How To Achieve More by Working Less

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With wellbeing and worklife balance being on many organisations agenda, a question we are continually asked by the leaders we train is how can people achieve more by working less? 

To clarify the ‘less’ our participants are referring to is, how do we ‘get it all done’ in our working week without having to work late every night and then start again on Sunday in preparation for another manic week. 

It is a critical topic to discuss in today’s work environment where ‘overworking’ is still the norm and saying yes to every request your manager makes is a given. Yet, the incidence of burnout is rapidly increasing in organisations across the globe. 

Something does need to change. 

Morten Hansen is a management professor at the University of California, and author of the fascinating book, Great at Work, which is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. 

The book is based on a survey he conducted with 5,000 managers and employees. The data revealed that top performers do a few smart things that let them work less while achieving more. 

He also shared that being passionate about the work you do isn’t always the driver that most people think it is, and high performance isn’t age dependent. 

From my research for this post and our experience training thousands of leaders across the globe, here are several suggestions to consider if you want to continually improve your performance while working less. 

Before I launch into some suggestions, it might be a good idea to state the obvious! 

Working less and accomplishing more isn’t easy. It requires you to think in a more creative way to work out better and more effective ways of achieving tasks and projects. 

What if your current way of working or techniques or strategies or fabulous new app on your iPhone aren’t as efficient as they could be? 

Once you do that you can look for ways to get more accomplished without just increasing your to-do list.  

Stop Doing Things You Don’t Need to Do 

I know this is so obvious and yet many managers and leaders complete tasks they could either delegate or give to someone else. Many managers still hate delegating because of the perceived lack of control. You have to let your people grow and take over tasks which simply don’t need to be completed by you. 

Let me share a process I used, which helped me look at what I was doing versus what I could be delegating. It involved writing down everything I did on a time sheet for a week in fifteen-minute chunks. I then reviewed precisely where my time was going. In honesty, I was shocked at some of the things I was doing and all with the best of intentions too. 

This gave me data that I could then use as a platform to alter my approach to managing an evergrowing list of tasks and projects. 

This leads me to my next suggestion. 

Pareto’s Principle 

Pareto’s principle of the 80/20 rule is well known though still not used as it could be by most people. 

It plays out in every aspect of life too. 

We wear 20% of what is in our wardrobe, eat 20% of the food in our cupboards and hang out with the same 20% of friends. 

In a work context, the 80/20 rule suggests that a small amount of the tasks we do will contribute more to the bottom line of the outputs we want in our teams or organisation. 

Logically then it’s about analysing the tasks you are completing versus what they deliver. 

Naturally, you can’t simply cut everything that doesn’t directly contribute to your bottom line. Some things, however trivial, still need to be completed, and by you.  

The purpose of 80/20 is to force you to be more ruthless in cutting time in areas that contribute little.  

A few suggestions for you:  

  • Do you need to oversee every single project daily 
  • What are you saying yes to that should be no? 
  • Do you have to respond to all your emails every 90 minutes? 

Excel At What You Do 

In a previous post here on the Excel blog, we shared how great leaders are always learning and improving. 

The days of “I’ve attended the programme, or I’ve taken the exam, so I am done” are outdated.  

It’s easy to assume we know exactly how to ‘do’ something or complete a task. What if you could improve essential tasks by 1, 5 or 10 % and this improvement happened consistently? 

This is the theory of marginal gains, and it’s something all leaders would be well advised to study 

A great example of marginal gains in action is the British Cycling Team. 

Dave Brailsford, the UK Cycling leader, took the British Cycling team from nowhere, to the most respected cycling nation in the world; and in less than ten years.  

He used the strategy of marginal gains to make constant small improvements to everything the cyclists did. 

The scary thing is so few leaders once in post look for ways to improve the critical tasks they are performing at work. 

What if you could tweak or alter what you do? A different approach to reviews or business development or project management. What difference might it make?  

Parkinson’s Law and Planning 

Ever noticed how the week before a holiday you seem to achieve more in less time? I am sure the motivation of a break somewhere exotic helps; however, the real reason is Parkinson’s law. 

It states that “work will fill the time available for its completion.” So, work with it. 

Something I am using with great results currently is to work relentlessly with my calendar. If it’s planned, it happens and within an allotted time.  

I have identified my key outputs as the MD of Excel, and they are all planned. This way, I don’t have time to get distracted or called into long-winded meetings or other activities which don’t move the business forward. 

Though these ideas might seem simple, they work so well. The question is, are you using them?  


Rachell Hewitt-Hall 

About Excel Communications   

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