Much of the current writing about time management and productivity focuses on fitting more tasks into each day. The idea is that the more tasks we are able to complete, the more productive we are.
To a certain extent, this makes sense. If we spend time procrastinating instead of working, we’ll be more productive if we can cut out unproductive activities. However, taking an “assembly line” approach to productivity does have its limits.
Today the biggest productivity gains come from what we’ll call “leaps of imagination” rather than just doing more of the same faster. If we are so focused on doing more and more tasks, it can prevent us from really making the huge jumps in productivity that are possible.
We can be much more productive by focusing on doing the right things instead of focusing on doing more things. What this means, exactly, is very dependent on your particular set of circumstances, your personality, and what you are trying to accomplish, but many people will benefit by trying to spend less time doing and more time thinking.
Personally, I am not interested in working more. I am very interested in accomplishing more. Trying to accomplish more just by working more is the brute force “assembly line” method. It doesn’t scale. Eventually, you will reach a point where you can’t do any more without having harmful side effects. However, trying to do more by actually accomplishing more work with the same or less effort does scale very well.
Originally published April 4, 2007.
Bill James-Wallace says
Hi, I know this is a late comment but I thought it was interesting.
A few years ago I worked with a guy who said that every company needs lazy people. They need them because when there are complex tasks to be done, the lazy person finds the path of least resistance. This path often opens up opportunities for streamlining that would never be apparent to the conscientious worker – who always wants to do things correctly. So, we can actually do less if we look at some things (not all) from a laziness perspective. Note: I do not advocate laziness per se! :)
Mark Shead says
Maybe instead of “lazy” we should call them “highly efficient”. There are a lot of things in business (and government) that could be simplified if people would simply ask “what would happen if we just stopped doing this?”
Bill James-Wallace says
True, ‘lazy’ was his term. Though I’m not sure you could call them highly efficient. I think there are a lot of instances where we should be asking “what would happen …?”
What are some specific suggestions that you have that facilitate or focus someone to accomplish more? You talk about imagination as part of the equation. Perhaps training employees in how to be “super organized” frees one’s mind to improve imaginative thought? Curious to see what you have to say. Thanks. Great post!
Mark Shead says
Here is another way to put what I’m trying to say: I want to spend my time on the $500 per hour tasks not the $7.50 per hour tasks. That way I can achieve the same or much greater level of value with much less time commitment. My “extra” time can go into self development that will increase the value of the other work I choose to do.
Christine Simiriglia says
I’d change the name of the post. Its less about doing less and more about accomplishing more. Its about time-management and outcomes. Doers rarely do less, they do other things (preferred tasks or leisure activities) with their time when they can get their required tasks done more efficiently. Its about spending our time with stones and not sand: http://www.organize-more-stress-less.com/home/2009/11/6/do-you-spend-your-time-with-stones-or-sand.html
Time management and focus, are some of the most important things related to productivity and being productive. It’s true, that if you do the most important things first…the rest just comes in hand. You feel relieved and it sort of comes more in handy to think and to act.
I like what Covey said on this – Most people create a to do list for the day and then try to see which tasks will get priority – Covey looks at the other way and asks that we not “prioritise our schedules but schedule our priorities”.
The key here is of course – understanding our priorities!
Bill’s comment is interesting as the person he refers to reminds me of a professor who taught me operations management – his punch line when handing out assignments – “Be intelligently lazy”.
Not that laziness is ever a virtue, but sometimes we can be lazy in our thinking while sometimes lazy in our actions and in an attempt to be conscientious, we don’t think.