As oxymorons go, this is a big one.
How on earth could one work less but achieve more?
Aren’t we taught at school that hard work reaps the biggest rewards?
Doesn’t it stand to reason that the longer you spend doing something the more successful you’ll become at it?
Actually, the opposite is true. And to put some meat around the bones of this theory, let’s consider an example.
I spent all day writing a blog post, but it hasn’t been effective. What gives?!
Let’s say you’ve decided to write a blog post that will function as an ‘A to Z’ guide for achieving an important certification in your industry.
Given the subject matter, this one will require a fair bit of research, so you reserve half your day for ploughing through Google looking for the most relevant information to help you write the blog.
With that done, you skip lunch (who needs to eat, after all?) and get straight into the process of writing.
Research in hand, you decide to spend the rest of the afternoon writing the blog. And that’s exactly what you do, but come 5PM you’re still writing with no end in sight.
So, you pack up your laptop, head home and carry on writing into the early hours before finally publishing the post and collapsing on your bed, exhausted and not entirely sure if what you’ve produced is any good.
And here’s the unpalatable truth: it probably isn’t. In fact, the reason your blog post has since gone on to perform poorly and not produce the newsletter sign-ups you’d hoped for is because it’s long, confusing and clearly written by someone who couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
You spent too long on it – plain and simple.
Questions to ask yourself before working too hard on something. The scenario above could easily have been avoided if you’d asked yourself the following questions:
1) What’s a a realistic deadline for the blog? Is someone waiting for it, or is it a project you’ve decided to undertake personally?
2) Beyond hunting for industry-specific detail, are there instead any existing blogs from which you can draw inspiration more quickly?
3) What other tasks do you have on your to-do list that are of a higher priority?
4) Can you enlist the services of someone else to help you proofread and publish the blog?
If you answer the above questions honestly, you’ll likely come to the conclusion that you can spread the work for the blog over a couple of days in short, sharp bursts of productivity and that delegating certain tasks required to publish it is entirely possible. As a result, you’d end up with a piece that is well written and delivered when it’s ready, rather than forced out after countless hours of frustration.
You can work less and achieve more.
1. Spend more time thinking and planning
If you hurl yourself into the day without a plan, you’ll end up working more hours than you need to.
Instead, spend more time thinking about what you need to do and plan your to-do list and diary accordingly. Which tasks can wait? Who can you not afford to let down?
Sort out the stuff you need to get done from the stuff that isn’t time-bound. Equally, you should avoid leaving the hard tasks until last; front load your to-do list with the tough things and stop putting them off.
This mindset should result in a dynamic to-do list that only features the things you absolutely need to do today and which you know are achievable in an acceptable amount of time.
2. Take regular breaks and get out
Our blogging example resulted in failure because the author didn’t take any kind of meaningful break. They worked themselves into the ground, and there really is no greater productivity killer than tiredness.
When you feel your inspiration slipping or realise you’ve been sat at the desk for longer than is strictly necessary, get up and go for a walk. The more regularly you do this, the fresher and more capable of getting stuff done quickly your mind will be.
3. Start early
Even if you’re not an early riser, you might be surprised by how many tasks you can complete before 9am.
Try setting your alarm for around 6am, prise yourself out of bed, grab a coffee and begin tackling your to-do list. Before you know it, you’ll have completed half your day’s work in half the time – before most people have even sat down at their desk.
Our plucky blogger above must have been starving. No lunch? A haphazard dinner that had to be eaten over the laptop? Where’s the fun in that?
More importantly, a lack of nutrients and decent diet will leave your mind and body in tatters, so make sure you eat at regular intervals. Don’t be tempted by sports drinks or multiple energy bars to keep you going, either – a far safer bet is to eat sensibly, have an injection of sugar when needed but avoid skipping meals entirely.
Your mind and body are inextricably linked – remember that.
5. Start your day the night before
‘Pulling an all nighter’ might be useful banter at the water cooler, but it doesn’t make you any better than the rest. In fact, if you’re working every hour god sends, you’re having a lot less fun than most people.
You’ll also be producing your worst work, because there isn’t a human being on the planet who is capable of working eighteen hour shifts every day.
If you aim to go to bed at the same time each night and grab as close to eight hours sleep as possible, you’ll always wake up feeling refreshed. That’ll make early morning productivity far easier to grasp and will prevent you having to work into the small hours.
6. Choose your working environments carefully
This of course depends on your situation, and it may be that your boss requires you to be in the office all of the time, but if home working is an option, use it as much as possible.
It requires discipline, but by shutting yourself away from the many distractions of modern offices, you’ll get far more done.
Meetings, those water cooler chats and inane office ‘banter’ all have their place, but too much of them and your productivity will slow to a snail’s pace.
If you have a big project to get through or feel like you’re beginning to fall behind on your to-do list, choose your next working environment carefully. If your home isn’t an option, a local coffee shop or library might be.
Work where you feel most inspired and you’ll get things done in half the time.
Good work still results from hard work, therefore the above advice isn’t designed to turn you into a slacker who somehow achieves great things – that’s impossible.
What our tips will do is put you in a mindset that values both your personal and work time. And that means you’ll always work hard, but intrinsically know when to stop. Combine that with focussed, deep work in environments that inspire, and you really will achieve much more by working less.