentrate on their priorities and then customize a system that plays to their individual strengths, circumstances, and values.

The following is a high level overview of the method. The full process is described in Tonya’s book The Joy of Missing Out.

1. Who are you?

Consider what things are most important to you. What are your limiting beliefs and the stories you tell yourself about your inability to succeed? Craft your vision, mission, and core values.

2. Clarify

Now that you’ve identified your priorities, it’s time to make sure that your three most precious resources - your time, energy, and focus - are spent in the best way possible. How do you maximize your time so you don’t wear yourself out? How do you prioritize your day to make sure your to-do list works for - and not against - you?

3. Simplify With Systems

How do you simplify your life so that everything else runs? How can you create habits, routines, and systems that seamlessly take care of the important details of your life, like running inventory, hosting team meetings, taking care of your home, and making meals? How can you program these to run automatically or at least run well with less of your time and attention?

4. Harmony: What Will Make Your Life Fun?

When you have productivity in place, life should be more fun and enjoyable, because it's not about managing your time but about savoring the moments, being there for the people you love, and doing the tasks and projects that really light you up. Therefore, what are the things that you need to say “no” to? What are your “yeses”? What will make your life more enjoyable?


Sometimes it can feel like your calendar is owned by everyone around you. Meetings, family time, social activities; with everyone else’s demands, there is little time for you to dedicate to your priorities. If you don’t set up the necessary boundaries at work (and at home), it’s easy for your personal time to get lost. Tonya offers a few tips for how to reclaim your space.

1. Protect Your Calendar To Protect Your Time

Often, people will invite you to meetings if they don’t think you have anything else going on. To preempt that, enter specific blocks of times in your calendar that you don’t want to be disturbed, in order to get your own deep work done and signal to others you’re occupied.

2. Ask For A Meeting Agenda

If you know what parts of the meeting will be relevant to you, you can plan to come and leave at certain times, saving yourself from wasted time.

3. Articulate Personal Boundaries if Someone Stops In With a Question

Don’t let a “quick question” turn into a half hour discussion. Make it clear from the beginning how much time you have and schedule a follow up if now isn’t the time to address that need. It’s OK to say you need to get back to your work.

4. Put Up A “Deep Work Zone” Sign On Your Door

Placing a sign on your door or in your Slack status is a simple, effective way to alert your team or house members that you are not available. Include the time that your deep work ends so they can plan ahead for when to reach out again.

We have more control over our own time, even at work, than we realize. By clarifying your priorities, establishing boundaries and systems, and seeking to lean and counter-balance as needed, we are able to live productive, meaningful lives every day.


Instagram: @tonya.i.dalton

Get 20% off at InkWell Press until September 1, 2020, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 106 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes,Google Play,Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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