Photo: Mac.rj

Photo: Mac.rj

Accomplish more by doing less. It may sound like some of the inscrutable wisdom of Kwai Chang Caine, but it is possible – just possible – that you could become much more productive by using these tips based in the latest performance science.

That science, largely accumulated in recent years, makes very clear that creating a rhythm between focus and distraction, between expending energy and recovery, and above all, keeping a clear outcome in mind can pay off in a big way by delivering far better results.

Don’t Confuse Busy With Productive

The world we live in is filled with distractions: People, devices, media, projects, and possessions all clamoring for a slice of our attention. Like a plague of locust, they will consume every minute of your day if you let them. A few years ago I took a sabbatical and could not understand how I was ever able to shoehorn in a 50-60 hour a week job into my schedule. Every day was filled. Nature abhors a vacuum.

It is easy to stay busy. Being productive is another question. That question is, to what degree are those “locust” eating into your productivity? Look at the tasks you are checking off each day. How many of them are moving you step-by-step closer to your goals? Make sure that the ones that are not moving you toward your goals are prioritized accordingly.

What Must Get Done Today?

This is a question that I routinely ask myself each morning (actually, when I’m doing things right, I ask this question the night before). It is directly tied the question “What has to happen this week?” which derives from the question “What has to happen this month?” This “productivity pyramid” flows from your most important goals. It is easy to get this confused with “What do I want to do today?”

Once you have answered the question “What must get done today”, make those tasks the very first order of business. As the day ahead unfolds it will likely hold more distractions and diversions, so make sure that you take at least one solid step forward toward your goals before the locust attack.

Focus Pocus

This is hard. We’ve been conditioned to multi-task and our brains naturally like to jump around like monkeys in a tree, but the benefits of singular focus are very powerful. Cultivating this one habit will instantly make you much more productive.

Why you ask? First, our brains cannot actually multi-task (assuming you are human). They have to switch context and spend time remembering where they were at before the distraction occurred. It is very inefficient, apparently adding between 20-50% more time to every task. In addition, innovation and creativity are more likely to occur by using the cycle of intense focus and relaxation (also known as the creative cycle).

Just Stop Doing It

Many of history’s most creative minds have understood that taking periodic breaks during the day – stepping away from the problem to reenergize and give the right-brain/subconscious some space to work – is the secret to facilitating the still mysterious connections that lead to creative breakthroughs and innovation. That is why it is a fundamental part of the Energy, Engagement and Motivation programs we offer.

This essential, and somewhat counter-intuitive step has been squeezed out of our schedules in our quest to check more boxes on our task lists and get more done.

Da Vinci may have said it best: “The greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less” and “…to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose the power of judgment.”

Dusty advice from someone who never held an iPhone? Not according to the latest science. Working in short sprints followed by a short period of recovery will restore your energy and focus, feed the creative cycle, and actually trigger your body’s pleasure response, which will encourage you to repeat the cycle.

Yes, grasshopper, you can accomplish more by doing less!

Productivity Rx

Try following this simple prescription and you will see an immediate difference:

• Work in short focused sprints

• Stay focused on your key priorities

• Take time to reenergize


I’d love to hear about your experience and results!