Doing Less Can Transform Your Work & Life


“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery

Most productivity blogs and books will teach you how to do more, to get more done, to be more productive.

But have you thought about doing less, to get less done, to be less productive?

Doing less is not about being lazy (though being lazy is a good start) — it is about focusing on quality rather than quantity. It is about getting off the hamster wheel of productivity so that you can create something great rather than just being busy.

Let’s take a few examples:

  • A furniture maker can mass-produce a ton of cheap furniture that will fall apart within a year. Another craftsman might produce way fewer pieces of furniture but make them beautifully and solidly, so that they’ll last for generations. If he makes them well enough, they might even be sought out and remembered for their great design.

  • A programmer can write tens of thousands of lines of code, and produce a lot of software that works. A less productive coder can write a tenth of the lines, perhaps even editing down what she writes so that there’s less code, but they’re better written. This small program might be the most useful thing on many people’s computers, flawless code that just works.

  • A writer can churn out lots of words (hundreds of thousands, if not millions), but have his work read by relatively few. Another writer can write a small but powerful blog post or ebook, and have the post be spread by thousands of people.

In each case, the person produced less, but focused on quality. The impact of the smaller work was higher, and thus the time worked was better spent.

By focusing on quality, you could work less and still have a higher impact.

Be very mindful that it takes courage, to do less. You have to shed all the old ideas of working harder, working more and being more productive. You have to forget about what others think about your work habits, and instead think about the impact the work has on the world and your life. You have to change the way you do things, and that’s never easy.

But it’s worth the effort.

Here are some ways this philosophy can change your life and work:

  1. A less hectic and busy schedule, less stress, more peace. Doing less leaves you free to schedule less, leave more space in your schedule, and work at a more human pace.

  2. More ability to focus, to find Flow, to work in the moment. When you are doing too much, you are constantly switching from one task to another, constantly interrupted, and constantly distracted. Do less, clear away distractions, focus on a single task.

  3. Work has more impact and spreads further and wider. When you do too much, your work is spread thinner and you have lower quality. People won’t spread your work or give you awards for low-quality work.

  4. More pride in your work, which feels good. It feels awesome to create something worth putting your name on.

  5. People appreciate higher quality. Customers rave. Readers enthuse. Reviewers glow. Bosses promote.

  6. More time for family and loved ones. Be sure that if you do less, you use the saved time for something important. Like quiet time with the ones you love.

  7. More time for other things you enjoy. Use your time for exercise, reading, or something else you enjoy.

  8. Free yourself up to create amazing things. Creating is hard to do when you are busy and distracted. By doing less, you can create something great.

How to Do Less

Here are some quick tips on how to actually do less…

  • Slowly cut back on non-essential commitments.

  • Have fewer meetings.

  • Say no to requests, as much as possible, so you can focus on doing something great.

  • Cut out distractions, especially the Internet.

  • Single-task and focus.

  • Cut out busy work.

  • Remove the blocks that stop you from doing great work.

  • Set limits on how many things you do each day.

  • Focus on the most important tasks first, before you get distracted.

  • Set limits on your work hours.

It won’t happen overnight. Change gradually, but surely.