Your 3-Step Plan to Do Less at Work (But Make an Even Bigger Impact)
When you want to move up in the workplace, your first instinct might be to ask yourself, “What can I add to my plate to impress people and really prove my worth around here?”
That may seem like a smart question to ponder, but in my opinion, it’s not always the right question to start off with.
Instead, here’s a good place to start: “What can I subtract from my current workload so that I can clear away some muck, free up my time and energy, and start contributing at the highest possible level?”
In other words: “What should I be doing less of around here?”
After working as a psychologist and life coach for over 28 years—mentoring super-achievers across all kinds of industries—what I have observed, time and time again, is that the secret to success isn’t doing more. It’s doing less.
Here is a simple auditing exercise to help you critically examine your work week and decide which tasks to keep—and which you ought to delete.
Step #1: Create an Inventory of Your Tasks
Ask yourself, “What are the top three most valuable things that I do for my employer or clients every week?”
No matter your role, your days are filled with a lot of different tasks—e.g., answering emails, attending meetings, generating reports, filing paperwork, and so on—and it can be easy to slip into auto-pilot and grind along without ever pausing to look at how your tasks are helping your company to reach its objectives (or not).
So, take a minute to think: Out of everything you do, which tasks deliver the highest value? Not sure? Think of it this way: Which tasks lead to a specific result, benefit, or win that can be measured in terms of dollars earned, subscribers gained, customers wooed, time saved, projects completed, disasters averted, or some other metric of success? Once you identify them, make a list.
Next, ask yourself, “What are the top three most personally fulfilling things that I do for my employer or clients every week?”
It’s a very similar question to the first, but this time, think of tasks that make you feel exceptionally engaged, alive, excited, and satisfied on a personal level—the kinds of tasks that make you think, “Yes! This is why I go to work. I love this!” Create a list of these tasks, too.
Ask yourself, “What are the three least valuable things that I do for my employer or clients every week?”
Out of everything you do, which of the tasks on your to-do list feel especially frivolous, ineffective, inefficient, or just don’t lead to any tangible results? Add them to the list.
Finally, ask yourself, “What are the three least personally fulfilling things that I do for my employer or clients every week?”
Out of everything you do, which of your tasks drain the light of your eyes? What feels like meaningless busy work or a poor use of your time, energy, and talents? Once again, make a list.
Step #2: Got Your Lists? Make a Plan
What should your next move be? When you look at your four lists side by side, it’ll probably be pretty obvious: Your goal is to keep doing your high-value tasks and high-meaning tasks. This is the good stuff. When you are engaged in these kinds of activities, you are contributing to your company at the highest possible level.
Conversely, your goal is to stop doing your low-value tasks and low-meaning tasks. These activities aren’t helping you to grow or hone your skills, and they probably aren’t doing much good for your employer, either.
Come up with a plan to retain only the gold—and phase out the silver and bronze. That could mean delegating certain tasks to an intern or assistant, petitioning for a new employee to be added to your department, or making a case for why certain tasks should just eliminated altogether, for the benefit of the company.
Step #3: Face Your Fears—and Have the Talk
You’ve made your lists. You know which tasks you need to keep and which you need to delete.
Now comes the tough part: finding the courage to talk to your employer or client to discuss the changes you want to make and, hopefully, come to an agreement.
This is the part where most people get scared—and stuck. You might find yourself thinking, “Will they misunderstand and think that I’m trying to shirk my responsibilities?” “Will they perceive me as a whiner or a flake?” or “What if they decide that my position isn’t even needed anymore, period?”
But having this talk with your employer doesn’t have to be such an anxiety-fest. Here’s a script to help you position the changes you want to make in a positive light:
“I recently took some time to audit my workload. I made a list of everything that I do every week to examine exactly how I am spending my time here. My goal was to identify which of the tasks on my usual to-do list are leading to specific, measurable results for the company—and which are not. I made some interesting discoveries and I’d like to share them with you. Can we set up a time to talk?”
Your employer will be impressed by your professionalism and your desire to contribute at an even higher level.
If you’re still feeling jittery before the meeting, take action to release some of that anxiety so you can present a calm, confident pitch. Run. Sweat. Pummel a punching bag. Run through your notes with a close friend. Talk to a coach or mentor. Rehearse your key points in front of a mirror. Review your list of high-value tasks to reaffirm all the ways you’re already making major contributions at work.
Then, remind yourself that the entire point of this meeting is to figure out a way for you to add more value to your company or client, not less. There’s nothing shameful about that!
If you don’t go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
Whether it’s adding a new facet to your job description, subtracting a meaningless task from your to-do list, delegating a responsibility to somebody else, or requesting a raise, new workspace, or flexible schedule, never be afraid to ask for something that will allow you to be and do your best.
Photo of fingers courtesy of Shutterstock.
Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a psychologist, life coach and attorney. She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be—and that with enough courage and self-respect, it is always possible upgrade your career, step into a new role, or launch the business of your dreams. Her insights have been featured on over 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at Time, Forbes, Newsweek, Mashable, Business Insider, NBC's Today, and The Huffington Post. Her writings on leadership, empowerment and productivity can be found at DrSuzanneGelb.com. Book one-on-one coaching sessions with Suzanne on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author