If you’re young, ambitious, and want to achieve big things in life, it’s likely that you try to spend most of your waking hours being “productive”. Life is short, and you need to be working every single second if you want to achieve all of your big dreams while still having enough time to enjoy the benefits of having achieved them. Right?
I’ve fallen into this trap myself. I used to believe that I had to spend every waking second working on my to-do list, or I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goals fast enough. I would start each day with a massive to-do list and do my best to complete everything by the end of the day.
However, try as I might, I could never complete everything. While my mornings were usually quite productive, distractions began to drain my focus throughout the day. By the end of the workday, I felt like I had been doing a lot of work, even if I had only crossed a few things off my to-do list. Even if I tried working on things after work, I could do very little because I felt mentally exhausted. Only after I woke up the next day did I feel ready to start my tasks again, but the pattern would always repeat itself. Huge to-do lists, distractions throughout the day, slowly waning productivity, and days ending in mental exhaustion.
I initially chalked up my failure to be productive 24/7 to laziness and a lack of will-power and vowed to redouble my efforts. But no matter what type of mental tricks I tried to play on myself, I would always end up exhausted and spinning my wheels.
How Working Less Can Bring More Results?
This all changed when I discovered The One Thing by Gary Keller. The framework that Gary lays out in his book changed my whole mindset on productivity. After discovering The One Thing, I came to the realization that my desire to be “productive” 24/7 was not only unrealistic; it wasn’t desirable or efficient.
The three most important takeaways that changed my outlook on productivity were the following; Will-power is like a battery and must be managed accordingly, it’s important to separate your to-do list into “could-do” and “should-do items”, and that routines and habits are the keys to getting hard things done easily.
Will-power is Our Scarcest Resource. Use it Wisely.
Gary’s writing on will-power is especially important when it comes to productivity. While we may think that we can just power through tasks all day long like a robot, the simple fact of the matter is that we are only human. Our daily will-power is finite, so we can only get a certain number of things done before it is exhausted.
Because will-power is finite, Gary stresses that it’s very important to only focus on the most important things and to focus on those when your will-power is strongest. Gary notes that many people’s to-do lists are jam-packed with tasks, but that only some are absolute priorities (“should-do” tasks), while others are not priorities (“could do”). Because of this, the best way to be productive is to focus on only the smaller number of “should-do” tasks and to focus on them when your will-power is strongest, which is typically earlier in the day.
Super-charge Your Productivity With Habits.
While effectively managing your tasks and will-power is essential, habits are the last piece of the puzzle to super-charge your productivity. While it may appear that you need superhuman motivation, discipline, and will-power to get things done on a regular basis, this is much easier to do when you build powerful habits. Once you take the time to build a habit, it takes MUCH less cognitive energy to do the associated tasks.
How I Work Less With More Results?
I took several steps to implement these lessons from The One Thing. The first step was to make my calendar the ultimate guide for my day. In order to make sure that things end up on the calendar, I have daily check-ins with an assistant shortly after I wake up. We chat about the tasks that were done the day before, what is left to be done, and what tasks are a priority for the day. We also make sure to schedule rest times for later in the day and vacations on my calendar to make sure I have time to recharge.
Having an assistant help me with scheduling my day helps tick off a number of boxes; my calendar is prioritized, so I know exactly what I need to do (which is less taxing on my will-power), we make sure to schedule breaks to keep me focused, and my tasks are constantly reviewed so we know if time is being used efficiently (focusing on “should-do” vs. “could-do” tasks). Not only that, but the mere fact of having an assistant makes it much more likely that I stick to this routine and build powerful habits.
For anyone that is struggling with being “productive” 24/7, I would highly encourage reading The One Thing and applying it to your own life. You’ll find that you won’t need to work 24/7, because you’ll be able to get much more done in a shorter amount of time!