You would like to be more productive? If you think that life is about racking up a list of accomplishments, try doing less instead.
We’ve been taught that if we want more — money, achievement, vitality, joy, peace of mind — we need to do more, to add more to our ever-growing to-do list. But what if we’ve been taught wrong? What if the answer to getting more of what we want isn’t addition at all, but subtraction?
As it turns out, evidence supports that if we want to ramp up our productivity and happiness, we should actually be doing less. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, found that we’re truly focused on our work a mere six hours per week, which starkly contrasts our collective buy-in to the 40-hour workweek. When you stop doing the things that make you feel busy but aren’t getting you results (and are draining you of energy), then you end up with more than enough time for what matters and a sense of peace and spaciousness that constant activity has kept outside your reach.
As people with full lives — kids, careers, friends, passions, logistics, and more — how can we apply the wisdom of doing less to give ourselves more time and alleviate stress without jeopardizing our results?
We need to identify what not to do. But this determination can’t be random. It must be methodical and evidence-based. Through my work with women navigating the dual vocations of entrepreneurship and motherhood, I’ve created a surprisingly simple exercise to help individuals decide what activities on their to-do list bring them the most value, and which they can stop doing.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper, lengthwise.
Step 2: Decide on an area of your life or work where you’d like to have better results and less stress. For example, perhaps you want to expand your thought leadership.
Step 3: On the left-hand side, list the tasks or activities you do in that area of your work or life. As an aspiring thought leader, you might list attending conferences, pitching organizations for speaking opportunities, writing new articles, reading and researching, and so on.
Step 4: On the right-hand side, make a list of your biggest “wins” in that area, like a speaking gig, a presentation you really nailed at work, or a pitch that was accepted at a major publication. This can often be a difficult step for some people. We have not been culturally conditioned to celebrate ourselves, so often, folks will draw a blank when listing their “wins.” Any result you’ve gotten (either one time or repeatedly) that was positive can go on this list. Don’t get caught up in listing the “right” things. Just list what comes to you.
Step 5: Draw a line connecting each of your biggest wins to the activity or task that was most responsible for that result. Reading and researching, for instance, were essential to getting your pitch accepted for publication, so connect these two together.
Step 6: Circle all the activities and tasks on the left side of your paper that have been responsible for your big wins. Look at what’s left. Whatever isn’t circled is something that you need to either stop doing completely, significantly minimize, or delegate if it absolutely must be done. For instance, if you discover that traveling for conferences once a month isn’t directly contributing to any wins, it’s time to set that aside or at least cut back.