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Last Updated on June 17, 2020

10 Practical Ways Less Is More

10 Practical Ways Less Is More

One productivity issue I come across more frequently than other is a belief that doing more work is good and doing less is bad. However, the reality is a bit more complex than judging effectiveness based on the amount of work a person or organization produces.

In a factory setting, it is a good thing if you can increase the number of units produced while at the same time either reducing costs or, at the very least, not increasing costs. The less is more principle at work — less input to produce more output.

And we can create the same idea for our productivity. Leveraging our skills, know-how and creativity to produce excellent volumes of work by inputting less and producing more.

So, here are 10 ways less is more:

1. The Shorter Your Emails Are, the More Effective They Become

When you write an email of over three paragraphs, your email will be the last email read by the recipients — if it is read at all. Nobody wants to read a long email and even if you are the boss, chances are the first paragraph will be read to determine if the email is urgent and if not the recipients are unlikely to go any further.

If you want your emails to be read and responded to quickly, write less. You will receive faster replies and get a lot more done.

2. The Fewer Emails You Write, the Fewer You Receive

Simple, yet very effective. The people receiving the most emails are the ones sending out the most. If you struggle to keep on top of your email, then take a look at how many emails you are sending out.

Before, deciding an email would be the best medium for communicating your message, ask yourself: How could you best deliver this message? Would a phone call be more effective? Or possibly getting up out of your chair and walking down the corridor to speak to the person would get your desired outcome faster.

Email is often cited as the biggest drag on a person’s efficiency and productivity, so write less email, receive fewer emails and get more of your important work done.

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3. Create Shorter Presentations and Audience Remembers More

Ever sat through a one-hour presentation that had hundreds of points, numbers and slides? How effective was that presentation? How much did you remember afterwards? Probably very little. When you focus on fewer points, your audience remembers much more.

It is very hard to keep a presentation simple. You have to decide what to keep in and what to take out. But, if you focus on no more than three points, you will find your audience remembers far more than if you try to dump multiple points and numbers on them.

And what’s more, if you finish your presentation early and give your audience ten to twenty minutes they were not expecting, you are going to make a lot of new friends.

4. Change the Default Meeting Times from 60 Minutes to 30

This trick works every time. Have you ever wondered why meetings always seem to be scheduled for one hour? That’s because calendar blocks have always been one hour. It is not because the best meetings last one hour. Some of the best meetings I’ve attended lasted less than 15 minutes.

When you change your default meeting time from 60 minutes to 30, you find your meetings start and end on time more frequently, more people will attend, you get to the point much faster and more information is retained because people are being asked to remember much less.

5. Schedule Less Work

This one might appear to be counter-intuitive, but what I have found is people’s assessment about how much work they can get done each day does not accurately reflect reality. So an individual may have a daily to-do list of over 20 tasks and only manage to complete 10 of those tasks.

Failing to complete the tasks you set for yourself every day leaves you feeling stressed out and overworked, which means your energy drops and you feel less enthused about the day and your work.

Instead, try scheduling half the amount of work you would normally do and if you do get finished early, move on to work on tomorrow’s tasks. That will leave you feeling far more energetic and positive about your work and your day.

6. Create Fewer Goals

Similar to scheduling fewer tasks per day, giving yourself fewer goals each year also works.

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In my early twenties, I remember beginning the year with a list of between 10 and 15 New Years resolutions and failing at every single one of them. It was only when I established just 2 or 3 main goals for the year that I began achieving my goals more consistently.

That’s because I was focused on less and that gave me more focus to focus on just a few things that mattered. It’s a little like those showers that allow you to adjust the water flow through the head. You can have water covering a wider area, but this leaves you with a much less powerful stream of water, or you can adjust it so more water comes out over a smaller area giving you a lot more powerful stream of water.

Focus works the same way. When you focus on a smaller area—fewer goals—your focus is much more powerful.

7. Eating Less Gives You More Energy

This is one of the strange things about life. We are told, from an early age, that food gives us energy. And this, on the whole, is true. But today, we eat a lot more food than we need and to process this food, takes up a lot of energy resources.

I’m sure you’ve all had a large lunch involving rice or potatoes or some other form of carbohydrate in the past, only to find yourself feeling very tired and sleepy in the afternoon. How effective are you at that moment? Not very.

Had you had a smaller lunch, you would have found yourself feeling a lot more alive and energetic and being able to get more work done.

So, less food equals more energy. More energy equals more work done.

8. Make Fewer Decisions

A few years ago when there was the debate about whether iPhone or Android phones were better, I remember being told by an Android loving friend of mine that Android gave you a lot more choices about how your phone could look. And he was right, it did. You could download thousands of different themes and color schemes. It all looked wonderful.

Of course, the problem here was there were far too many to choose from so you became paralyzed about which one would be the best. You spent hours trying out new themes and color schemes and all those hours spent testing and trying was at the expense of doing something else that was more meaningful.

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My decision to stick with the iPhone gave me less choice, but more time to work on more meaningful things.

Decision fatigue slows down your ability to make the right decisions in the day and so giving yourself fewer choices means your ability to make the right decisions throughout the day lasts much longer.

Bonus tip: Reduce the number of apps you use. One email app, one writing app, one notes app etc. This means when you need to write something, you open your writing app. Because you only have one, you have no decision to make. Same with notes apps and email.

9. When Traveling, Carry Less Luggage

The less luggage you carry when you travel through airports, the faster you will get in and out. If you can travel with just one cabin bag, you sail through airports and have much more time to enjoy your destination.

And let’s be honest here, how many times have you traveled with suitcases and cabin baggage only to discover when you got back home, you only used a fraction of what you took with you?

So pack less and give yourself a lot more time to enjoy the places you are visiting.

10. Work Fewer Hours

There is a law called Parkinson’s law that states:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

What this means is that if you give yourself two hours to complete a task, it will take you 2 hours to complete it. However, if you give yourself just one hour to complete the same task, it will take you just one hour.

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When you apply Parkinson’s Law to your work, you find you start to complete tasks that used to take an hour or two in a fraction of that time. So when you reduce the amount of time available to do your work, you get more work done in that time.

An experiment was carried out by a client of mine who had 24 staff members in their Seoul office and 24 members in their Paris office. Their work involved localizing the advertising campaigns in their respective countries.

In the Paris office, there was strict adherence with their contracted working hours. They began work at 8:30 AM and finished at 5:30 PM. In the Seoul office, the culture was much more relaxed about when they finished work. Often, they would stay on until 7 PM so they could have dinner with colleagues.

What they discovered was the Seoul office required more hours (an average of 7 extra hours per week per employee) to complete the same work the Paris office did. This was caused by a different working culture. In Paris, people worked to their contracted hours. In Seoul, they were much more relaxed about contracted hours and worked at a less hectic pace.

It was a clear example of Parkinson’s Law in play.

Final Thoughts

The principle of less is more is all around you. I have given you 10 examples here and shown you why it works. You can find others related to all areas of your life.

When you apply these principles to other areas of your life, you will find you have more time to do more of the things you love doing.

If you want to learn more about “less is more”, check out these articles:

Featured photo credit: Olia Gozha via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

3. Create a System

Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

5. Use a Ratings Scale

Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

7. Offer Feedback Forms

Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

8. Track Cost Effectiveness

This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

9. Use Self-Evaluations

Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

10. Monitor Time Management

This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

    The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

    While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

    We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

    Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

    For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

    Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

    Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

    From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

    12. Utilize Peer Feedback

    This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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    Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

    Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

    It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

    13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

    When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

    Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

    Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

    14. Use an External Evaluator

    Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

    They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

    While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

    The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

    The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

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