Don’t Have Enough Time? How to Achieve More by Doing Less
Do you feel like life is always getting in the way?
Do you have too much to do and not enough time to do it?
I used to sit down each evening and look at the progress of my to-do list. It seemed like it grew longer as the day went on, with more and more items being carried over from the days and weeks before. My to-do list was a constant reminder of all the things I had failed to do, and it left me feeling overwhelmed, overworked and stressed. I was living life on overdrive, just frantically trying to keep my head above water. As a result, it was burning me out. I was running my physical, mental and emotional health into the ground at an unsustainable rate.
If you can relate to this, then I have a powerful solution that is going to put you back in the driver’s seat of your life. This system has helped me transform my life by forcing me to get my days into order and bring my to-do list back under my control. It is all about the principle of ‘do less, get more’ and the ‘work smarter, not harder’ approach. It might seem counter-productive to do less work, but we vastly overestimate what we can get done in a day. This then leads us to procrastinate on our most valuable and important tasks. Let’s take a look at how you can achieve more by doing less.
The 3/3 System
I first came across this technique from Dan Meredith at CoffeeWithDan.com.
Dan calls it the 3/5 system.
However, based on my experience of using it, I have made some changes and adjustments to the system that make it work even better for me—and should work for you too.
The approach is simple:
- Write down all your to-dos onto a piece of paper
- You rank them by their importance (1-3)
- You then focus on your 3 most important tasks each day
Hence the 3/3 name. The reason I don’t go with the 3/5 system is because I feel that 5 tasks each day is still too much. I always ended up failing to take action on the last two tasks, and rather than feeling accomplished, I still feel like I’ve fallen behind. It breeds that vicious cycle of carrying over items from the previous day and fuels those feelings of overwhelm and frustration that lead to burnout. Completing my 3 top tasks creates a sense of accomplishment and completeness. I close my day with no outstanding items and open the next day with a blank slate. This is the most sustainable and positive approach to to-do lists.
Let’s take a deeper look at the system, starting with all those to-dos you have.
Step 1: How to do a weekly brain dump
We are more likely to procrastinate when we have too much going on in our minds. Just like you need to unclutter your desk to do good work, you also need to unclutter your mind and clear everything that is weighing on your shoulders. The more you think about doing a task, the harder it becomes to actually start it.
Complete a brain-dump of everything that is on your mind (and your desk). Write down everything you need to do in your personal and business life. Don’t cut or filter anything out at this stage. Just get things out of your head and onto paper.
Before I started using this approach, I was constantly overwhelmed with the amount of tasks I needed to do. Thoughts about tasks and to-dos accumulated throughout the day and cluttered up my mind, like a constant, low-level background hum that never switches off. It is no wonder that I couldn’t focus on my to-do list—I was living in a constant state of mental distraction. When I first used this approach, I had over 100 to-dos on my list! In the next section, we are going to learn how we can see the wood for the trees.
- Grab a pen and paper
- Write down everything you need to do in your life right now. Absolutely everything!
- This could include paying the bills, completing tasks at work, or even visiting a friend
Take a look at my example. Yikes!
Step 2: How to prioritise your tasks
The key here is to look at your tasks and prioritise those that are really important in your life. These are the tasks and actions that add the most value to your life.
At some point, we all take on tasks that we shouldn’t really be doing. Sometimes we do this to procrastinate, sometimes we take on tasks for social reasons or because we feel obliged to, sometimes it’s because we think that task is something we should do, even though it doesn’t create value for us. I call all of these our ‘low value’ tasks.
We are now going to take all the items from your brain dump and rate them as follows:
- 1 = Linked to your goals and time critical (important to you and must be completed urgently)
- 2 = Important or Urgent (but not both), but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you didn’t do this task this week. If something is urgent but not important to you, it is normally a priority placed on you by someone else.
- 3 = Could be done by someone else
This step helps you separate your high-value tasks from your low-value tasks. Then, all you need to do is start getting them into your diary.
Step 3: How to plan them into your week
We’ve now reached the point where you start planning these tasks into your week. These are your #1s from the brainstorming activity.
Aim to schedule 3 of your important goals (your #1s) each day. I have always found that 3 is the magic number when it comes to daily planning. Dan Meredith prefers to do 5 tasks each day. I wouldn’t recommend more than 5 as it starts to become unmanageable and you will procrastinate. If you work from the 3/3 approach, then you get 3 important slots a day. That’s 15 important tasks across a 5-day week.
Once you get all your #1s into your diary, start adding the #2s in any slots that are left over. I normally keep my #2s on a large to-do list. When I have time—and only after my #1s are completed—I might pick one or two of these tasks and work on them.
And that’s it. This simple solution has helped me get my to-do list under control. It stops me from getting distracted by those low-value tasks that clutter up the mind and cause procrastination, distraction and frustration.
This is what my diary looks like today:
Achieve more by doing less
It can be uncomfortable to adjust to this approach. You might need to say no to things that look cool but are not really important to your progress, or things that you would normally agree to out of politeness. It might take a few tries to get to the point where you can kindly and confidently decline such requests. What if it comes back to bite me? What might happen if I don’t do it? Will I miss out? I’ve come to realise that this never happens. It’s never the end of the world, and life inevitably goes on just fine when you say no.
This system helps you focus on doing less of those low-value tasks and more of the high-value ones that will move you along towards your goals. So sit down today and rate your to-do list out of 3. Now all you need to do is focus on those 3 important tasks (#1s) each day. You’ll quickly notice how much more you’re getting done each day and week. Less really is more.
Question: What tasks did you rate as your most important (#1s)?
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