How to Do More By Doing Less
By Deanna deBara Posted June 2, 2021
You might think that if you want to get more done, you need to do more.
But trying to add more responsibilities, tasks, and projects to your already-full plate can actually have the opposite effect—and tank your productivity in the process.
Sometimes, if you want to get more done, the more effective strategy isn’t doing more; it’s doing less. But how, exactly, do you do that? How can you get more done by doing less—and boost your productivity and efficiency in the process?
Choose one task at a time
Many people think that the key to getting more done is to do more at one time. But if you’re the kind of person that checks their email while taking a client call and scrolling through social media? We’ve got news for you. Trying to do too many things at once—also known as multitasking—is hugely detrimental to productivity.
How detrimental? According to research highlighted by the American Psychological Association, multitasking can cause productivity to drop by a whopping to 40 percent. And the more you try to do at once, the more likely you are to make mistakes; a recent study from Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale found that people made three times as many errors when they went from performing two simultaneous tasks to three simultaneous tasks.
So, if you want to get more done every day—and get it done well? Focus on one task at a time. If you’re working on a project, stay off your email. If you’re on the phone with a client, avoid social media. When you focus on one task at a time, you’ll get those tasks done faster and more efficiently—and, as a result, get more of them done throughout the day.
Disconnect from work
Another misconception about productivity? The more time you spend working, the more you’ll get done. But the truth is, working around the clock isn’t doing your productivity any favors.
Research from Stanford University found that your productivity drops dramatically once you hit 50 hours worked in a week—and once you hit 55 hours per week, your productivity pretty much dwindles down to nothing. So if you’re putting in a crazy number of hours every week? The key to getting more done is pretty straightforward; you need to work less.
Choose an end time to stop work every day (ensuring that end time keeps you well under the 50+ hours per week mark!)—and stick to that time, even if you feel like there’s more you want to get done. Creating a better work-life balance—and giving yourself the time you need to recharge outside of work hours—will allow you to show up every day rested, refreshed, and ready to get things done.
Pause before committing
At work (and in life!), it can seem like your calendar fills up before you even have a chance to think about how you want or need to spend your time. One second, you have a free block of your time on your calendar—and the next thing you know, you’ve agreed to fill that time with a meeting/new project/other commitment you’re not sure you even want or need to do.
But if your schedule is jam-packed with meetings, projects, and other commitments, you won’t have the time and space to do more by doing less; in fact, you won’t have the time and space to do more, period.
So, if you want to maximize your productivity and optimize your work hours, you need to figure out a way to pare down your schedule and leave time for the work that really matters. And a great way to do that? Pause before you make any commitments.
For example, let’s say your supervisor asks if you’d like to take on a new project. Instead of immediately saying yes, say, “Thanks so much for the opportunity! Let me take a look at my schedule, and I’ll get back to you with an answer by tomorrow.”
Pausing will give you the time to consider the opportunity, your current bandwidth, and whether you have the time (or the desire) to take on another commitment. It allows you to make a thoughtful decision—instead of impulsively saying “yes” to something that’s going to be a drain on your time, energy, and productivity.
A big part of doing more by doing less is focusing your time on the work that’s the most important and meaningful to you—and pausing before saying “yes” to a project, task, or commitment is a great way to make sure the work you’re adding to your schedule falls under that umbrella.
Put away your phone
As mentioned, focusing on one task at a time is key to getting more done. But if your attention is constantly being pulled away from the task at hand, your productivity is going to take a nosedive.
And the thing that’s most likely to pull your attention away from what you’re trying to get done? Your smartphone.
According to recent research from Asurion, the average person checks their phone 96 times per day. So, if you sleep eight hours a night, you’re checking your phone six times per hour—or once every 10 minutes. That means, when you’re trying to get things done, you’re interrupted every 10 minutes. And because it can take almost 30 minutes to get back to your original level of focus following an interruption, your phone is holding you back from the kind of deep, uninterrupted focus you need to be genuinely productive throughout the day.
So, if you want to get more done in less time and with less effort? Turn your phone off while you’re working. And if you really want to increase productivity? Turn your phone off and stash it in another room (research from the University of Texas found that just having your phone nearby, even when it’s turned off, can negatively impact cognitive function).
Do less, get more done
The common belief is that you need to do more to get more done. But now that you know how to do more by doing less, you have everything you need to narrow your attention, pare down your to-do list, and focus on your most important, meaningful work—and increase your productivity in the process.
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