Do less to accomplish more. I’ve always hated that phrase. It sounds overly simplistic. It sounds like someone who has had life handed to them on a silver platter decided to do whatever they wanted “because they could.” We would usually try to do more, not less. What if we can actually accomplish more by doing less?
But the phrase does carry some significance. None of us can do everything well. I know I can’t. You probably can’t either.
Why not do one thing (or a few things) well and be known for those things? Why not dive deep into something and become an expert at it? Why not do what you truly love? I ask these questions as part of a blog series about 10 Coaching Questions Every Leader Needs to Ask and specifically in order to wrestle with the question: what are 2-3 things you should stop doing?
For many, I’m sure the answers to those questions center around the difficulty of finding the time, money, and discernment to actually decide what it is that you love more than anything else. It isn’t always easy to narrowly define what it is you were made for and how you will make the greatest contribution on our earth.
That is why I began experimenting with doing less, in order to do more. Through the process I learned a thing or two about how to restore a little bit of sanity to the process of accomplishing more in life by doing less. Here is a process that I recommend, which I believe might be beneficial to you as well.
8 Steps to Accomplish More by Doing Less
1) Figure out what you love doing.
I’m not talking “pie in the sky” here…I mean it. What do you enjoy doing? What are you good at? When do other people tell you good job?
Stop and think about what you do well and also enjoy. If you are good at it but hate doing it, then it is probably not where you want to spend most of your time.
Figure out what you really enjoy doing and make sure you can differentiate it from the other aspects of your job. Otherwise, it will fade into the busyness of all you have going on and you will find yourself spinning your metaphorical wheels with activity–leaving you uncertain about where to spend your time and wondering why you don’t seem to enjoy what you do.
2) Figure out what you don’t enjoy doing.
Next you will want to get clear about what you don’t enjoy doing. You know what those things are. Maybe you hate math, and you wish you could find a way to never look at a financial report again. Perhaps you detest writing, and you would rather hire a content writer or not write at all.
What are those parts of your job or areas of leadership that you don’t enjoy? Write those things down and put them in a box of their own, because soon you are going to be removing them from your agenda (or at least removing them from your active agenda or to-do list).
3) Identify someone who can take responsibility for something.
There are people in your life who would love to help. I’ve found that very few leaders utilize all the potential that exists within their work relationships. (And that’s without even mentioning their personal and family relationships.) Who is someone that enjoys something you can’t stand doing?
I’ll never forget a leader I worked with in the past and how much he loathed administration. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it (at least I think he could), but that he did not enjoy it and he was painfully slow at it. I’ll never forget him sharing about how much weight one of his colleagues took off his shoulders when he finally began delegating the entire binder preparation to her for an event. He could finally stop worrying about all the little details and instead focus on describing his expectations for the binder. After he provided the boundaries, guidelines and general approach he desired for the binder, he released the project into his colleague’s capable hands. He later enjoyed returning to it to give input rather than overseeing the binder each step of the way.
In this case, he delegated the responsibility for the binder to his colleague, and the binder was basically “out of sight, out of mind” for him. She not only put together various pieces of the binder, but she was in charge of making sure she took the project from beginning to completion. She was in charge of asking him for feedback and making sure he was pleased with it before the event. He only had to make sure to meet with her when she requested, so that she could ask questions and he could provide feedback. She was truly “the one in charge” and he handed off full responsibility rather than a couple tasks.
4) Delegate to a few others and retain responsibility.
Most leaders have a few areas where they don’t feel comfortable handing over responsibility. I get that. Some things are so important we want to make sure that they are done well and done according to schedule. (Just be careful you don’t put everything in this camp or you may have trouble letting go of control of anything.)
For these things, you’ll want to create some way of “circling the wagons” again at a later point to see what progress the person has made. You may want to put a reminder on your calendar to email them. You could type an email and schedule it to send to the person in a week, a month, or whatever time frame requesting a progress report. There are all sorts of ways that you could return to the situation to see what progress the person made on the project. You know what works best for you and I trust you will identify a method for checking back in since this specific area isn’t one that you have indicated a willingness to let go of at this point.
5) Stop doing something and don’t think about it again.
We all get our hands in things we shouldn’t. Perhaps we start reading a book that we know we don’t have time to complete. Maybe you have gotten involved on a task force for a project that doesn’t actually need your input. You may have started a new initiative 3-9 months ago that you never finished nor plan to complete.
Decide to quit. Quit that project or that area of focus. Stop doing it and move ahead thankful that you have cut that issue out. Sometimes projects get hung up in our email inboxes and need a quick response apologizing for our lack of accomplishment rather than letting them sit there for more months with inaction. Try contacting the person and asking what they would like to see done on the project at this point if you have gotten behind or if other things have taken priority.
The point is: stop doing something.
6) Plan focused time for what you love.
You won’t do what you love unless you have time to do what you love. Even though you love to do certain things, the tyranny of the urgent can easily creep in and rob you and your day of the joy you could have had if you did what you loved to do.
If you are a morning person, you may want to plan some time early in the morning before anyone else is up or before your colleagues get to the office. Many of my clients have non-traditional schedules and often find themselves at meetings in the evenings or on the weekends. One benefit of the non-traditional schedule is that you can potentially use your morning or midday time slot to do what matters most for the week before you engage in the other meetings that always seem to take up all your time.
7) Check back in with what you gave away and delegated.
In number four above, I mentioned projects that you might delegate but retain the responsibility for the time being. If you retain responsibility but don’t check back in, you will find that you are the primary problem that is keeping you or your team from success. Don’t delegate and fail to check back in. That tells people that their work doesn’t matter and that you aren’t interested.
Think of your work as a home contractor would think of things. Contractors don’t tell people to go build a house and return a few months later when it is done. They delegate various components to sub-contractors, then come back to check on progress and evaluate the work completed. This tells the sub-contractor that they will get evaluated and that their work matters.
Don’t abandon the house you have built. Delegate or sub-out portions of it, but make sure to check back in to evaluate progress and provide input. If you haven’t provided input, you are to blame for future issues in the house. If you provide input and check back in regularly, progress will happen quicker and at a higher quality than it has in the past.
8) Setup a means for others to report to you.
Sometimes you shouldn’t make yourself responsible for checking back in with someone. Create systems and processes that remind others that they need to report. Ask others to send you their reporting schedule and to let you know what type of information they plan to include. High achievers tend to promise much more than you expected and will raise the bar on themselves if you let them. You must, however, require that they setup the appropriate frequency and content of information to report to you.
How can you start doing less this week in order to accomplish more? Review these 8 steps and get started now.
Take a look at the other 9 questions from the series of posts entitled: 10 Coaching Questions Every Leader Needs To Ask.