Do More by Doing Less

You can’t create a meaningful impact if you’re spread too thin.

Steve Jobs once said that Apple is as proud of the things they don’t do as the things they do. Some routinely argue that Apple isn’t doing enough, but it’s hard to argue they aren’t doing a lot of things right.

Productivity, both at the corporate and personal levels, is about doing the things you have to do effectively so you can spend more time doing things you want to do and love. The trap is that there’s a real sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing off a task, so we start chasing more tasks to cross off. (Do ALL the things!) Ever write down a task just so you could cross it off? You’re not the only one.

It seems paradoxical at the surface, but you really can get more done by doing less. Here are five ways how.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockPhoto/BrianAJackson

  • Learn to say no. Learn how to tell when what you’re working on is more important than the new opportunity or assignment that comes along. This will help you stay focused on the right things instead of getting tossed to and fro by a myriad of priorities.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. You’ve seen it on job descriptions and resumes a thousand times. “Must be able to multitask.” “Great multitasker.” Except studies have repeatedly shown that we just aren’t good at it. There is a Chinese proverb: “A man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Don’t multitask. Chase one rabbit.
  • Stay out of Quadrant 4. Quadrant 4 on the Eisenhower matrix is where we waste time. We’re hiding. Anything we do here is just taking time away from what we need to do, including legitimate rest and relaxation. It’s a great place to drop activites and free up time for what’s important.
  • Automate. Last week, I wrote a couple of PDF services using Automator. I also have a bunch of AppleScripts to create OmniFocus projects; some are invoked manually and prompt for information, and some I run automatically via LaunchServices. None of these are complicated things to do by hand, but the computer is much better at doing rote tasks than I am. I’m happy to hand over the work.
  • Go to bed on time. Ask yourself if you’d be willing to get up early to do it. If not, it isn’t worth staying up late to do, either. Sure, there will be days where it makes sense to just wrap things up, but you will be more productive if you put everything away and come back tomorrow. Review your list for tomorrow and go to bed. The reruns of Frasier will wait.

The common thread here is that by reducing the time you spend doing things that don’t matter, you have more time for what matters most. When you find more time in your schedule, be sure to spend it on the right things.

Instead of blindly trying to cross off as many tasks as you can, make sure you’re crossing off the right ones.

Question: What are going to not do today? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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