One productivity issue I come across more frequently than other is a belief that doing more work is good and doing less is bad. But why do people say “less is more” then? 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 24 reaons why less is more:
1. When you write shorter emails, you become more effective
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. When you write fewer emails, you become more focused
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.
3. When you reduce email notifications, you will focus more
Notifications – beeps, buzzing devices and sounds – were once a fun idea. However, the time has come to reduce notifications to improve your productivity. If your work or focus is broken to check email every few minutes, it will take you time to refocus on your work. That’s why you should take the time to disable notifications (e.g. disable email notifications on the iPhone and Android phones) or reduce the frequency (e.g. check email every hour instead of every 5 minutes).
4. When you avoid work emails at home, you will be happier and more productive
A study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that professionals often become angry when they receive emails and text messages from their company after usual working hours. When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense.
After all, there is often little you can do to solve a work problem in the evening when you are away from your files and ability to seek input from others. If you keep answering work email and obsessing over problems, you will find it more difficult to relax and rest.
5. When you avoid email and social media first thing in the morning, you will be more productive
As Henry Ward Beecher said,
“The first hour is the rudder of the day.”
It matters how you start the day. Many successful people follow a defined morning routine and take the time to exercise or read a book. Starting the day with email puts you into a reactive frame of mind. That approach means you are neglecting your goals and priorities.
6. When you create shorter presentations, your 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.
7. When you have shorter meetings, you have more time to actually work
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.
Following a written agenda is a key habit for effective meetings. Even better, insisting that all meetings have agendas will reduce the number of meetings you attend. You may face a difficult adjustment at first. You will gain back hours of productive time each month.
If you receive resistance to a written agenda, simply tell the person “Before attending meetings, I always seek to prepare so that I can make the most of the time.”
8. When you schedule less work, you feel more energetic
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.
9. When you block your calendar, you will receive fewer distractions
In many large organizations, it is a common practice to have a shared calendar. This type of system makes it easy to schedule meetings because the meeting organizer can find a time when everyone needed for the meeting is free.
Unfortunately, some people start to view their daily office calendar in a reactive way: a place to store meeting requests. Instead, make sure you block (i.e. schedule “a meeting with yourself”) at least 2 hours per day to permit you to focus on your high priority activities.
10. When you work fewer hours, your focus will improve
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.
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.
11. When you set a timer on your work, your foucs will improve
In most professional work environments, individuals have a high degree of autonomy in how they organize their days. Generally, this freedom is a blessing. It is also easy to fall into bad habits – reading articles on the Web, watching silly videos or simply day dreaming.
Instead, set a timer for 25 minutes to improve productivity. Once you master the routine of working according to a schedule, you can gradually increase the duration of your focus periods.
12. When you create fewer goals, you are more likely to hit them
Similar to scheduling fewer tasks per day, giving yourself fewer goals each year also works.
Entrepreneur and author Micheal Hyatt advocates setting approximately seven to ten annual goals that cover your entire life (career, health, intellectual, financial and so forth). Setting challenging goals is a vital to living a life you are proud of, rather than simply checking off tasks. In my experience, 7-10 goals is the “Goldilocks zone” for major annual goals.
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.
13. When you write down fewer priorities, you’ll achieve more
One of my favorite insights from Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek is about the impact of setting fewer priorities. As Ferriss writes:
“Don’t ever arrive at the office or in front of your computer without a clear list of priorities… I don’t recommend using Outlook or computerized to-do lists, because it is possible to add an infinite number of items… There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Never.”
I have found this recommendation valuable and absolutely worth implementing. Besides, writing a to-do list with one hundred items due on a single day will simply discourage you.
14. When you make fewer decisions, you save more mental energy
Your energy level impacts your ability to make good decisions. For example, it is often difficult to keep your temper under control after a stressful day at the office. In fact, economists have reported that you are more likely to make impulse purchases (e.g. junk food) when you are tired.
Armed with this information, you can decide to “sleep on it” whenever you are prompted to make a significant decision late in the day.
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.
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.
15. When you eliminate clutter in your workspace, you will waste less time
Clutter is a common problem for many of us. When your workspace is filled with clutter – old magazines, receipts for expense claims, piles of old Post-It notes – your productivity suffers. Specifically, you will spend time multiple times per day looking for important materials.
According to the Daily Mail, searching for lost items takes up at least 10 minutes per day (that’s equivalent to spending over $1100 per year looking for items if your annual salary is $70,000).
16. When you reduce unproductive commuting time, you can achieve more
Commuting to and from the office takes up a great deal of time that could be put to productive use. The average American spends 50 minutes per day commuting, an activity that many consider tiresome or frustrating. Fortunately, you can transform commuting time into education time!
If you drive a car to work, listen to podcasts that can motivate and inspire you. In addition, you can also look into commuting by train or subway, you can read, study or even get a head start on your work.
17. When you streamline your morning routine, you will become a morning master
Your approach to your morning makes a significant impact on your productivity. If you are disorganized and sleep in, a mad scramble to make out the door in time will be your daily reality. Instead, you can follow the morning ritual of successful people who get up early so they can read, exercise and take care of other important activities.
To streamline your morning, look for recurring tasks that you can optimize. For example, consider placing your keys and cell phone in the exact same place each night so you can easily locate them as you depart. During the winter, place all your cold weather clothes (hat, gloves, boots etc) so you they can dry out and be ready for another day.
18. When you reduce the icons on your computer desktop, you will be more productive
Your computer desktop is not an effective filing system. For the best results, I recommend a maximum of one column of icons for your most frequently used applications. I suggest including your main productivity applications (e.g. Microsoft Word and Excel) and web browsers (e.g. Firefox and Chrome). The rest of your desktop will then be free and clear.
19. When you take naps, you will manage your stress levels
Carving out twenty to thirty minutes during a busy work day is one way to improve your productivity. Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, commented that naps improve creativity.
Simply continuing to grind away on a tough work problem is not always the right strategy. Of course, not every company has an enlightened policy on afternoon naps so use your judgement.
20. When you take all of your vacation days, you will be happier and more productive
Did you know that New Zealand law requires staff have 30 vacation days per year? That high commitment to vacation is doing nothing to hurt New Zealand’s economy according to a recent OECD findings reported in USA Today. Taking time away from the office allows you to expand your interests, build new experiences and get much needed rest.
21. When you reduce television consumption, you have more time to apply yourself to satisfying activities
The average American watches over 3 hours of television per day. What if you reduced your intake by one hour? That would give you time to apply yourself to other activities.
For example, you could finally start learning a new language, attend a night class one day a week or simply get to bed earlier. This idea is especially valuable if you tend to watch television (or video) for hours on end, regardless of the program.
22. When you cut back on watching the news, you will be happier and less anxious
Psychology Today magazine recently reported that viewing TV news and current affairs programs can make people more anxious. Over the past 20 years, there has been an increase in sensational negative news coverage. According to the research:
“Not only are negatively balanced news broadcasts likely to make you sadder and more anxious, they are also likely to exacerbate your own personal worries and anxieties.”
23. When you go to bed earlier, you will be better rested and effective
If you are used to going through your days feeling tired and worn out, simply going to bed an hour earlier will improve your productivity. Getting more rest will improve your ability to stay focused and help you make better decisions, including on the road. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that over 200,000 American car crashes are caused by sleepy drivers.
24. When you travel with less luggage, you have more time to enjoy the places you visit
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.
The principle of less is more is all around you. I have given you 24 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.
Featured photo credit: Olia Gozha via unsplash.com
|Harvard Business Review: Your Late-Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team
|Intelligent Economist: Decision Fatigue
|Mail Online: Lost something already today? Misplaced items cost us ten minutes a day
|USA Today: Americans’ commutes aren’t getting longer
|Telegraph: Bosses Should Allow Staff Afternoon Nap
|USA Today: On holiday: Countries with the most vacation days
|PsychologyToday: The Psychological Effects of TV News