We’ve been groomed to believe that we must do more if we want more. But what if we’ve been wrong all through? What if the solution isn’t to add stuff to your to-do list, but to subtract?
As it turns out, the best way to step up your productivity and work fulfillment is by actually doing less.
In his book Your Brain at Work, author David Rock shares an eye-opening revelation; that we’re genuinely focused on productive stuff for only six hours every week. This starkly contrasts with our typical forty-hour workweek.
The key to prioritizing the stuff that matters is to avoid activities that make us feel busy without results. This way, you’ll also enjoy a sense of spaciousness and peace you wouldn’t get when you’re constantly busy.
You Can’t—And Shouldn’t—Do It All
You can’t control time, and more time cannot make you more productive. You can only adjust your actions by controlling how you spend time on your daily activities.
From David Rock’s observation, your problem is the unnecessary stuff you’re handling that you either delegate or outright ignore.
So jog through your to-do list. For each item, ask yourself;
What makes this task necessary
What will happen if I wait to do it a month from now?
What will happen if I ignore it completely?
Who wants the job done, and who’s the right person to handle it?
The goal is to focus on stuff that adds value rather than the primarily empty ones. It’s about distinguishing what’s essential from what’s not. There’s no point in handling small, unnecessary tasks while monumental things are pending.
Top performers in all fields tend to have a common trait: they take on fewer tasks and are preoccupied with getting them right.
Work as A Linear Function
We mostly conceptualize work as a linear function – that your input hours will determine your productive output. But brain-intensive tasks don’t develop like this, which feels somewhat unfair to us. So we keep complaining about how our “genius” is underrated.
The only linear tasks are the basic, repetitive stuff like packing boxes, elementary copy-paste data entry, hauling bales of hay, or operating the laundry machine. For these tasks, double the work duration means you’re twice as productive.
Sadly, the startup world’s “religion of hustle” stems from the concept of work as a linear function. In most people’s minds, 18 hours of work is twice as productive as nine; hence you’re all a pile of lazy sacks of sand.
But as glamorous and well-intentioned as this religion is, it mostly backfires. Because most functions (especially the most lucrative ones) don’t deliver linear returns. Instead, they produce diminishing returns.
Work with Diminishing Returns
According to the diminishing returns economic principle, when you increase your investment in a particular area, the profit rate won’t grow if other variables remain constant after a specific point.
As you continue investing beyond this level, the ROI reduces gradually.
For instance, a ten-minute jog would be healthy. Doubling this duration would also be beneficial, but not necessarily twice as healthy as the former. What about 30 minutes? Well, chances are the benefits would be the same as the ten-minute jog.
Jogging has diminishing returns because your muscles tire out, and their growth stimulation recedes till it’s non-existent.
Like your muscles, your brain tires out. If your job involves essential decision-making or problem-solving, you’re limited in the tasks you can effectively complete in a day. If you go beyond the limit, you can begin making bad decisions or producing lousy work.
Accumulated unsatisfactory work creates even more work, and you’ll now work for negative returns. Thus, it makes sense to focus on doing less if you want to achieve more.
How to Do More by Doing Less
Clearly, doing less can help you get more done. But how exactly do you do less yet boost your efficiency and productivity? Here are some practical steps:
Choose A Task at A Time
Multitasking is a reality in today’s day-to-day living. We handle multiple tasks at one point or the other, thinking that it’s the best way to concentrate and keep the work flowing.
However, doing this can reduce your productivity by a massive 40%. Also, handling multiple tasks at once could make you prone to errors.
According to a recent study, you can make three times as many mistakes when you move from doing two tasks simultaneously to three.
If you want to get more done, complete one project at a time. Doing this will get the tasks done faster and more efficiently, increasing your productivity in the long run.
Disconnect From Work
Working around the clock doesn’t necessarily translate to added productivity. In fact, your throughput drops once you reach 50 weekly hours, and it pretty much dwindles to nothing once you hit 55. So instead of the crazy weekly hours, you should just work less.
Set a specific time to pause or stop working while adhering to the 50-hour-per-week rule. Stick to that time, even if you still feel motivated to get more things done.
Improving the work-life balance that allows you to recharge outside work hours will enable you to show up rejuvenated and ready to get things done.
Pause Before Committing
Sometimes it feels like the calendar fills up even before considering how to spend the time. One second, your calendar has a free block; the next thing you know, you’ve filled it with another commitment you aren’t confident you’ll address.
But once you jam-pack your schedule, there’ll be no space or time to be more productive by doing less. In fact, you won’t even get the opportunity to make the best use of your work hours and optimize your productivity.
Instead, take a step back and reflect before you commit. See what’s working, what doesn’t, the things to prioritize, and areas that need change.
Find an Effective Delegation and Follow-Up Method
It’s one thing to assign tasks to your team; it’s another to ensure they get them done. Next, you must pass it off for approval.
The best way to make your work more efficient is to find a reliable means of tracking your projects and boosting your work efficiency. Project management tools and collaboration software can come through for you with this.
However, your part also matters. Sending more updates and following up with the next steps can keep your coworkers on track.
Strategic Laziness as A Leverage Point
Good things will come up the moment you learn to identify your leverage points and maximize them. See, tackling problems is like food for your brain.
It brings happiness to your mind, making it feel capable, worthy, and meaningful.
But completing tasks to your brain is like food to your gut. You must feed it with various stipulations; too much of a specific variety will make it tired and sick. Thus, rest can be a crucial leverage point.
The ability to distract your busy mind from work through leisure time actually boosts your brain’s effectiveness when you return to work. I know this sounds crazy, but vacations and weekends exist for a reason. So get the most out of those lazy moments by making them strategic.
Contrary to common belief, doing more doesn’t necessarily translate to added productivity. In fact, the opposite works.
Now that you know how to achieve more by doing less, you’re equipped to narrow your focus, pare down your task checklist, and concentrate on high-priority, meaningful work. Not only will you be more efficient, but your productivity will grow immensely.