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10 Practical Ways Less Is More

10 Practical Ways Less Is More
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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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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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