But what about just doing less? Imagine if you were able to just lop off unnecessary tasks from your to-do list—or find ways to eliminate them in the first place—and still get more done.
Cutting unnecessary tasks out of your life and streamlining those must-dos can free up time that’s better spent in other areas. Here are some business leaders who found ways to do just that:
Ditch unnecessary meetings
Most of us spend too much time in meetings. Douglas Ferguson, founder of business and innovation consultancy Voltage Control and author of Beyond the Prototype, is on a mission to rid the world of useless meetings.
In his firm, each meeting must have a specific agenda that’s more than a list of talking points and a stated purpose and outcome. If you don’t set the expectation and outcome for the meeting upfront, people may not be clear about what needs to happen for a successful outcome, he says.
Be specific about the topic and who is responsible for participating in various ways (e.g., providing input, delegating tasks, making a decision, etc.). “A lot of times, that will expose the fact that your meeting has outlived its purpose and [you] can just not have it,” he says.
Do one thing at a time
Leadership adviser Lars Sudmann, former chief financial officer of Procter & Gamble Belgium, finds that he is able to streamline his work by grouping like tasks—a process he calls “boxing.”
Time-boxing focusing on one project or type of work, such as writing, for a specific period of time. Framework boxing applies a specific process to doing something. By defining a framework, or “box,” around the way something should be done, you streamline the process and eliminate wasteful effort that isn’t as effective, he says.
“The famous P&G One Page Memo is an example of this,” he says. “With this, people can immediately start. That is also the power of boxing—it allows depth, rather than breadth, and you don’t have to waste time thinking about how you approach [a task].”
Shed unnecessary decisions
On any given day, Ben Midgley, CEO of Crunch Fitness Franchise, gets up between 4:30 and 5 a.m., clears out his email, reads the news, gets in a workout, and heads to the office. He schedules his meals at the same time and doesn’t fuss about what he eats, as long as it’s healthful.
He’s out the door of his office by 6 p.m. to spend time with his family—phone off. He even keeps the same bedtime to ensure he gets enough sleep to be most productive.
While that may feel a little like living in Groundhog Day, Midgley says that having habits and routines eliminates unnecessary decision-making and allows him to be most productive and have time for what’s important in his life. By keeping a steady routine, he’s home to read stories to his daughters most nights, he says. “If you make your life as predictable as possible and know you’re [scheduling] quality time in the time you have, then I’ve always believed that you could do as much in five hours as most people could do in eight.”
Streamline everyday tasks
On a more granular level, systems can streamline tasks and eliminate unnecessary steps. Leaders typically put in long hours because they’re putting out fires, says Raven Beria, founder of Brandalaxy, a brand consulting firm. “What normally causes these fires are lack of systems and processes in place,” he says.
When you have a system, the way things are done is never in question, he says. Map out the “who, what, and how” of the task. You may also note the time spent and evaluate whether there are more effective or efficient ways of accomplishing the same result.
Doing so takes some work upfront but can save enormous amounts of time. It can also facilitate training, which can help you delegate more effectively. “By having documented processes down, for both our personal and professional lives, we don’t have to waste as much mental energy into thinking what we need to do,” he says.
Automate everything you can
While they may take an investment of time and money to set up, automation tools and apps can reduce an enormous number of tasks, says strategy and leadership consultant Carla Wood. “I often build clients robust spreadsheets with thousands of calculations built in to track all their KPIs, revenue, team results, etc. by simply entering about 10 pieces of information per client or new business won. This means that it only takes three minutes per business won to keep track of all your team’s key priorities, eliminating the need for hours of weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual collating and reorganizing,” she says.
Wood also recommends subscription-based project management tools and customer relationship management systems that can build automated or manual workflows or activity plans with reminders. “You can choose ones that speak to each other, or use a tool like Zapier to link their functionality together,” she says.
Stop working all the time
You need breaks. No matter how much you try to power through, science tells us that doing so usually leads to diminishing returns. So, take that walk. Go out to lunch. Spend time working out. Or, like Ferguson, don’t schedule anything on Tuesdays.
“Tuesdays are my serendipitous day where [I handle] things that come up that need to be addressed, or I can just take the day off and enjoy the time relaxing and recharge,” he says. After a diabetes diagnosis led him to spend more time exercising, his free Tuesdays give him time for recovery, or take advantage of other ways to recharge, which makes him more efficient overall. To carve out that time, he says, he needs to be disciplined about how he spends his time on other days, too.
Sometimes, the secret to doing more isn’t optimizing every minute, but finding the things you can cull from your schedule. That way, you not only reduce the time you spend on non-essential tasks, but you can also find more time for yourself.