How to increase productivity by doing less

Summary: Personal productivity means focusing on the most important things. Increasing productivity means doing only those things better and in less time.

In this post, I'll share with you

  • why personal productivity is important (it has nothing to do with doing a lot of stuff),
  • what productivity actually means (it's not what you think), and
  • how to increase your productivity (surprisingly simple).

Why do more when you can do less?

What if increasing productivity would mean more results with less effort instead of just doing more?

Cut back on total hours to force an increase in efficiency. - Triple your personal productivity by Steve Pavlina.

Steve Pavlina suggests cutting back on total hours to increase efficiency (= good) and then increasing the total hours while maintaining peak efficiency (why?). I don't understand this obsession of doing more stuff. I think it's way cooler to increase the total value while maintaining the low total hours.

There is difference in being productive and appearing to be productive. Personal productivity is not about doing more (apparent productivity). In fact, in its essence, productivity is about doing less, because productivity is about doing the stuff that really matters (true productivity) and not wasting time and energy on stuff that doesn't.

Stop doing irrelevant tasks

People have infinite ability to use the seemingly effective productivity techniques to fill any amount of time with irrelevant tasks. This incredibly creative process of using 8 hours to do a 15 minute task is common, especially for cubicle employees in large corporations.

Everyone is keeping up the appearances of productivity, when in fact very little gets done (or more precisely, just enough gets done). If this is what you seek, the good news is that true productivity makes you appear ultra productive since you actually get stuff done.

(Bonus tip for cubicle slaves to master the art of apparent productivity: finish the stuff you need to do really fast and just hold on to it until the last minute of the deadline. Be mindful when giving work estimates and keep telling it takes you 30 hours to finish that piece of code, report or research you finished yesterday)

If you are not forced to appear productive, the only thing that matters is what really gets done. Instead of filling the time you have with irrelevant tasks, I suggest to do the most important thing you need to do really well, as efficiently as possible, to free time to do stuff that you really want to do.

Productivity is prioritizing the stuff you NEED to do

Productivity = Value / Time - What Is Productivity? by Steve Pavlina

Productivity is prioritizing stuff in order to create maximum value with the time and energy you have. Productivity is focusing 100% of your time and energy on what you really need to work on right now (and 0% on the stuff you can ignore)

Being productive means learning how to be good at just that - prioritizing. Becoming more productive means learning how to become the master of selective ignorance. Being truly productive means knowing what you really should be doing, and doing just that.

  • You don't need any tools to be productive.
  • You don't need todo-lists or any other getting things done stuff.

Those HELP you AFTER you know what you really should be doing.

To be productive,

  • you only need to know what you are trying to achieve (so you know what you really should be doing), and
  • keep finishing the most important thing that takes you closer to your end goal.

How to do the things you NEED to do

One thing at a time. Most important thing first. Start now. - Productivity in 11 words by Skelliewag

Here's what you need to do right now:

  • write down all the projects you need to do
  • for those projects, write down the end goal
  • for each project, write down tasks you need to do

For each task, think: does this take the project closer to the end goal?

  • If it doesn't (be honest here), ignore it.
  • If it does, prioritize it with the other tasks for that project to find the most important things to do.

Think of the tasks as the steps you need to take to reach the end goal for that project. When you have this road map, put a deadline for that project if it doesn't have one already.

After you've done this for all projects you have, based on the deadlines and end goals of the projects, you can prioritize the projects just like you did for the tasks within each project.

Improve efficiency by using time blocks

Sometimes your most productive bursts of activity can come from the limitations of knowing that you have a very small window of time to work on something. - Harnessing your interstitial time by Merlin Mann,

With prioritized projects and the step-by-step road map of tasks for each project, start by doing the first task for the most important (or urgent) project.

  • Do the task at hand as well as you can, but don't use more time than necessary.
  • To keep time in control, schedule a time block for the task and don't use any longer

After using time blocks for a while, you'll get better at evaluating how much time it takes you to get the tasks done well enough. For example, if you get 90% of the task done in 5 minutes, don't use 25 minutes doing the last 10%, if 90% is enough. Scheduling 5-6 minutes to that task is probably good, and if it's a task you do often, you'll most likely get 95% of it done in that time frame after doing it couple of times.

Giving yourself these windows of time to do something is the key to making time and increasing productivity. By limiting the time you have, you'll ensure you're not wasting time on stuff you don't need to do (because you have time to do only what you need to do) and you'll finish stuff you need to do faster (because you have to).

Increasing productivity helps you to free time to do stuff you WANT to do

By Steve Pavlina's definition of productivity there are two primary ways of increasing productivity:

  1. Increase the value created
  2. Decrease the time required to create that value

Thinking of productivity only as volume / time is where most people get it wrong, thus don't confuse value with just volume. If you want to be productive, your target should not be doing a lot of stuff (volume). Instead, your target should be learning how to

  • (quickly) identify the most important task you need to do
  • (efficiently) do that task
  • (selectively) repeat

If you master this, you will have more time to do stuff that you really want to do, while the most important things you need to do get done since you put 100% focus on those things when you need to. Get better and more efficient in doing the things you need to do and you will get closer to creating maximum value with minimum effort. Do less, create more.

Posted by

Topic: Get Things Done
Tags: ,

If you enjoyed this post, sign up for updates (it's free)

Feedback, questions and comments are also welcome on my Facebook page