“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery
Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.
Most productivity blogs and books will teach you how to do more, to get more done, to be more productive.
I want to teach you to do less, to get less done, to be less productive.
And while I’ve written about it before, I think it’s time we take a look at how this can really change your work life, and your life as a whole.
Doing less is not about being lazy (though being lazy is a good start) — it’s about focusing on quality rather than quantity. It’s 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.
I’d argue that by focusing on quality, you could work less and still have a higher impact. I’ve done this in my life — by cutting back on my work hours, I actually get less done but have a higher impact.
I should note: this takes courage, to do less. You have to shed all the old ideas of working harder and working more and being more productive. You have to forget about what others thing 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:
- Less hectic, busy schedule, less stress, more peace. Doing less leaves free to schedule less, leave more space in your schedule, work at a more human pace.
- 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, constantly distracted. Do less, clear away distractions, single-task.
- Work has more impact and spreads further and wider. When you do too much, your work is spread thinner, you have lower quality, and people won’t spread your work or give you awards for low-quality work.
- More pride in your work, which feels good. Feels awesome, actually, to create something worth putting your name on.
- People appreciate higher quality. Customers rave. Readers enthuse. Reviewers glow. Bosses promote.
- More time for family and loved ones. Not a small benefit. Be sure that if you do less, you use the saved time for something important. Like quiet time for the ones you love.
- More time for other things you enjoy. I use my time for exercise, or reading, and of course my family.
- Free yourself up to create amazing things. Creating is hard to do when you’re busy and distracted. By doing less, you can create something great.
How to Do Less
I almost didn’t include this section, as to me it seems obvious: you just … do less. But I realize it’s not obvious to everyone, so I’ll share a few tips (many are familiar to long-time readers):
- 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.
- Churn out a shitty first draft, then edit.
- Edit some more. Make it beautiful and minimal.
- Make it something you will be proud to claim credit for.
- When you find yourself doing busy-work, stop, put it off, find ways to cut that out of your life.
- Whatever blocks you from doing your great work, kill it.
- 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.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacker
In other news:
- As I announced on Twitter yesterday, I’m moving to San Francisco. Read about why.
- Three recent posts from mnmlist.com: Clutter is procrastination; Buying is not the solution; Revolt: get free from the tyranny of the news & the need to stay updated.
- My post on Write To Done: Create something new in the world.