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Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials

Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials

These days our lives are busier than ever. We work more than ever. We are more stressed and exhausted than ever before. And yet we get less done and are not as happy.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The problem is that we are overloaded with information and tasks, and we try to get everything done instead of just the most essential things. Solution: focus on only the essential, eliminate the rest, and allow yourself to get into that beautiful state known as “flow”.

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And although it can be hard to give up all the busy-ness that we’ve grown accustomed to, the change will have tremendous benefits on our sanity, our stress levels, our happiness, and yes, our productivity.

Here are 10 simple ways to be more productive with less effort:

1. Clear your head.

It’s impossible to gain perspective, and to know what is truly essential, if we are in the middle of an information stream. Take an hour, or half a day if possible, to shut off the information flow, and to get a larger view of your life and your job. The time you take off will be well worth it. Tell everyone that you are unavailable, shut off all communications, shut yourself in somewhere private, and take some time to think about what is important. What do you want? Where are you going? What will it take to get there? Another good way to clear your head, which is necessary for focus, is to write down everything that you need to do, all your tasks and projects and ideas. Dump the contents of your mind on paper, and then stop thinking about them for a little while.

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2. Focus on the essential tasks.

Once you’ve gotten your head cleared, you need to figure out what tasks are most essential. Ask yourself this magic question: “What task can you do that will get you the most return on your time?” Figure out the project that will get you the most recognition, win you awards, or get you the most business. Something that will pay off big. Not something you’ll forget about in a week, but something that others will remember you by. This is an essential task. Make a list of these types of tasks — they’re your most important things to do this week.

3. Eliminate the rest.

Now look at your overall list. What’s on there that’s not essential? Can you just drop them from your schedule? Or delegate them to someone else? If not, put them on a “waiting list”. Then, as you focus on your essential tasks, check back on this waiting list every now and then. Sometimes you’ll realize that the less essential tasks weren’t really necessary at all.

4. Do essential tasks first.

If you’ve got a list of things to do today, and one or two of them are truly essential, do those items first thing in the morning. Don’t wait until later in the day, because they’ll get pushed back as other urgent stuff comes up. Get them out of the way, and your productivity will truly soar.

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5. Eliminate distractions.

You can put essential stuff on your list all year long, but if you are constantly interrupted by email notifications, IM, cell phones, your RSS reader, gadgets and widgets, social media, forums and the like, you’ll never be productive. Turn these things off, disconnect yourself from the Internet if possible, clear your desk of all papers, clear your walls and surrounding areas, and allow yourself to truly focus.

6. Use simple tools.

Don’t fidget with a bunch of gadgets or the latest and coolest applications. Find a simple notebook for writing things down, a simple to-do list (no frills) and the simplest application possible for doing your work. Then forget about the tools and think only of the task at hand. If you’re too worried about the tools, you’re not actually doing anything.

7. Do one thing at a time.

Multi-tasking is a waste of time. You can’t get things done with a million things going on at once, pulling for your attention. Focus on the essential task in front of you, to the exclusion of all else, and you are much more likely to get it completed, in less time, with less effort.

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8. Find quiet.

In addition to a quiet working environment, you need time every day that you can call your own, where you don’t have to do work. This could be through reading, taking a bath, walking in nature, going swimming at the beach, going jogging, meditating. Not reading your feeds. Get away from the information overload and find that peace that will allow you to truly focus when you do work, and to review your day in your mind, and to get the perspective to see what is essential.

9. Make the most of your work.

It’s one thing to write something great, or to create something fantastic. But it’s entirely another thing to make that great thing explode, to get you attention, to earn the recognition you deserve — which will lead to more business or more opportunities. Once you’ve created the Next Great Thing, promote it, show it to others, find a way to have it carry you as far as it can take you. Don’t just create something and move on to the next thing. Use your energy and talents to their fullest extent.

10. Simplify some more.

Once you’ve simplified down to the essential, and eliminated distractions, you should become productive. But distractions and the unnecessary have a way of creeping back in and accumulating. Every now and then, take a look at what you’re doing, at the information coming into your life, at how you spend your time and the tools you use. Then simplify some more.

Featured photo credit: Domenico Loia via unsplash.com

More by this author

Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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Last Updated on November 12, 2020

5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

5 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect

As a perfectionist, do you spend a lot of time “perfecting” your work so that everything comes out the way you want it to?

I believe many of us are perfectionists in our own right. We set high bars for ourselves and put our best foot forward to achieve them. We dedicate copious amounts of attention and time to our work to maintain our high personal standards. Our passion for excellence drives us to run the extra mile, never stopping, never relenting.

Dedication towards perfection undoubtedly helps us to achieve great results. Yet, there is a hidden flip side to being perfectionists that we may not be aware of. Sure, being a perfectionist and having a keen eye for details help us improve and reach our goals. 

However, as ironic as it might sound, a high level of perfectionism prevents us from being our best as we begin to set unrealistic standards and let the fear of failure hold us back.

Below, we’ll go over some of the reasons why being a perfectionist may not be so perfect and how it can inhibit you from being the best version of yourself.

Why Perfectionism Isn’t So Perfect?

1. Less Efficiency

As a perfectionist, even when you are done with a task, you linger to find new things to improve on. This lingering process starts off as 10 minutes, then extends to 30 minutes, then to an hour, and more. We spend way more time on a task than is actually required.

In order to be truly efficient, we need to strike a balance between the best we could possibly do and the level of “good” a specific project requires. No one will expect perfection from you because it will ultimately be impossible to attain. Do the best you can in a reasonable time frame, and allow yourself to put it into the world.

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2. Less Effectiveness

We do little things because they seem like a “good addition” without consciously thinking about whether they’re really necessary. Sometimes, not only do the additions add no value, but they might even ruin things.

For example, over-cluttering a presentation with unneeded details can make it confusing for listeners. Jam-packing a blog layout with too many add-ons can make it less user friendly. Sometimes, consistency is key, and if you continuously change things, this will become much more difficult.

3. More Procrastination

Our desire to “perfect” everything makes us overcomplicate a project. What’s actually a simple task may get blown out of proportion to the extent that it becomes subconsciously intimidating. This makes us procrastinate on it, waiting for the ever “perfect” moment before we get to it. This “perfect” moment never strikes until it is too late.

Instead of overthinking it, set small objectives if you have a big project ahead of you. This will help you tackle it step-by-step and complete it before the deadline.

If you need help tackling procrastination, check out this article.

4. Missing the Bigger Picture

As a perfectionist, you get so hung up on details that you forget about the bigger picture and the end vision. It’s not uncommon to see better jobs done in pruning the trees than growing the forest.

Take a step back and remind yourself of your end goal. Try setting a timeline to help yourself stick to the work that needs to be done without ruminating on things that could be improved.

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5. Stressing Over Unfounded Problems

We anticipate problems before they crop up, and come up with solutions to address these problems. It becomes an obsession to pre-empt problems. As it turns out, most of these problems either never surface or don’t matter that much.

When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem

The problem isn’t perfectionism specifically. Perfectionism helps us to continuously strive for excellence and become better, so it can really be a good thing.The problem is when setting high standards turns into an obsession, so much so that the perfectionist becomes neurotic over gaining “perfection” and refuses to accept anything less than perfect. In the process, s/he misses the whole point altogether and does damage to their mental health. Such perfectionists can be known as “maladaptive perfectionists.”[1] Maladaptive perfectionists spend so much time setting high expectations and striving for perfection that they increase levels of depression and anxiety. 

Diagram showing how a healthy perfectionist and a maladaptive perfectionist respond to failure.

    The answer isn’t to stop being a perfectionist or high achiever. It’s to be conscious of our perfectionist tendencies and manage them accordingly. We want to be healthy perfectionists who are truly achieving personal excellence, not maladaptive perfectionists who are sabotaging our own personal growth efforts[2].

    How to Be a Healthy Perfectionist

    1. Draw a Line

    We have the 80/20 rule, where 80% of output can be achieved in 20% of time spent. We can spend all our time getting the 100% in, or we can draw the line where we get majority of the output, and start on a new project.

    Obsessing over details is draining and tedious, and it doesn’t help us accomplish much. I used to review a blog post 3-4 times before I published. All the reviewing only amounted to subtle changes in phrasing and the occasional typos. It was extremely ineffective, so now I scan it once or twice and publish it.

    2. Be Conscious of Trade-offs

    When we spend time and energy on something, we deny ourselves the opportunity to spend the same time and energy on something else. There are tons of things we can do, and we need to be aware of the trade-offs involved, so we can better draw a line.

    For example, if some unimportant blog admin work takes an hour, that’s an hour I could spend on content creation or blog promotion. Being conscious of this helps me make a better choice on how to spend my time.

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    3. Get a View of the Big Picture

    What is the end objective? What is the desired output? Is what you are doing leading you to the overall vision?

    As a perfectionist, to make sure my attention is set on the end point, I have a monthly and weekly goal sheet my blog that keeps me on track. Every day, I refer to it to make sure what I’m doing contributes to the weekly goals, and ultimately the monthly goals to keep me on track.

    4. Focus on Big Rocks

    Big rocks are the important, high impact activities. Ask yourself if what you are doing makes any real impact. If not, stop working on it.

    If it’s a small yes, deprioritize, delegate it to someone else, or get it done quickly. Seek out high impact tasks and spend time on them instead. Knowing the big picture helps you know the big rocks that contribute to the end goal.

    5. Set a Time Limit

    Parkinson’s Law

    tells us work will take however long we want it to take. If you give yourself 4 hours, you will finish it in 4 hours. If you give yourself 3 hours, you will finish within 3 hours. If you don’t give yourself any time limit, you will take forever to do it.

    Set the time limit and finish the task by then. There can be a million things you can do to improve it, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

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    6. Be Okay With Mistakes

    Part of the reason why a perfectionist obsesses over their work is because they want it to be mistake-free. However, trying to achieve 100% perfection is highly ineffective. If we’re busy perfecting this thing, we can’t get to other important things.

    Realize that making mistakes is a trade off we have to embrace. The more we open ourselves to making mistakes, the faster we can get down to learning from them, and the quicker we can grow.

    7. Realize Concerns Usually Amount to Nothing

    It’s good to plan and prepare, but there comes a time when we should let things roll and deal with problems as they crop up. Being overly preemptive makes us live in an imaginary future versus in the present.

    This doesn’t mean you don’t care. What it means that most of the things that do crop up can always be controlled on the spot, without worrying about them beforehand.

    8. Take Breaks

    If your productivity is waning, take a break. Resting and coming back to the same thing later on gives you a renewed perspective and fresh focus.

    The Bottom Line

    Perfectionism doesn’t have to be the enemy. If you’re a perfectionist, you can use it to help you be better at what you love to do. However, there’s a time and a place for it, and it’s important to learn strategies to start overcoming perfectionism when it becomes an obsession.

    Instead of doing work perfectly, do your best and move on. This will help you go farther, faster.

    More on Being Your Best

    Featured photo credit: Elsa T. via unsplash.com

    Reference

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