The Best Productivity Trick of All: Do Less
People ask me all the time how to do things faster, better, and more efficiently and what tools I recommend to help them do that. But there’s one question I get a lot less, which is just as important: How can I save time—by doing less?
Indeed, knowing what not to do, and what to stop doing, can make a huge difference in your happiness and productivity.
Test yourself with this list of seven questions to make sure you’re investing your time well.
1. Do You Say No?
Most people have a deep need to be liked. As a result, we say yes to almost everything that’s asked of us, which makes it impossible to do everything well, and zaps our time and productivity. Take a look at the last 10 requests you received (ignoring assignments from your boss, which you may not have control over). If you said yes to more than half, it’s probably time to push yourself to start saying no (here are a few ways to do so nicely).
2. Are You Delegating Enough?
Whether or not you’re a manager, there are opportunities to delegate to colleagues. If you’re doing everything yourself, and think “it’s just faster for me to do it,” you may be a delegatophobe. Take a good look at your tasks over the last week—are all of those really your job description? If not, check out my tips for successful delegation to get started pushing some things off of your plate.
3. Is Everything on Your To-Do List Necessary?
Don’t consider an endless to-do list a challenge to get it all done, when it’s in fact a challenge to prioritize. If you haven’t done a task in weeks, or it’s always what’s pushed to a later date, that might be a sign that it’s not actually necessary. Use your manager and colleagues as sounding boards to try and remove unnecessary items from your to-do list, so you can dedicate more time to high-priority items that will move your goals forward. Pro tip: Having trouble removing to-dos at work? Go through each one and write down the impact it will have (e.g. “revenue opportunity” or “user growth”). You’ll be surprised how many items aren’t aligned with your company or personal goals.
4. Are All of the Recurring Meetings on Your Calendar Necessary?
Cancel any that aren’t impactful or that could be replaced by an email update. For meetings you keep, reassess if the format, length, and attendees are contributing to their effectiveness. As entrepreneur Jim Belosic explains, this saves both time and money—a one-hour meeting with 17 employees who make an average of $40,000 per year costs $232.88. Yikes.
5. For One-Off Meetings, is Your Default Length Too Long?
Most people default to 60-minute meetings, when initial conversations rarely need that much time. Try setting your calendar to a default of 30 or 20 minutes. You’ll get that time back, and you’ll most likely have far more productive meetings.
6. Do You Even Need a Meeting at All?
News flash: You do not need to agree to every meeting you’re asked to attend. This goes doubly for those people who add meetings to your calendar without asking—you have permission to decline anything that isn’t critical to your job. Set a high bar for giving people your time, and you’ll find that more questions are sorted out via email or, often more effectively, by picking up the phone.
7. Are You a Slave to Your Inbox?
Speaking of things you don't need to do: You do not need to answer every email that comes in. Give yourself permission to archive irrelevant cold emails and FYI emails you’re cc:ed or bcc:ed on. And while you’re at it, unsubscribe from anything you don’t read (no, you don’t need to read every ecommerce newsletter you get signed up for). Saying no to email is key to making time for real work.
Sometimes, productivity isn’t about the systems you put in place or the apps you download—it’s about taking a good look at how you’re spending your time and freeing your schedule from unnecessary to-dos. More hours in the day? I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.
Photo of free man courtesy of Shutterstock.
Alex is a Founder of The Muse, where she focuses on the product, engineering, and operations of the fast-growing business. Her book The New Rules of Work, written with her co-founder Kathryn, comes out in April 2017. Outside the office, Alex can be found on her road bike or deep in a book. She also loves productivity hacks more than candy.More from this Author