Survey Says: How Do I Focus on Less, But Do More?

Last week I posed this question to the Founder & Force Multiplier community: What one thing do you want to learn or change this year that would change the trajectory of your career or business?

We got a lot of great responses ranging from tactical skills such as finance, marketing, and public speaking, to more broad career and leadership development like developing strategic thinking skills, building resilience, and confidently communicating ideas. I enjoy hearing about the areas in which leaders and Force Multipliers want to grow. It inspires me to keep learning, growing, challenging my beliefs, and sharing what I have learned and experienced along the way. So, thank you!

One response in particular stood out to me, because it is something I have also been working on this year: How to focus on less, but do more. That is truly one thing that could change the trajectory of my career and life. And it could change your trajectory as well.

The Right Mindset for Productivity & Focus

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Gregg Mckeown is one of those books that I could quote endlessly (but instead of doing that, I encourage you to just go read the book!). However, I will share this:

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

If we tap into the mindset of an essentialist and begin to consciously design our life around what is most important to us, most of us will naturally begin to focus on less. And by focusing on less, we may not “do” more, but we will be making a bigger–and more effective–impact, and that is what I believe we are really after. We don’t actually want to do more, we just want to do better.

How to Start Focusing on Less While Becoming More Productive

In the context of our careers and businesses, how do we put this into action? How do we actually do less, but better? Here are seven things to consider as you start to orient your life towards less “to dos” and more high-impact contributions that align with your life’s vision and career goals.

1. Audit your calendar and your bank account.

If I were to look at your bank account and your calendar (the calendar of what you actually do each day, not the perfectly color-coded one that you’ve created), would they reflect your priorities, goals, and intentions? If not, that’s okay. It just means there is an opportunity for improvement. Where is your time and money being spent? Are you investing both of those resources intentionally? Or does each day fly by without your really knowing what you did or what you accomplished? Are you spending money on things that don’t really matter? Time to reign it in!

Start with your finances. Where is your money going? Can you cut your expenses? Cancel subscriptions? Live on less? Be more intentional with where you spend your money? Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, says, “Spend extravagantly on the things you love, and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.” I believe that is another way of saying, “Less, but better.”

Do the same exercise with your time. Start with your non-negotiables (sleep, work hours, time with your family, whatever is important to you). From there, fill in the most high-impact activities for your work and life. There may only be a few that will make the cut and that’s okay!

Packing our days with meaningless meetings, obligatory activities, or old routines that no longer serve us, just keeps us in a perpetual state of less time for what really matters, and more resentment, stress, and burnout. Stop the cycle! Do not let the judgment or expectations of others dictate how you will live. You are the CEO of your life. Manage your time and your money like a boss.

2. Clarify your career goals and life priorities.

Whenever I am meeting with coaching clients, inevitably, the issue of not having enough time comes up. So, one of the first things we do is write out everything they must do and want to do in a day and how long those activities take. We go through everything from how long it takes to get ready in the morning, walk the dog, bring the kids to school, to meetings, time to read or study, work outs, commute time, after-school activates, volunteer work, time for Netflix, and how many hours a night they would like to sleep. Between the “must dos” and the “want to dos” for their personal and professional growth, there are far more than 24 hours of time accounted for. Obviously, that doesn’t work.

So, what stays and what goes? I can’t answer that for you, but you will have to get really real with yourself about what is important to you and what just doesn’t make sense for your life right now. If we look specifically at your 8-10 hour work day, what meetings can you say no to? What meetings can be cut in half? What projects do not require your involvement? What responsibilities to you need to make time for? Ask each question with your career goals and growth in mind. If they aren’t in alignment, get creative so that over time you are crafting your role towards your end goal of less, but better.

3. Create your ideal schedule.

Well, a 30+ hour day isn’t going to work, so what will? What time do you want to start work? What time will you close your laptop for the day? Will you check-in at night or on the weekends? Will you take a break mid-day? What meetings and projects do you want to be involved in? Is there a company committee that you want to join? Which work items are going to have the biggest impact on your career and on your fulfillment at work? Focus on those first. Everything else (email, calendar management, administrative projects) will fall into place. But they can easily take over if you are not intentional about setting aside time for the high-impact (i.e. “better”) responsibilities.

4. No is a complete sentence.

The thought of saying “no” at work may be a foreign concept to all my executive support professionals out there. I understand. For many years, I was always the one to raise my hand and volunteer for new responsibilities and projects, or help a colleague solve a problem, or just be available for whatever needed to get done. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? And, to be honest, it did serve me for a while, until it didn’t. It seems counterintuitive, but being less available to do anything and everything, will ultimately lead to being a more effective team member. Which means–yes–you will have to say no sometimes. This is why I put so much emphasis on getting clear on what you really want for your life and career. If you aren’t clear, you’re going to end us saying yes to a lot of things purely by default. But if you know your own core desires and career goals, saying no becomes much easier.

Look, I’m not saying don’t be a team player. I’m not telling you not to go above and beyond in your role. But I am saying to do all of those consciously and intentionally so that you are choosing those activities wisely. Quality over quantity is key.

5. Create a not to do list.

Create a running “not to do” list. These may be items you don’t enjoy, aren’t part of your natural skill set, or that simply distract your for your higher-impact contributions. Over time, this not to-do list will be robust enough that it will necessitate some leverage – an intern, a part-time employee, outsourcing, or a new hire. Be intentional about updating this list so you are ready to roll when the time comes.

6. Delegate what you can.

To really being focusing on doing less and having a higher impact, it will be necessary to delegate tasks and responsibilities to other team members. When you know how to do it all, it sometimes just feels easier to do the thing rather than take the time to delegate it, or training someone else to take on that responsibility. But for the sake of doing less, but better, delegation will be key. Are you holding on to any tasks that could be handed off to someone else? Could you bring in an intern to help handle the work load? Is there a junior employee who you could mentor and groom to take on some of your lower impact projects? Delegate what you can as soon as you can. This will free you up to provide more value to your company.

7. Protect your white space.

Through the process of clarifying your goals, understanding where you can make the highest contribution at work, creating your ideal schedule and delegating projects and tasks, you should have arrived at a place where you are doing less, but having more of an impact at your company. Congratulations!

In your quest to do less, you will have hopefully created some white space for thinking, reading, and planning in your calendar. To me, this is the epitome of less, but better. You may literally have an hour a day of time blocked to do nothing but sit and think, or you may meditate, or go for a walk and listen to a podcast, or read a new article that sparks an interesting new idea for your Executive or company. This is where the magic happens! Having that space will help you help your career and company grow.

Protect that time. It is so easy to see that open space and fill it up with another meeting or project. But you will be far more effective if you take that time to create or contemplate, instead of just plow through another to-do list.

How Will You Find Your Focus?

How will you focus on less, but do more (i.e. better)? Will you rework your calendar? Will you eliminate a bunch of extracurricular activities that no longer bring you joy? Are there people you need to spend less time with so that you can create deeper and more meaningful relationships with a select few? Will you eliminate unnecessary expenses? Will you get clear on the things that bring you the most fulfillment and say no to the rest? Are you going to review your job description and start delegating (or just saying “no”)?

Whatever you decide to do and wherever you decide to start – just begin! This is a process. Less, but better is a lifestyle, not a destination.

What would you add to this list to help others focus on less, but do more in order to change the trajectory of their career and life?

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