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10 Practical Ways Less Is More

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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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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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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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