How to Get More Done by Doing Less

Productivity is generally thought of to its implementation of, aHow do I get more done? a

If weare lucky, we work in squad and environments where that view is at least softened by blending it with a measure of efficiency or impact, but even then we donat fully escape the rat-race-like pursuit of more .

In fact, we usually answer aHow are you? a with aIave been very busy.a And we wear our 80 -hour work weeks like a badge of honor.

Speaking on his upcoming volume, The Calm Company , Basecamp cofounder Jason Fried digs into the dangers of this troubling trend 😛 TAGEND

aLong hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days. Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, itas a trade mark of stupidity. Companies that force their crew into this bargain are cooking up dumbs at their employee’s expense.a

This was similar to the mindspace that I too occupied when I stumbled into mindfulness and meditation 18 months ago.

At the time, I had been working on my own startups for about nine hours a day, and even though I had the flexibility to work in any way that I wanted, I was in the mindset of doing more , running longer hours. I was chasing my own tail, and a proposal to sit still to meditate for 15 minutes a day, elicited a simple reaction: aWho has hour for that? a

But through the evolution and expansion of my mindfulness practises since then, Iave come to learn that an action geared towards less ( like sitting, breathing, and not believing) has the surprising effect of creating some more( calm, clarity and space ).

If you’ve heard or read anything on meditation and mindfulness, that shouldn’t sound too unfamiliar. But in this article Iad like to reveal a couple of tactics where I optimized for less , only to get an exponential more on the other side. These tactics span different areas of my life, and each has their individual, contextual goals — but they are all intertwined and focused ultimately on my experience as I pursue various projects, aims and dreams in life.

I literally stumbled into mindfulness and meditation via a prompt from my therapist who had intervened as my monkey intellect was running havoc and jeopardizing most good things in my life. I still work towards mindfulness today because I have experienced significant changes in my life and run as a result of my practice.

So here’s how I have managed to gain more in my life as a result of pursuing less in some situations.

Plan Slower Mornings

Waking early in the mornings has always been one of the easier things in order to be allowed to do. In fact, I used to believe that I personally required very little sleep — until I learned about the real effects of sleep debt over time.

In the past, I would use an early morning start as a way to get a headstart on the day ahead. I can recollect during my day at WooThemes, I was at the office before 7am on most days. The rest of the team only arrived from 9am onwards, and most of our remote team was able to sign on much subsequently. Those first two hours were glorious though: I could just hack away at my to-do listing for two hours straight without anyone or any notifications interrupting my flow.

And then I had kids.

For any parent read this, youall know that babies and toddlers operate on their own schedule, which means that none of my mornings were as predictable or within my control as before. Initially, I wholly defied this change and tried to stick to my previously focused and productive morning routine. I also tried various iterations to this routine, from waking up even earlier to trying to get work done while dedicating Adii junior his morning bottle.

Suffice to say, by trying to multitask, I wasnat being a great papa and I wasnat doing great work either — everyone was getting a compromised result.

Fast-forward to today, and my morning routine seems something like this: I wake up at 5am on weekdays. I immediately get a cup coffee and breakfast( the same every morning to avoid having to make a decision ). The next hour or so I spend reading, and I then meditate for 15 to 20 minutes. Then from about 6am onwards, I get my two boys ready for school. This means on most mornings I merely get to my desk( and run) at 8am.

With the benefit of hindsight and comparison, I can now see how singular and hurried my old morning routine was. Because my aim was to get to work as early and effectively as possible, it meant that any friction or obstacles along the way had a major negative impact on my experience. And a crappy morning would eventually turn into an even crappier day on most occasions.

These days, by the time I get to work I have a sense of space and pacify. No hurry to do anything specific. No existential dread about not answering yesterdayas emails quickly enough.

Instead I find that Iam more well informed the whole day and weekas landscape, which has helped me prioritize the things I need to work on( versus the things I can delegate or allow to drop off my radar ).

Curiously I have also found that the first hour or so in the morning has not become least productive at all, and I still often manage to do some of my best work in that time( especially when I manage to also prioritize the most important task for the day during this time ). For example, it’s currently just after 9am as Iam writing this article, and I find the words flowing easily.

In the past, I used to run out of steam later in the day due to being so rushed. This inevitably meant that I either felt that I hadnat accomplished enough on that day, or that I would try working until late in the evening to make up for lost day. We should however all agree that our brains do get tired , and if we continue to push ourselves beyond the phase of exhaustion, we end up simply sitting in front of our computers , not get anything done.

Disconnect from Interruptions

Software manufacturers use often use gamification , notifications, and a combination of instant gratification and FOMO to keep us as engaged with their products as possible.

I’d never given much thought to how the programs and apps I use on a daily basis impact my productivity — until I read Cal Newportas book aDeep Run: Regulations for focused success in a distracted worlda earlier this year and was introduced to the concept of attention residue.

To explain what attention residue is and how it impacts us, Newport references a 2009 newspaper titled Why Is It So Hard to Do My Run? a from Sophie Leroy, a business school professor at the University of Minnesota. As Leroy explains in the paper 😛 TAGEND

aPeople need to stop thinking about one task in order to fully transition their attention and perform well on another. Yet, results indicate it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent chore performance suffers.a

I finished the book in a single sitting, and it prompted me to truly investigate my work behaviors. I would like to tell you here that it has helped me to do more deep run, yet I donat suppose I have a consistent workflow to do deep run often enough( even though, my awareness of seeking deep work is more developed ).

The book did however prompt me to do something more radical: I almost entirely switched off my phone without entirely switching it off. My iPhone is now permanently on silent, and has the aDo Not Disturba feature switched on at all times.

I also disabled all notifications — badges on my icons, popup notifications or notifications on my lock screen. The only notifications that builds it to my lock screen are from WhatsApp, which I only use for family and close friends. And yes — I also disabled Slack notifications, which is the primary communication tool we used only for Conversio, a team of 14 remote squad members.

This has turned my phone into less of an attention-demanding force-out. I donat get interrupted or confused as often as I used to. This helped me read 22 books in about ten weeks because I picked up a volume when I was bored instead of fiddling on my phone.

I also started writing more, which helped me get more supposes out of my mind. And most importantly, restriction my phone time has without a doubt helped me sleep better( I have always struggled to fall asleep because I struggle to switch off my thinking mind ).

The flipside of this is also true: whenever I now pick up my phone, I can pay attention to the possible interactions that it presents. If an old friend sent me a message on Facebook, I can invest in replying purposefully instead of both reading and respond in a fleeting moment( when the notification of the message popped up ).

I donat have any scientific evidence to determine how these decisions have impacted my attention residue. What I do know is that by allowing less external sources to demand my attention, I have been more purposeful to prioritise the most important things to me — in a way that also brings more clarity to my life.

Change Your Reading Habits

Consider for a moment that much of your daily communication consists of reading emails, Slack messages, texts, tweets, or comments on your latest Instagram photo.

A big part of our communication is in written form, which means that we need to read in order to respond and interact. Beyond that you are likely reading articles( blog posts) like these, short rantings your father has posted on Facebook, or a firehose of 140 character sentiments on Twitter.

Even if you aren’t reading volumes everyday, you are reading a lot.

A couple of months ago, I hit a wall. I was eating a lot of content, but not much of it genuinely resonated with me. To link this back to my previous phase about distractions, there was a particularly relevant quote from Cal Newportas book that best represented my reading habits at the time 😛 TAGEND

aItas astonishing how overly accessible people are. Thereas a lot of communication in my life thatas not enriching, itas impoverishing.a

So I made a simple change: I de-prioritized most shorter-form content, and started dedicating my read time to full-length volumes. Mostly classic fiction — nothing that had a direct tie-in back to work.

I have now read 40 volumes this year already. Iave ran my way through older classics from writers like Viktor Frankl, Kurt Vonnegut, Truman Capote, Herman Hesse, Marcus Aurelius, and Alain de Botton. By devouring less modern day content, I give my intellect a much needed break from the usual written content I eat online.

Tackle a Big Non-Work Goal

On New Yearas day 2016, I set one aim: I wanted to complete my first marathon( and do it under four hours .)

When I started my training a month afterward, I also stumbled into mindfulness. The combining of these two things soon had an unexpected impact on the way I resulted our company.

Since my primary goal was not about run, it meant that the first priority every week was scheming my daily runs. Run was beginning to fill the spaces around these more rigid blocks. As a outcome, I starting dedicating myself more mental space from my work than ever before. Even catching up on work in the evening — a usual habit of mine — wasnat an option after a three-hour long run — I was just too tired to work.

Working less wasn’t part of my scheme or aim, but it had a profound impact on our journey at Conversio. For the first time in my entrepreneurial journey, it felt like I wasnat tumbling up and down constantly on the proverbial rollercoaster anymore. And since I felt more grounded in my day-to-day, my leadership style started to reflect this attitude. As a result, the team was doing great work in a stable, safe environment.

The results in 2016 spoke for itself: we 3xaed our revenue, reached profitability and celebrated with a major rebrand and product update. This was clearly a consequence of the team feeling more stable.

I then stepped into 2017 with the aim of applying all of my ambition towards actually growing our business. I started pushing and pulling wherever I saw a gap. I started conversations that proposed new ideas that questioned previous decisions, and recommend brand new directions.

During the first quarter of 2017, I was focused on the incorrect things, which attained my behaviour erratic and meant that I lumped a lot of stress on our team. The squad was confused, felt less secure, and wasn’t collaborate at our previous levels.

As these things run, the team eventually managed to penetrate my stubborn drive forward and I received the message: things were not as great as they were before.

Pretty much as soon as I started unraveling my own motivations underpinning my behaviour( principally, seeking more and faster growth ), the team got back to a calmer, more efficient collaborative flow once again. We once again found alignment on both our core values, as well as shared objectives, which entail “were in” making progress again. For the first four months of the year, our revenue only increased by 8% and in the four months since weare up 24%.( Naturally the altered in our growth rate was a result of many different things, but this change was at the core of many of those .)

The only shift here was in my own focus. When I was narrowly focused on run and had no other person goals I was striving for, it made an unbalanced approach that was neither helpful nor healthy for our progress.

When I was working towards a aim outside of work that was just for myself, it gave me more clarity in our mission and helped me be a better leader.

Embrace Not Having All the Answers Right Now

I have an riling propensity to feel like I need to answer all the questions in a group set, simply because I’m the leader.

In many situations, this isn’t an inherently bad attitude to have. Afterall, I am the leader, and in many situations I have the context, knowledge and experience to give a valuable answer.

But there’s a downside. Many times individual team members will just ask me directly for the answer, which entails not involving the team and perhaps omitting different perspectives and sentiments. Once I’ve addressed a question, I sometimes shut the conversation down because my answer is deemed as authoritative or final( even when that is not the intent ). That’s not great for inclusion and collaboration.

In recent months, I have been trying to avoid being the first to answer questions in meetings. Not only has this alleviated some of the demands on my day, but more importantly it means that the team is coming to more collaborative, creative answers on their own.

Get More Done By Doing Less

The truth — even for startups — is that most of the time it doesnat really matter whether you finish something today or tomorrow, reach a aim this week or next month, or grow by 5% instead of 10%.

Yes, there are some exceptions to this. But for everything else, you can probably pursue the less obvious selection and road, while not compromising on your goal at all. In fact, you might be surprised that doing less actually helps you exceed your goals and expectations.

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