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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

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Carl Pullein

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

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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