10 Ways to Get More Done by Doing Less

Allison Task

For the last few decades, multitasking was part of every job description and interview. People were celebrating how they could walk and chew gum, answer the phones while sending email, cook and wash the dishes...all at the same time!

Well, ding-dong that false productivity god is dead! As science has turned on multitasking, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and consider a better way to approach our lives.

Is it possible to get more done by doing less? You bet it is. And by "more" I mean leaving room for more joy, better relationships, and health, more of the "marrow" of life. Instead of rushing to complete more tasks, and driving ourselves bonkers in the process, here's how we can be more alive and engaged and productive by doing less.

1. The law of diminishing returns

The law of diminishing returns is a centuries-old economic concept that refers to the idea that at a certain point, adding more of something to a process doesn't create more of the desired result.

You've likely heard the phrase "too many cooks spoil the broth". "Remove one accessory before you leave the house" has long been a fashion rule. At some point, one more cocktail doesn't add to the good time, it detracts. Keep this in mind the next time you think about doing more.

2. Less stuff, more joy

Marie Kondo has become an international sensation and household name with a simple concept: Less stuff, more joy. Kondo is an organizing expert who encourages her followers to evaluate the impact of their stuff. If your stuff doesn't bring you joy, leave it at the curb. With less clutter, chaos, and stuff, and more joy in the items you retain, you'll have a more joy-filled life. She's been extraordinarily successful because her message is resonating. Get started with these 10 Marie Kondo organizing tips that you can implement in minutes.

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3. "Do it nice or do it twice"

When I was a line cook at Jean-George restaurant in Manhattan, my mentor would always mumble: "Do it nice or do it twice" under his breath. Or maybe he screamed it at me after I didn't chop the shallots with four-star precision...

Anyway, it's a great line and I say it to myself all the time, multiple times a day.

Take your time to back into a parking spot correctly or you'll have to spend more time re-parking. Take your time connecting with your kids to see how they are, or you'll miss a small problem and have to undo a bigger problem later.

Doing something improperly only results in having to do it again. Do something correctly, and possibly in a more time-consuming way the first time, and you won't have to redo.

4. Plan in accordance with your values

Productivity guru Brendon Burchard has trained high performers for over a decade. Last year he launched his own High-Performance Planner, which, in addition to being a traditional calendar/organizer, guides users through a short list of prompts to consider at the beginning and end of the day. Burchard wants to help his clients get the most out of their lives; so instead of prioritizing tasks, he prompts them to prioritize meaningful ideas and experiences, and the actions to take become clear based on that vision.

Morning prompts to consider include:

  • "One action I could take today to demonstrate excellence or real value..."
  • "The big projects I have to keep in mind that I want to take on, even if I can't act toward them today..."
  • "I would know that today was a great success if at the end of the day I did or felt these things…"

  • End-of-day prompts include:

  • "A moment that I really appreciated today was..."
  • "A situation or task I handled well today was..."
  • "Something I realized or learned today was..."

  • Burchard believes that by using powerful experiences and values to plan the day, you can more easily prioritize what's important, and get more done.

    Kate Aedon/Shutterstock

    5. Compress your work day

    In my coaching business, I help a lot of people step out of traditional jobs and work for themselves. In a recent conversation with a client, she realized that she only needs to work 20 hours per week to make the money she needs. Twenty hours!

    She nearly fell over in her chair when she realized that she could spend the rest of time drumming up business (aka having lunch with friends), exploring and adventuring (she's a travel writer), and enjoying her life.

    When you realize how much time it really takes to earn a living on your own, you recognize you can live far more powerfully working significantly fewer hours.

    6. Interval training works

    Interval training became very popular within the last decade and has been scientifically shown to be more effective than the traditional more time-consuming workout.

    Working harder, more intensely for shorter periods of time has proven to be more effective for the body. Anecdotally, writers and researchers I work with have also found that it's a more efficient way to do deep thought work. Sitting down for a 30, 60, or 90-minute writing sprint can be more effective than slogging it out for two or three hours. When my author and researcher clients have a large deliverable, they'll commit to no more than 90-minute writing increments, then give their brain a break. They find this to be a more effective way to work.

    7. Cook less, eat better food

    Professional chefs know that the best food is made on the farm. If you have high-quality ingredients and you don't over process your food, you'll enjoy delicious food.

    Let's look at some classic examples: Steak. Sashimi. Crab. These are some of the best meals in the world, and they involve one ingredient! And the side dishes that compliment these meals? Corn. Spinach. Baked potato. These side dishes are also incredibly simple. And they're typically followed by a simple dessert of fresh berries and cream or a five-ingredient key lime pie.

    With less fuss over fancy sauces or ingredient-intensive dishes, you can have homemade food that's simple to prepare and delicious.

    8. Have fewer clothes and a better wardrobe

    In Christine Carter's book The Sweet Spot: How To Achieve More by Doing Less, she describes many productivity efficiencies for working parents. One of her most exciting ideas is on the topic of wardrobe: she recommends that readers invest a simple style that they wear regularly (think: uniform) instead of fussing over outfits every morning. It worked for highly productive people like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. Instead of putting time and effort into their look, they took the wardrobe decision-making and fuss out of their day, and used that time to change the world.

    Africa Studio/Shutterstock

    9. Do less, be more

    John Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, trains thousands of people around the world in meditation and mindfulness. His training helps people reduce the stress in their lives, by choosing to be more present in the moments of their lives. Difficult situations happen (they are unavoidable), but instead of reverberating in stress and anxiety, he invites practitioners to observe the stress without getting carried away in it. Kabat-Zinn helps his students do less and be in the present moment more.

    10. With less time, enjoy what's most important

    In It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way To Happiness, author Sylvia Boorstein shares a story about a woman who knows she has just a few months to live. Her time is limited, so she is deliberate in how she spends it. She chooses to spend her days connecting deeply with the people she loves most. She says the things she wants to say, resolves the hurt and pain she has felt, and leans into the deep love and joy she also feels. In the end, she feels as if she has accomplished more in these final months than in the many decades that preceded them. She acted deliberately, purposefully and powerfully, doing far more with less time. Follow these 10 tricks to being happier without even trying.