Many of us work in an endless stream of tasks, browser tabs, social media, emails, meetings, rushing from one thing to another, never pausing, and never ending.
Then the day is over, and we are exhausted, and we often have very little to show for it. And we start the next day, ready for a mindless stream of tasks and distractions.
I am a fan of going against the stream of what most people do, and taking a step back. Is it really worth it? Is this the best way? Are we losing our lives to busy-ness and distraction?
What if we did less instead?
Of course, I’ve been suggesting doing less for six years on Zen Habits, but it’s a topic worth revisiting, because it is so necessary. Here is a short guide to doing less, for those willing to give it a try.
I could probably write an entire book on the benefits of doing less, but here’s the short version:
1. You accomplish more. No, you don’t get more done (you’re doing less, after all), but if you do less and focus on the important stuff, you actually achieve better results, more meaningful accomplishments. This is how I’m able to work less but still write hundreds of posts a year (on various sites), create ebooks and courses, and more.
2. You have less anxiety. When you let go of the distractions and the non-essential, you free yourself from the fear that you need to do these things. You learn that your world doesn’t fall apart when you let these things go.
3. You enjoy life more. Taking time to really focus on an important task, or enjoy the little things, rather than rushing through them, is much more enjoyable.
4. You create time. When you do less, all of a sudden you have free time! What can you do with all that time? How about spend some time with loved ones, read, write, make music, exercise, cook healthy meals, start your own business, meditate, do yoga?
I’ll stop with those benefits—they’re sufficient for getting started. But I think you’ll discover others as you give this a try.
I wrote recently about how to savor life . . . and this applies to your to-do list.
When you do a task—let’s say writing something—create space around that task. Really pay attention, really pour yourself into it, and enjoy it. Any task can be enjoyable with the savor mindset—yes, even cleaning and doing taxes.
When you do the task, don’t rush through it, but be mindful, be present, and smile.
When you’re done with the task, savor your accomplishment instead of just looking for what’s next. Breathe between tasks.
If you normally do 20 to 30 things a day (as an example), small and large tasks and meetings, that’s great—but are these things important? Are they good enough to make the cut of what should be in your life?
Instead, think of yourself as a collector. Each day is limited, our lives are limited, and we can try to cram as many things as we possibly can into these containers, or we can collect just the experiences worthy of being in these limited days.
What would you include in your day if you were culling experiences and tasks down to the best ones? My day, as an example, often contains these things I love: meditation, writing, coffee and reading, spending time with my wife and kids, exercise, eating healthy meals, helping people, going for a walk, more reading, drinking a glass or two of red wine. Not every day has those things, and not in that order, but those are some of the things I find worthy of my day.
Can you do less today? How would you do it?
The answer is yes, you can do less today, even if you’ve already started with a rush of small tasks. Here’s what I suggest:
1. Take a breath. Take a moment to pause in your busy day, and breathe. Pay attention to your breath for a minute, then pay attention to your body, how you’re sitting, whether your jaw is clenched, what is tense.
2. Now consider your day. What have you done already today? What is on the horizon for the rest of the day? Is there anything you can let go of? Can you create spaces between your tasks? Can you cull your tasks, getting rid of the non-essential, just leaving the best?
3. Learn to know the essential. It takes time to figure out what tasks give you the most impact on your life, your career, your ability to help others and change the world. But start learning today—pick what you think is most essential, clear some space, and just work on those things. Savor them.
4. Reduce distractions. Consider going on a digital cleanse—take a day or a week off of social media, news, entertainment/gossip sites, the places you usually spend on distractions. What will you do when you feel like some distraction? Meditate, exercise, create.
Breathe. Enjoy the new space. Savor the beauty of doing less.
This post originally appeared on Zen habits, and is reprinted with permission.