How to get more done by doing less
Recently I had a week where a lot went sideways. My daughter was sick and I needed to go pick her up in the middle of the school day. One meeting got canceled but another two arrived to fill the space. I was behind on the laundry (I’m always behind on the laundry), I’d failed to do my meal plan for the week and we ran out of milk and bread. There was a podcast to get out and a blog post to start. I needed to get more done that week than I realistically had time to do.I was overwhelmed and struggling to even know what to do next. I had my to do list in my planner but so many things had to be skipped or had been left undone that I’d made a new to do list on a post it and stuck it right on top of the old one. And then I was doing other things that seemed important, but weren’t on the list. I was writing them in just so I could check them off.By the end of the week I was exhausted, and my important tasks hadn’t been completed. Now, for sure, that was an unusual week. I know you, too, have those weeks that go off the rails. But what if you feel like this at the end of every week? You review your plan and you realize that you haven’t made any significant progress on the important stuff, even though you know you were incredibly busy. Where did all the time go? Why does it so often feel like you are spinning your wheels?You will never get it all done. The fact that you aren’t doesn’t mean that you are failing.You can make changes that will allow you to feel more productive, and to spend more time on the things that are important to you. Whether those are work projects or downtime with your kids, if they are important, let’s figure out how to make them happen!
Get more done (by doing less)
One of the biggest lessons I had to learn back when I was a manager at Apple was that I couldn’t possibly do everything that was expected of me in my job. That lesson has served me well as both a mother and as a business owner. The secret here is getting the right things done. And then figuring out a plan to get the rest of it off your list. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned help myself get more done (the right things) while actually doing less (of the busy work).
Set clear goals
This is a really important first step. If you don’t know where you are headed, you will never get there. It is important to give yourself a map. You can change the map, sure, but at least start with one! This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be as simple as a list of things you want to do, or projects you need to finish. It can be a daily list, or weekly or monthly. I find it really helpful to set myself a deadline for each plan, and make sure I have a really clear next step. There’s nothing that will stop your progress faster than not knowing what the next step is!For example, I recently built a shed in my back yard to use as an office and art studio. This was on my list of plans for month, but each month the next step part was different. One month it was “call to get a quote,” then it was “hire someone to build a foundation,” then “place the order,” and “buy paint and trim wood.” Each month I could see that the project was moving forward, until finally I got to cross the whole thing off the list as complete. I’m sitting in here typing to you right now.So write down your goals, and write down the next step. Once that step is done, write down the next one. Make sure you know where you are headed.
Brain dump and organize
Did you know that your brain can only hold three things at a time? I don’t have a source for that, so maybe it isn’t exactly true, but I know it is true for my brain. If I’m trying to remember more than three things, I’ll lose some. So if you to-do list lives in your head and it is more than three items long, you are losing things. And it takes a lot of energy to remember and then to remember what you’ve forgotten. So give your brain a rest. Write it all down. All of it, even the silly little stuff that you think you should just remember to do. Like, “move the laundry,” and “unload the dishwasher.” Because when you are overwhelmed, even that routine stuff is taking up brain space. So clear out! Get it all down on paper. Now take a breath, maybe a quick break. Enjoy that quiet!Now it is time to look at what you’ve got and make a plan. I use the Eisenhower quadrant method when I’m working on time management with a client. This method is a quick way to sort a long list of tasks into what is urgent, what can be scheduled, what you can delegate, and what you can let go of.Be really ruthless about what you allow in to that urgent/important box! What is really most important to spend your time on? What will move your business forward? What will make the biggest different for your family or in your home? Your time is valuable and precious!
Automate, delegate, and outsource
Now that you have your tasks sorted, let’s work on making you more space. What can you automate? Automation is awesome for tasks that you do over and over again. Paying bills (set up auto pays through your bank), sending certain emails (write a template that you can copy and paste), or scheduling client appointments (sign up for a scheduling service like Acuity or Calendly). What tasks do you handle every week or every month that are basically the same? These are the ones to figure out how to automate. What can you outsource or delegate? What needs to get done, but doesn’t actually need you to do it personally? In your business, this might look like hiring a VA or a bookkeeper. In your home, it might be hiring a house cleaner or a dog walker. It might be hiring a nanny to drive your kids from school to their afternoon activity so you can finish your work day and be totally present with them for homework and dinner. Maybe outsourcing looks like using a meal service like Blue Apron or Sun Basket, or delegating looks like asking your partner to grab take out on the way home (I put these options right on my meal plan!). What tasks do you do out of habit that really your partner or one of your kids could do? Asking for help is hard, but it is a skill worth learning.I want to acknowledge that delegating house work is a difficult shift for many of my clients. We usually feel strong ownership over these householding chores. I have struggled with this myself. I left my career to be the at-home parent. So hiring someone else to do any of that work for me made me feel really guilty. But here was the truth I had to admit: Not only do I hate cleaning the house, I’m also not very good at it. I’m much better at working with my clients, and so earning the money to pay someone else to clean. I’m happier, the house is cleaner, it is a win-win. But it still took me a long time to get there. So if you feel a lot of guilt or struggle over the idea of outsourcing or delegating, try just one thing. What do you resent or procrastinate the most? Can you find a way to just let that one thing go or get help with it?
Get more done by doing just one thing at a time
You can call it batching or Pomodoro or uni-tasking, but whatever you call it, the effect is the same. If you focus on just one task at a time, you will do that task more effectively, with fewer errors, and faster than if you are trying to do two or more things at once. That means: Put your phone away. Turn off the TV that is running in the background. Turn off your ringer and don’t take calls. That also means: Play with your kids. Eat your dinner. Talk to your spouse without doing anything else at the same time. I know this is a hard habit to break (one of my very favorite activities is knitting while watching a movie), but it really does make a difference (ask me how many rows I had to undo last night because of mistakes). I’ve recently been really structured in my work time. I make my list, I categorize my tasks and put them in priority order. Then I just work down the list. I have some music on, but I put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode and turn off notifications on my laptop. I’ve been amazed at how much I can do in an hour! I used to think I was just slow, but I can get more done when I'm less distracted!
Make sure your well is filled
Although I’m putting this last on the list, really it has to come first. If you are exhausted, hungry, or stressed, you will not be efficient, focused, or clear. You will struggle to know how to prioritize, to be creative about delegating and outsourcing, and you will be unfocused and slow. If you are struggling, check in with your self care. Do you need more of it? Make that your top priority, even if other important things need to be rescheduled. Chronic stress and exhaustion lead to illness, and then you’ll REALLY get behind. When you need to get more done, put yourself on your list. Get rested, fed, and grounded before you begin anything else. Which of these tips works best for you? Which will do you need to try?