If You Want to be More Productive Just Do Less Work

Pixy Stix Mountain DewYou work too hard. You do too much.

Want to be more productive? Just do less work.

I know you’re probably scratching your head right now wondering how to not get fired by taking this recommendation.  The truth is you’ll probably be on your way to a promotion if you pull this off correctly.

Here’s how it works: we work on a lot of stupid crap that no one is ever going to look at let alone use.  Being more productive all boils down to not doing said stupid crap.

What kind of stupid crap am I talking about?  How about those bajillion Excel reports you and your team generate every month?  Those “latest best estimates” that are time stamped by the hour to let folks know which version you’re working from.  Those weekly or monthly status updates that are 68 pages of the equivalent of PowerPoint water boarding.  How about the 9,000 cc emails you send or receive every month?  That stupid crap.

“Oh no!  We can’t stop cranking those things out!  They’re ever so valuable!  And 80% of my job responsibilities center around turning out such value added deliverables that create synergies across the enterprise!”


Let’s really evaluate this “work” you do and create a plan to stop doing it.

Step 1: Eliminate the Extremely Stupid Crap.  I’m sure if you look at the work you do (status reports, dashboards, updates, cc emails, etc.) you can quickly identify 20% of it that’s outdated and worthless.  Simply stop doing it.

Inform your stakeholders and recipients “I’m trying to make my team more efficient.  We’ve evaluated the following report/dashboard/status message and determined it’s not relevant or helpful anymore so we’re going to stop producing it and focus on more important stuff.”  No one will complain.  They’ll actually thank you for freeing up their time and attention from having to sift through that stupid crap.

Step 2: Stop the Moderately Stupid Crap.  This stuff is a little harder to find.  On the face of it, it seems like it might be valuable information or reporting but you’re not quite sure.  You can find out two ways (one is riskier than the other).

The low risk way is to ask your recipients/stakeholders “I know we produce this information but I’m trying to make the team more efficient.  Can you let me know if we need to keep producing this and if it has real value for you?”  You’ll cut 10% of the reporting this way.

The higher risk way is to simply “forget” to send the update/dashboard/presentation out.  Do the work but just don’t send it.  The ones nobody screams about or notices their absence are the ones you can cut because clearly no one cares.  When someone screams that the report is late/missing, simply send it along and say “sorry for the delay.”

Step 3: Make the Remaining Stupid Crap Simpler.  For the reports, updates, dashboards, and status communications that survive the first two steps above, look to reduce how much effort they take to produce.  Automate what you can.  Eliminate portions of the report you know aren’t relevant.  Shorten the status meetings from 60 minutes down to 30.  Just trim some of the fat.

Step 4: Take all that newly-found time and spend it on crap that matters.  You’ve freed up time, bandwidth, and energy.  Reinvest those into the projects you know will make a difference.  Or simply spend a few hours less at the office to get your life back in balance.

See?  Do less work.  Be more productive.

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about a topic like this.  I suggest you read this post on cutting down on all the silly meetings you hold or are forced to attend.  Between that post and this one maybe you can actually get some real work done.  And if the guidance in these two posts isn’t something you’re up for, just go out and get hopped up on Pixy Stix and Mountain Dew because you’re going to need it to get all that stuff done on time.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

4 Responses to “If You Want to be More Productive Just Do Less Work”

  1. Duane Penzien says:

    A great reminder, Mike! I work for a major corporation and know lots of people whose entire career is centered around that useless stuff. Ever stop to think if we could just get people to focus on the stuff that really matters, 80% of the people could be laid off and we would still get much more work done?

  2. […] solution is NOT always doing less stuff, but doing more of the right & relevant […]

    • Anonymous says:

      Good survey topic! I agree with the results and suggest it might actually be a little on the light side… in the name of doing our best, projects or assignments get started and never stop… what was meant to be a simple one time look takes on a life of its own and continues forever… and then grows and gets even more complex… but nothing comes out of it that helps the organization. .. I participated in a lean kaizen exercise focused on looking at the wirk we did across an organization with 5,600 employees working out of 150 locations. We started by listing all of the projects and assignments each area and location were working on in addition to their day to day work. We next looked at those projects and their tie backnowledge to several things 》》 were they mandatory/requied by law or statute.. we’re they a federal requirement… were they tied to our mission… simple assessments. We next rated their relative importance… everyone did their own rating. When next drew a cut off line… if not mandated by law or a direct tie to the mission and rated that group… we let people in support of continuing liw ranked projects make a pitch to re-rate the item… we ended up cutting over 60% of the project list… we then identified the staff and money associated to these projects/work and re-aligned them to the higher rated projects with the idea of focusing resources to achieve better outcomes. Productivity went up… many of the staff involved in the cut projects breathed I sigh of relief for not cutting them and saw the focus was in doing better… they became self critical and stared to become better watch dogs to keep themselves and others, even thise that joined after this exercise, more focused on the mission and achieving focused results. Outsiders looking at us were happy that we stopped doing things that were not a priority… great survey… keep up the good work of helping us all think out of the box!

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