The key to getting more done: Do less

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Do the most productive employees work 60 to 70+ hours a week?  No and the studies reinforce that.  What experts have figured out is that the most productive employees work less and even have more time in their day to relax and rest.

When the to-do list grows, do you simply increase your work hours?  Do you sometimes work late into the evening or just bring work home?  It might work for awhile but then the stress catches up.  Working long hours can bring considerable stress and burn out.  But does’t it feel as if there is no other option?

Work less hours but still get as much (or more) done

When things become too overwhelming, people often turn to productivity tools.  There are tons of tools available and many of them are useful.  But productivity isn’t entirely about squeezing the same amount of time into less hours.

Sure, productivity is about getting more done in less time but let’s be honest –  a person isn’t able to work in a highly productive way 100 percent of the time.

What many don’t realize about productivity is that the key is to create breaks of doing nothing between slices of highly productive work time throughout the work day.

The studies confirm this.  Workers who created highly productive work time in their day were able to get just as much done as others working longer hours.

Being busy isn’t a substitute for productivity.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, recommends building a habit of ‘deep work’ in the work day.  In other words, he suggests creating highly productive work time without distraction interspersed with non-working breaks.  During ‘deep work’ there should be no distractions.  This means notifications aren’t popping onto your screen telling you about new email or social media.  You are not multi-tasking.  You are ALL IN during that period focusing your attention to the task.

Once you commit to deep work, the next step is to actually schedule it on your calendar as you would if it were an appointment.

But in addition to scheduling deep work time, it is equally important to create down time.  I’m talking about time to just be lazy and give your brain a rest.

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body… [idleness] is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done,” Cal Newport

Creating these breaks recognize that concentration is like a muscle.  To maintain focus and energy for the productive times, your concentration needs to rest in order to function.  Some of the most successful people subscribe to the idea of rest between deep work including Serena Williams, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett.

How can I put ‘deep work’ with resting breaks into practice?

One study found the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes.  During the 52 minutes, the productive workers were 100 percent dedicated to the task at hand.  This means no checking email, no quick checks of Facebook.  Another popular approach is the Pomodoro method which recommends 25 minutes of highly productive work time followed by short 3-5 minute breaks.

What could work for you? If the idea of setting a timer doesn’t appeal, create your own strategy.  If you know you are more productive in the morning, then schedule focused time during that part of the day.   When you find yourself losing focus, it is a sure sign to take a break.  In the end, our brains will tell us when to take a break.

I focus on tasks for anywhere between 25-55 minutes until the job is done.  If it is a large project, I’ll break things down into tasks so they are more ‘bite-sized’ in nature.  And then I give myself a total break for anywhere between 5-15 minutes.

By the end of my work today, I get a lot done.  The science says this works so give it a try!