9 counterintuitive ways to achieve more by doing less

You know how we’re always running around trying to do everything?

Well, guess what?

Sometimes less is more.

So, instead of doing a lot of stuff, try doing less – but doing it better! Here are 9 ways to do just that.

1. Do Fewer Things, but Do Them Well

We’re often tempted to juggle as many tasks as we can. We think that the more we do, the more we achieve. But in reality, when we stretch ourselves too thin, the quality of what we’re doing takes a hit. So instead of trying to do everything, why not focus on doing fewer things, but doing them really well?

Think about it. If you’re constantly rushing from one task to another, are you really giving each task your best shot? Probably not. Instead, you’re likely just checking boxes off a list.

So slow down, take a breath and focus on one task at a time. Give that task all your attention and effort. Make sure it’s done to the best of your ability before moving on to the next task.

2. Take Time to Relax

We’re all guilty of it – working through lunch, skipping breaks, pushing ourselves to the limit. But here’s a little secret: taking breaks can actually make you more productive. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But it’s true!

Our brains aren’t designed to focus intensely for long periods. They need a break every now and then to recharge and refresh. Think of it like running a marathon. You wouldn’t try to sprint the whole way, would you? Of course not! You’d pace yourself, taking short breaks to catch your breath.

The same goes for your brain. Allow yourself some downtime throughout the day. And no, that doesn’t mean switching from work emails to personal ones. It means stepping away from your desk, getting a breath of fresh air, or even closing your eyes for a few minutes.

3. Learn to Say ‘No’

I’ll be the first to admit, this one can be tough. As someone who always wanted to keep everyone happy, I was a chronic ‘yes’ person. “Can you do this extra project?” Yes. “Can you attend this meeting at the last minute?” Yes. “Can you cover for me this weekend?” Yes, yes, yes.

I thought I was being a team player, but all I was doing was stretching myself too thin and burning myself out. Then, one day, I hit a wall. I was exhausted, stressed, and my work started to suffer.

That’s when I realized something needed to change. I needed to learn to say ‘no’. It wasn’t easy at first – I was worried about letting people down or missing out on opportunities. But the more I practiced saying ‘no’ to things that weren’t a priority or didn’t align with my goals, the easier it became.

And you know what? The world didn’t end. In fact, people respected my honesty and my ability to set boundaries. My productivity improved because I was focusing on what really mattered.

4. Let Technology Help

In our digital age, technology is not just about scrolling through social media or catching the latest series on Netflix. It’s also a powerful tool that can help us simplify our lives and become more efficient.

From apps that help manage your tasks and reminders, to software that automates repetitive jobs, technology can be a real game-changer when it comes to productivity. And here’s an interesting fact: A study by Smartsheet found that more than 40% of workers surveyed spend at least a quarter of their work week on repetitive tasks. Imagine how much time you could save by letting technology take over those tasks!

The key point is this: don’t shy away from using technology to your advantage. Explore different apps and tools, see what works best for you and your workflow. 

5. Share the Work

Sharing your load with others may feel like a sign of weakness. You might think, “I should be able to handle this all by myself.” But trust me, it’s not about being weak. It’s about being wise and understanding that we all have our strengths and limitations.

Think of a team of horses pulling a heavy load. If one horse tries to pull the weight alone, it will exhaust itself and may even injure itself in the process. But if the horses work together, sharing the load, they can pull much more efficiently and effectively.

The same goes for us. We all have unique skills and talents that we bring to the table. When we allow others to step in and help, we’re not only making our own lives easier but we’re also giving them an opportunity to shine.

6. Do One Thing at a Time

I used to believe I was the king of multitasking. Answering emails while on a conference call, making dinner while helping with homework, the list goes on. I believed that doing multiple things at once was the secret to getting everything done.

But boy, was I wrong. I found myself constantly stressed, making silly mistakes, and feeling like I never truly completed anything. Then I realized that multitasking not only lowers efficiency but can also harm your cognitive control.

That’s when I decided to try something different: focusing on one task at a time. The change was incredible. Instead of rushing through tasks, I gave each one my full attention. I found that I made fewer mistakes, remembered details better, and even enjoyed what I was doing more because I wasn’t constantly thinking about the next task.

7. Set Time Limits

You’ve got a task that could probably be done in an hour or two, but somehow it ends up sucking your entire day, or even your week. And it’s not always because the task is hard. It’s because without a deadline, it’s easy to get lost in the details, to procrastinate, or to simply let the task fill the time available.

I’m talking about Parkinson’s Law – “work expands to fill the time available”. And it’s a real pain in the neck if you let it rule your life.

So let’s cut to the chase and be honest. Most tasks don’t require unlimited time; they just need focused time. Setting a strict deadline for yourself can push you to focus and work more efficiently.

It’s like when you were in school and had an assignment due. Remember how that deadline pushed you to get your act together and get it done? That’s what we’re aiming for here.

Next time you have a task, set a realistic deadline and stick to it. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can get done when you’re working against the clock.

8. Skip Unneeded Meetings

Let’s face it, meetings can be a huge time sink. Sure, they can be useful for brainstorming ideas or making important decisions, but let’s be real: not all meetings are necessary. In fact, a study by Atlassian found that employees attend an average of 62 meetings a month and consider half of them as time wasted.

Imagine how much time you could reclaim if you cut out unnecessary meetings from your schedule. That’s hours of time that you could use to focus on actual work, or even to take a well-deserved break.

Before you accept a meeting invitation, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Can the issue be resolved through an email or quick chat? Do you need to be present, or can someone else represent you? If the meeting is essential, can it be done in less time?

9. Practice Mindfulness

This one might sound a bit ‘out there’, but stick with me. We live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded by information, distractions and demands for our attention. It’s no wonder so many of us feel stressed and overwhelmed.

For a long time, I was one of those people. My mind was always racing, jumping from one worry to the next. It felt like I was on a treadmill that wouldn’t stop.

Then I stumbled upon mindfulness. At first, I was skeptical. Sitting quietly and focusing on my breath seemed too simple to make a difference. But I was desperate, so I gave it a try.

And you know what? It helped. A lot.

Mindfulness isn’t about emptying your mind or achieving some sort of zen state. It’s about paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It’s about acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, but not letting them rule you.

When you practice mindfulness, you’re training your brain to focus. You’re learning to tune out distractions and stay present with what you’re doing. And this can have a huge impact on your productivity and wellbeing.

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Justin Brown

Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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