How to Be More Productive Doing Less

When It Comes to Productivity, Less Can Get You More

What has the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 highlighted for me? 

Pre-COVID, I was an over-scheduled busy little bee furiously flapping from one activity to another: work meetings, breakfast-lunch-dinner meetings, charity events, church, grocery store, gym, –  doing the most all of the time. The one most likely to be a coronavirus super spreader. You get the picture.

COVID halted all, but the essential activities creating a stillness, a more home-centric existence not experienced by me since my technology and license-free days of childhood. COVID brought an extraordinary opportunity too.  Each week as I deleted canceled events, my newly, wide-open calendar provided a couple of important things – time for introspection and space that allowed for objectivity.  What started as a whisper niggling at the fringes of my consciousness, became a revelation that I could not ignore: I DO NOT MISS DOING THE MAJORITY OF THE THINGS ON MY CALENDAR. IN FACT, I AM THRILLED NOT TO DO THEM.

Unlike many who felt adrift, my inner introvert relished the unscheduled days where I did not have to be “on” and in performance mode. Surprisingly, the work that needed finishing was accomplished — with fewer meetings.  It also became clearer which voluntary pursuits brought me joy — because I began to miss them — and which ones simply took up precious time, energy and created a sense of being overwhelmed.  What captured my attention was how much more productive I was by doing less.  I vowed to use the pandemic to create a new mindset where I focused on how to be more productive, more joyful, and more at peace. If you, too, want to get more by doing less, try these tips.

Reassess Priorities to Determine where to Allocate Time and Energy

Use the example below to assess how to devote your efforts where most needed. You can create a list in any software program or even on notebook paper.  Under the Activity Column, list activities that you do in your daily life —- projects, meetings, errands, chores, etc.  For each activity, place a checkmark under each column if the activity satisfies the description.  Activities with the highest number of checkmarks are top priorities and should fill more of your day than lower-scoring activities.

In the example above, note that the pickup dry cleaning errand has no checkmarks, so its score is zero, which suggests that the activity can be completed on a different day. When the task becomes critical enough, i.e., you run out of clean clothes, its future score will be higher and motivate you to complete it. Trust me on that one.

For those who work from home, a combined personal/professional activities list may work. Still, some may prefer to keep separate lists or lists by project, e.g., college move or anniversary party plans.

Businesswoman using laptop in office



Reframe Your To-Do List

Instead of trying to clear your to-do list every day, reframe your thoughts to think of your list as evergreen, i.e., a living document, continually being added to, reorganized, or reprioritized. Do the most important 3-5 items each day and roll over and reprioritize the remaining items to the next day. Rinse and repeat every day. The goal is not to put too much on your daily plate and to break items into doable tasks that can be done in a single day. By keeping a rolling to-do list, you know that you will eventually cross things off, but you limit each day to covering the most critical ones. 

Get comfortable with Saying No!  

Women have been socialized to be helpful and nurturing to others … to the point of pure exhaustion and frustration.  Beware of OPP, “Other People’s Plans” for your time; otherwise, you could find yourself drowning.  Strategic use of a kind “No, thank you. It is not a good time for me to take on anything else.” provides a needed wall of protection from overbooking yourself with someone else’s priorities.

Tackle the Elephant in the Room – Too many meetings!

Too many, too long, not productive, these are all words that describe the daily meetings.  Whether in your job or the non-profit board that you serve on, explore ways that your meetings (yes, Zoom calls count!) can be more structured, more targeted or more efficient or simply less.  At a minimum, be sure that your meeting etiquette demonstrates your respect for your colleagues’ time and energy.

Set Yourself Up for a Good Night’s Rest

Get some sun on your pupils every morning by 10:30 am suggests Dr. Connie Casad of Park Cities Aesthetics in Dallas, Texas.  Doing so is beneficial to your wake/sleep cycle as the exposure causes melatonin to be released in your brain twelve hours later, which leads to a restful night’s sleep and a productive next day.

Strategically Cut Corners

Perhaps the answer to the question of how to be more productive lies in a scene from the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” Although the film scored a tragically low 17% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, it did provide one huge lesson.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, to make store-bought pies look homemade and thus, avoid being judged by the other moms at her child’s school, hit them with a rolling pin just enough to make them look less perfect.  How to be more productive? Don’t try to do it all. And save flawless execution for those few times in life where it counts.  Otherwise, strategically cut corners to increase productivity and have more time for the essential things that make you and your family better and bring you joy.


More Tips On Productivity >>> Productivity 101

How to be more productive doing less



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