Do More, By Doing Less

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After listening to podcasts on my long commute between Long Beach and Torrance for a year, I became obsessed with self optimization. It only made sense. Most of my career I had been optimizing systems and services, and finally I had an excuse to focus on myself. 

"Everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks about changing him[her]/self." - Leo Tolstoy 

As I dove deeper into the world of productivity and personal growth, I quickly learned the strategies and tactics were all about making lists, crossing them off, and dividing my time into quadrants. 

Since work was a shit-show, I started testing hacks to preserve my sanity. My older blogs still wreak of productivity solutions. Everyone in the office followed similar rules. Several colleagues even attended seminars on how to get things done.

Thanks to many hours in the car, I soon crashed into a Mark Twain quote on a podcast.

Unfortunately, attempts to optimize myself at work became unsustainable, because the work list grew exponentially and we never hired anybody new.

So, I wondered. Could I achieve the same or even better results by doing less? What would that even look like. 

It was time to test the waters. 

Experiment #1

Attend only 1 out of 4 meetings every week.

I began filtering every meeting invite by asking three questions. Am I going to add any value to this meeting? Am I going to gain any value? And, why was I invited? 

25% of the meetings were informational. I decided to read the slide decks on my own time. Another 25% of them invited two or three people from the same department.  And, I simply ditched the last set of meetings after speaking directly with the meeting organizer. We got more done when we spoke directly than we would have at the meeting.

That was 7.5 new hours that magically appeared in my week. 

“It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away the unessential.” - Bruce Lee

Experiment #2

Stop planning.

I stopped planning my work day. Work was appearing unannounced, with harder deadlines, and at a rate that none of my quadrants could siphon.

By the time I filtered the work by importance and urgency, I was already behind schedule. 

Instead, when work unexpectedly landed on my desk, I asked the requestor three questions. What are we trying to achieve? Why do we want to achieve it? And, why now?

1/3 of the time people weren't even sure what they wanted. I asked them to come back when they knew exactly what they wanted. I was tired of looking for the wrong rock.

Another third of the work had no clear reason why it needed immediate attention. These got put on the back burner.

The remaining work usually needed to be done right away. In which case, everything I planned for in my day had to be reshuffled. This happened every other day. 

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”- Mike Tyson

Experiment #3

Stop answering questions, start asking better ones.

Alright, this might be directly influenced by the podcasts and at first it may seem like it does not belong in a "Do Less, Do More" post. But, technically by asking more questions, I was able to reduce my work and gain more time so here it is.

You probably noticed from the first two experiments, I started asking more questions instead of trying to jump right into solutions.

In the case of when people didn't know what they wanted, jumping right into a solution never delivered anything of value. Instead of blindly attending every meeting, asking better questions returned time that was stolen from me.

Asking good questions, instead of trying to answer mediocre ones appears to do wonders.

If you are struggling to achieve more by doing less, test these three simple experiences. Remember, just because these worked for me does not mean they will work for you.

The only way to find out is to test and reflect on the results. Below are a few questions to help with your reflection.


Step 1

Did you find a way to reduce the number of meetings you have to attend? Which ones?Did it work?

What type of meetings did you stop attending?

Step 2

Are you a natural planner?

Did you stop planning your work day? Did abandoning your plans help or make things worse?

Has not planning improved your life?

Step 3

Have to started asking more questions?

Do you questions challenge others to pause and think?

Are the questions you are asking giving you the results you want?


Thanks again for reading. And, remember to throw away what absolutely doesn't work. Use the things that consistently give you the desired results. Only take the advice if the moment is right.