Increase your Productivity by Doing Less

Increase your Productivity by Doing Less


Raise your hand, who always manages to complete their to-do lists? …No one? So I thought. We’ve all been there, too many things to do and no time to do them – if you’re anything like me this is a regular occurrence, if not a standard day. It seems that just as one job is ticked off, another takes its place: check emails, walk dog, do laundry, dishes, pick up the kids, write a novel, sleep, eat, BREATHE… and if you’re lucky you might actually get some work done too.

Most of us just keep swimming against the current, fighting the tidal wave of never-ending chores and errands, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

How would you like to increase your productivity by doing less? Now don’t panic, this isn’t one of those tired sales pitches, this is genuine, solid advice to help you boost your productivity, and it’s really simple. Let me explain…

When your to-do list is as long as a piece of string (like, a whole ball of it), it’s easy to become overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. You panic. Your ball of string gets tangled. You might get some of your jobs done, but you’ve wasted an hour writing the list then thinking about which bit to do next, and whether or not you have time to squeeze in an episode of Game of Thrones later.

Now take a step back. If you are one of these people (like me) with bundles of sheets of paper on which hundreds of tiny indecipherable lists are written, you could benefit from just not writing them.

That’s right, just stop writing them.


Part One: Don’t Write Lists

When you write a list, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

You’re basically saying that for today to be a positive, successful day you must get everything on your list done, even if that includes painting the spare room and drafting your first novel before lunch. You know it’s not going to happen, I know it’s not going to happen, the spare room knows… you get the point. You’re doomed from the start, and that doesn’t feel good.

In contrast, when you don’t have a daily list to follow, everything seems to just happen by itself. I tried this last week and despite some initial separation anxiety (“but how can I survive without my lists?!”) I was surprised to find that I didn’t just shut down and do nothing for lack of a list, I actually had a rather successful, productive day.

I knew what the important jobs were so I did those first. My to-do list would have had me cleaning the shower, grooming the cat and baking banana bread before I’d even checked my emails, but this way I had finished all my work by early afternoon and could relax with the less significant jobs. Not everything got done but the important things did, so I figured that most to-do lists are unrealistic and it’s not like banana bread is a necessity anyway (well, maybe sometimes).


Part Two: Just Pick One

The second part to this is equally simple – choose one thing, and do it.

I know, I know, it sounds obvious, but normally when we have lots of tasks ahead we’ll do the complete opposite of this and try to get them all done at once. Yet again leaving us doomed from the start. This may sound odd at first, we all know no one can simultaneously write a press release and wash their hair whilst hoovering (a girl can dream), but I do often find my mind drifting to other tasks I know I still have to complete, or even stopping one to start another.

The answer to this is to pick one job and just do it. Nike had a point. Just do it. Don’t write a list. Don’t think about what’s next. Don’t think about anything at all except that one task at hand. Wake up in the morning, think of a thing that needs doing, and start doing it.

When you get the hang of this, you’ll find that your focus is sharper and the task is completed quicker, making time for the next thing (remember just one though). Pretty soon you’ll have completed several important tasks and might even have room for that cheeky Game of Thrones episode.

Try it yourself – no lists, do one thing at a time – you’ll be surprised at how capable you actually are at getting stuff done.

ellie pierpoint