Why you should do less. Or maybe even nothing at all.

We’re always encouraged to do more if we want to get ahead in life.

To run further. To work out longer. To work more hours. It’s freaking exhausting!

What if the solution to our problems is to do less?

I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. How the heck do you accomplish ALL THE THINGS you want to get done if you do less?

Our culture has become addicted to “more.” If we don’t feel busy, we feel like we’re not contributing. We feel the need to tell everybody else how busy and stressed we are as if it’s a badge of honor.

In fact, I’m a recovering addict of “more” and “being busy.” I never had enough time and proudly told people how busy I was. It wasn’t until I started doing less that I got my act together and got MORE important things done!

It started with, “DO LESS YOU IDIOT!”

We’re going to tighten up our workouts, our productivity at work, and our lives. Ready?

Let’s do less!

Less is More: Strength

deadlift

Now, this “less is more” philosophy doesn’t apply for everything, but it totally applies to strength training, my preferred method of getting healthier. As we say, a strong nerd is a healthy nerd.

Instead of trying to pump your biceps with ten variations, sculpt your calves with four different exercises, hit three types of bench presses, and train each glute independently, do less. Do way less.

After all, why do 10 different leg exercises and spend an 90 minutes doing “leg day” when you can complete two exercises that give you the same or better results? 

For starters, there IS such a thing as diminishing marginal returns. If your first exercise is a compound movement like a squat or deadlift with heavy weight, you are pushing your central nervous system and every muscle in your leg, lower back, and core to their absolute limit. This negates the need for 10 more exercises, each less effective at muscle stimulation than the previous one!

Also, doing too many exercises for the same muscle group can lead to overtraining and injury if you’re not careful. Just ask our favorite anchorman, Ron Burgundy!

It’s no surprise Ron isn’t exactly the most efficient guy. When you target a single muscle group with 10 different exercises, you’re isolating muscles that never actually work in isolation in real life. Why isolate biceps when in reality, your biceps/forearms/shoulders/back all work together?

Compound movements recruit every muscle fiber, every tendon, and small muscle to prepare your body for real world activities and scenarios. Much safer and more effective.

These days I work out just 4 days per week, for about an hour each time, and I’m in the best shape of my life: two lower body days and two upper body days. Here’s what they look like roughly:

Lower Body Day 1:

  • Heavy Deadlifts
  • Higher rep front squats
  • Pistol Squats

Upper Body Day 2:

  • Weighted Chin Ups
  • Weighted Dips
  • Ring work

Lower Body Day 3:

  • Heavy Squats
  • Higher rep snatch grip romanian deadlifts
  • Pistol Squats

Upper Body Day 4

  • Overhead Press
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Ring work

If you want results, try simplifying your workout. Stick to a few exercises, and get really strong with them. Cut your gym time in half, tighten your focus, and make WAY more progress in a faster time. Unless you’re a bodybuilder, stop worrying about sculpting isolated muscles and get strong with big movements.

Do more by doing wayyyy less.

Less is More: Life

changed priorities sign

Life got you stressed out? Never have enough time?

Stop trying to do everything! Instead, pick 3-4 things that are incredibly important to you each day and say no to everything else. Don’t worry, the world won’t end. I’m going to guess your things will end up something like:

  • Take care of yourself: Exercise, nutritionsleep.
  • Take care of your relationships: Quality time with family/friends.
  • Kick ass at work: I’ll get to that below.
  • Enjoy yourself: Listen to music, read a book, or play video games.

Every day, set aside time on your calendar for those things. If you get a request to attend an event, or help out with something and you don’t have time for it…SAY NO. DO LESS.

Remember, as Derek Sivers says, “It’s either a hell yeah! or a no.”

One of my favorite scenes in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has Paul Rudd’s stoned character teaching Jason Segel’s character how to surf:

The wisdom of Kunu seems a little goofy at the time, but has some real world value for us nerds: Instead of doing a million things and sucking at all of them, why not pick a few and get pretty dang good at them?

“The less you do, the more you do!”

Less is More: Work

Write

We’re all addicted to being “the busy one” at work, and wanting everybody to know how busy we are. Fun fact: nobody really cares! They’re busy too, I promise.

What matters: you are doing great work and getting the things done you said you’d get done, when you said you would get them done.

Want to learn the BEST thing I’ve done to explode my productivity and allow me to get more done? I stopped multitasking.

We pride ourselves on being fantastic at multitasking. Hell, I know I used to. In college I would study a text book while watching the Red Sox on mute, blasting music, and playing four tables of online poker at the same time. What an idiot!

Multitasking seriously makes us dumber. It causes us to waste excess brain power switching back and forth between activities. Stop it. Do Less.

Now, I’m not saying become Peter from Office Space. Instead, do less by pick three major things at work every day you need to accomplish, and shut EVERYTHING off whenever working on those tasks.

Personally, I don’t check email until AFTER I finish the first task. And I don’t let small tasks take priority over the important. My phone is literally on  “Do Not Disturb” mode.

This one change has revolutionized my work productivity (and you can learn more about productivity in this monster post)

Do less, get more done

bruce-lee

Chop the unessential from your life. It makes the stuff you keep far more powerful.

  • We burn ourselves out when we don’t take the time to actually recharge our batteries, so take time off.
  • Be unavailable when you’re not working.
  • When you’re on vacation or spending time not working, embrace itStay away from your computer, don’t check email, and spend time with friends and family.

These moments of “not busy” allow us to be WAY more efficient and productive during our work days and lives.

Next week brings us a new free 6-Week Challenge on Nerd Fitness, and I can’t wait to get back at it.

I hope you do the same. The next time you are overwhelmed, take a few minutes to do less. Or hell, do nothing at all.

What if you can’t do nothing for 15 minutes? How about 2?

Your turn: What’s one thing you can eliminate from your life right now that will allow you to do less? What’s one thing at work you can do to focus your mind and actually get the important shit done ON TIME?

Let’s hear it in the comments!

-Steve

P.S. – If you’re interested in coming to Camp Nerd Fitness, grab a spot soon! We’re down to fewer than 9 spots left!

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photo source: Addison Berry: Priorities

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  • http://www.theothersideoffod.com/ Chris Catris

    Steve, great article! I feel a Tim Ferris vibe to this post. You’re on point – simplifying new things is crucial when it comes to mastering new skills. When getting healthy, I like to think minimalism…it’s just as important to remove the bad habits out of your routine as it is to add the healthy ones. Awesome post!

  • gold lion

    love the idea of limiting the number of exercises in a given workout, but how do you spend a whole hour doing just 3 exercises? I know I’d get fatigued on the same exercise after 10 minutes. do you just lower the weight at that point? going more in depth on that would be cool

  • Zin

    Is it just me or does the 2 minutes timer keep resetting even when I’m not doing anything? It goes to 1:55 and then it just tells me to try again. (I’m actually being serious…)

  • K

    I constantly check social medias and waste hours (compiling every 15 minute session I do a day). I’ve noticed I do this when I’m in the middle of a difficult task and want my brain to rest, but it goes to the point where resting becomes procrastinating. I cannot get myself away from the computer because this is my work station, if I’m elsewhere, I’d be seen as ditching my tasks…

    Anybody with a similar situation?

  • Tom

    Ron Swanson taught me that I should never half ass two things, but whole ass one thing.

  • Kat

    An app like this can really help: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/leechblock/

    You can set it to block facebook, reddit, twitter… or anything else we all tend to spend too much time on and then you can’t go to them until an hour of work is up (just an example) my problem is when I block it I then go on my smartphone and go to all of those same sites. I usually put my phone across the room with facebook notifications off (only calls and texts) and only get it to answer phone calls. I also have a phone on my desk that I try to use instead for making calls. I’ve found that i get a LOT more done.

    Also, I noticed that i was wasting time on my phone every morning — Almost an hour every morning, and then 30 minutes before bed. I could do this since my charger was on the nightstand. Now I have my phone across the room at night so I can’t use it in bed. I went from feeling like i never had time, to having at least an extra HOUR of my day EVERY DAY! I constantly felt like the days were too short and i never got anything done. Now I have more time do actually DO stuff.

    The question I asked myself before I did this was “When i look back at my life am I really going to wish I had spent more time looking at the same posts on facebook and reddit more?” NO! I won’t even remember what Caitlin from high school posted about… or even care!

  • http://www.rohmerfitness.com Thomas Rohmer

    So Charmin Ultra was right when they said less is more!

  • Joel Pelley

    Awesome article Steve! This is exactly where I’m at with my life right now. I’m working hard to get down to the minimum of what I need to do in each aspect of life so I can use all the wasted space on priorities like family, friends, relaxation activities and sleep.

  • Sean

    Hi Steve. Your articles are awesome and seriously this website is the Yoda of fitness information. You have posted videos before of workouts and they are tremendously helpful. Could you please post a video of you doing the excercise routine that is mentioned in this video?I need help with form and also want to know the amounts that you are lifting so that I can challenge myself to reach ultimate strong nerd status. I understand if you don’t have time but either way thanks for your website. Keep up the good work!

  • kimmbot

    Could you elaborate on what you mean by ring work?

  • Ironbuttz

    Great points Steve, I loved it. I’ve been working out for years, working on strength building, muscle development and even keeping up fat burn aka fat loss! Now, at my age (43) it is getting a little more difficult. I’ve happened to believe doing less makes more sense myself, because over extending the muscles can lead to reverse benefits, not the gains. Still, as you said, people are aware of this but they continue to believe they can press forward and put more–which delays them in the end. I have some great thoughts to share and have a few articles that are directly related to some of these issues here http://www.ironbuttz.com maybe, just maybe some of the ideas and thoughts I share could be helpful to others! Looking forward to seeing your next blog!

  • hsekhon

    Steve! You nailed it, especially the bit on work.

    When I started reading the article it seemed like another do less for strength sorts. But the part on life and work really put a smile on my face. For someone like me who gets too focussed on the end goal its easy to miss out on things that really matter in life, people around us and fun being two very important ingredients. Also felt like I had my work satisfaction compass broken because of not being as “busy” as everyone else around me but when look back at it the theme that jumps out is that I delivered good work on time every time. Its easy to overlook this because of modern world’s judgement of what doing good work is. Simply being busy, I feel, is not really a decent measure.

    Thanks a tonne! 🙂

  • ER Heart Albay

    Great article Steve, everything went so thoughtful. I like your ideas its really persuasive.

    http://www.itsallaboutthesearchbar.com/

  • Clare Lindley

    “This is very important — to take leisure time. Pace is the essence. Without stopping entirely and doing nothing at all for great periods, you’re gonna lose everything…just to do nothing at all, very, very important. And how many people do this in modern society? Very few. That’s why they’re all totally mad, frustrated, angry and hateful.” http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/16354-this-is-very-important—-to-take-leisure-time-pace

  • Clare Lindley

    I am guessing he means Gymnastic Rings? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rings_(gymnastics)

  • http://www.manycontacts.com Gary Gaspar

    Hey Steve! How many reps & sets do you do per exercise in your workout?

  • Loki Sorensen

    And maybe suggest an alternative for those of us who go to gyms that don’t have rings?

  • kimmbot

    That too!

  • kimmbot

    I was more curious about the actual routine itself.

  • Clare Lindley

    LOL sorry!

  • Reid Geisenhof

    Thanks for posting this. Warm-ups included, I can knock out my 5×5 workouts in 25, maybe 30 minutes–tops. I always feel like I’m not working hard enough even though my tired muscles beg to differ.

  • Timothy Barber

    I love this article – it couldn’t have come at a better time.
    I’m preparing for a big blog launch and I’ve kind of gotten stuck in the weeds a little bit – with E3 coming up this week, I think I see a perfect opportunity to take some time off and watch press conferences about vidya games with my wife and kid.
    Thanks as always, Steve!

  • http://www.wolfandiron.com Wolf & Iron

    Really good article and I very much agree with most of it. I do think that there is something to be gained by variety, especially in exercising muscles we forget about. Boot camp style workouts are great for this and should be done once or twice a week. Otherwise you’ll end up being the strong guy that steps wrong and rolls his ankle or pulls some muscle doing yard work. I guess that means more stuff not less stuff, but variety is still important. Good stuff! Love the video references!

  • Fizdup

    I’m not Steve, but it is easy to spend an hour on 3 exercises. If you are lifting big weights, then you need longer rests in between sets.
    The stronglifts 5×5 app recommends three minutes between difficult sets. That’s 15 minutes rest for each exercise, then add the time you actually spend lifting on top and you are very close to an hour.

  • Kenyatta University

    I love this Isaac

  • nicolejr

    Great information, thank you for share

    370 Paleo Diet Recipe

  • http://www.theaestheticnation.com/ PhilipStefanov

    Great article, Steve!

    It took me quite a while to realize that more is not always better and that in most cases it’s actually worse.I used to push myself to my limits both in the gym and out and I quickly learned this important lesson: Life is a marathon, not a sprint.If I want to progress and move up, I need to work smarter rather than harder.

    My first 2 years at the gym were a constant struggle between being overtrained and working my ass off into overtraining(hmm.. are those 2 related?).I did make some good progress but only after I took a step back and actually started training smarter did I see a massive improvement in all of my lifts, body composition, energy, motivation and so on.

    Thanks for this article, Steve.I’ll bookmark it and keep it as a reminder for the future and I think this is a great way to educate people (especially gym newbies) on the importance of doing less.

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  • Alyssa

    This article is awesome! People really do think they need to continue to “do more” to be more successful. If every “busy” person could take the time to read this it would free up so much time out of their day but not stressing about the little things!

  • peaceout

    to make your life easier and more peaceful, the one best thing to do is stay away from social media…they make you sad, overwhelmed, restless and all sort of things…trust me it has made me more focused on what i do now, let it be work, cooking, watching tv or reading a book…each act has become more mindful…try it for yourself, stay away for a week and you can see the difference…when i say social media, i say everything….facebook, twitter, instagram, linkedin and all other S&%*t!

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  • Othon

    Thanks Steve for your article. Doing less is really working for me. I just to spend 12 hours at the office for 2 years until I got sick and at that moment i realized how much I was sacrificing for something that is important (job) but not as important as my health. I started doing less, focusing only on essential stuff and not spending more time than needed at work (8 hours) and then I recover my health without sacrificing my productivity at work. Doing less is the way to go.

  • Angie Miller

    Why does everybody think losing weight has to be so hard? Getting in shape is actually quite easy and fast. If you’re looking for something that works to lose weight quickly and keep it off, I recently discovered The 3 Week Diet (go to TINYURL.COM/QUICKDIET102 ) on our local news and it really helped me. I went from 195 pounds all the way to 145, so I’m glad I made the change to a healthier lifestyle. If I can do it, you can too! Get up off your butt and do something about your health and fitness! Three weeks from now you’ll wish you have started today… good luck and you can do this! I promise 🙂

    Text me if you need some help staying motivated! (313) 744-4235 – I might be a little slow at replying but I’ll do my best to be your free personal trainer. We can be here for each other 🙂

    xo,

    Angie

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