So when you pull the thyme leaves backward off the main stem, frequently leaves will come off with smaller stems--that's been the time consuming part. Since the small stem is too small to pull backwards I then pick off the leaves. I don't suppose the solution is to cut up the small stems with the leaves?
As someone inferred, a large part of my problem appears to be a lack of knife skill. I've watched a few web tube videos this morning and I'm beginning to learn what I've got to learn. Plus, what I thought was a sharp knife may not be.