Doing Less: A Love Story

I’m a bit of an efficiency junky. That is not to say I’m incredibly efficient (although I am pretty efficient, if I do say so myself). What it means is that I’m really into reading articles and listening to podcasts about efficiency, and particularly maximizing the efficient use of time. But don’t worry, this is not an article about how to maximize productivity! Or make every moment count! Or better organize your calendar in 3-minute increments! My true goal is not to do more, but to do less, and here is what has gotten me closest to that goal.

Set your alarms! No, I’m not referring to that annoying device (read: iPhone) that wakes you up in the morning. What I am referring to is a good, old fashioned (digital) timer. Nothing motivates me to complete a task like setting a timer, putting on some loud music, and playing a game with myself to see what I can get done before the alarm goes off. Maybe this originates in my early love for timed games (Anyone else remember that typing game on the old MS DOS? Any other Boggle lovers out there?). I can’t be sure. But there is something about the timer that focuses my brain like nothing else.

Email is the devil. Tell you something you don’t already know, right? While it’s an incredibly useful communication tool, it does have its downsides. How many times have you flipped over to your inbox only to emerge an hour and a half later feeling like you’ve accomplished nothing? Email is a black hole of whack-a-mole. I’m currently experimenting with closing my inbox altogether and scheduling email check-ins right into my calendar every couple hours. It’s hard, really hard. But when I manage it, it makes a huge difference in my productivity and mental health. Thanks to Barbara George for that one.

Give yourself enough time. On a near-daily basis I torture myself by blocking off 30 minutes on my calendar for a task that will realistically take 2 hours. Anyone else relate to this one? Now sometimes the timer trick can condense the true time required, but it’s not a magician. Come up with a realistic estimate of how long a task will take and put that on your calendar. If right now you’re thinking, “but there’s no way I’ll be able to fit everything on my calendar,” then . . . well, yeah. There is a finite amount of time in each day. Sorry. Each day there are certain things you get done and other things you don’t, and then the sun still sets and the sun still rises. Putting more on your calendar isn’t going to magically translate into you getting more done. It just makes you feel awful and who needs more of that? Nobody!

The Zone of Genius. This one comes to you from Elaine Welteroth, whose Masterclass I listened to over the weekend and highly recommend. Elaine encourages everyone to focus on doing work that is within your particular and unique zone of genius. If it’s not in your zone of genius, you shouldn't be doing it. You may be realizing right now that this “zone of genius” concept is just a sexier way of saying, learn to delegate. One thing I’ve learned about delegating is that it takes practice and patience. Being good at delegating doesn’t mean that you assign lots of tasks, it means you have to actually get good at delegating. You need to take the time to think through the project, discuss it with the delegatee, and then provide thoughtful feedback. It’s an early investment with increasing marginal returns.

If you have time . . . Are you one of those people who, when someone asks you to do something you automatically feel an obligation to do it? Yeah, me too. That’s part of what makes email so infuriating because each one is a tiny little demand. To all my fellow self-obligators: this is our own problem. Lately I’ve been trying to break this bad habit by adding the following phrase to the beginning of every non-client email I receive: “If you have time . . . “ Because it’s always your choice and you can choose to not be at the whim of every person with your email address.

I’m making jokes here, but I mean this all sincerely. As a founder myself of a company that is in its first year, I get that the concept of time management can feel like a farce or almost an offense. How dare you talk to me about time management?!?! I just need more time! Well, you are never going to get more time. Each day will have the same number of hours as the day before. So do less. And if you don’t believe me, believe Paul Rudd.

--Jessie Gabriel