While it may sound completely counterintuitive, evidence supports the idea that if we want to ramp up our productivity and happiness, we should be doing less. As it turns out, when you stop doing the things that make you feel busy but aren’t getting results (and are draining you of energy), then you end up with more than enough time for what matters and a sense of peace and spaciousness that constant activity has kept outside your reach.
So, how do we apply this wisdom of doing less in our own lives without jeopardizing results?
According to entrepreneur Kate Northrup, we need to identify what not to do. This determination can’t be random though. It must be methodical and evidence-based, which is why Northrup developed a surprisingly simple exercise to help individuals decide what activities on their to-do list bring them the most value, and which they can stop doing. Here’s how Northrup’s exercise works.
Step 1: Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper, lengthwise.
Step 2: Decide on an area of your life or work where you’d like to have better results and less stress. For example, perhaps you want to expand your thought leadership.
Step 3: On the left-hand side, list the tasks or activities you do in that area of your work or life. As an aspiring thought leader, you might list attending conferences, pitching organizations for speaking opportunities, writing new articles, reading and researching, and so on.
Step 4: On the right-hand side, make a list of your biggest “wins” in that area, like a speaking gig, a presentation you nailed at work, or a pitch that was accepted by a major publication. This can often be a difficult step for some people. We have not been culturally conditioned to celebrate ourselves, so often, folks will draw a blank when listing their “wins.” Any result you’ve gotten (either one time or repeatedly) that was positive can go on this list. Don’t get caught up in listing the “right” things. Just list what comes to you.
Step 5: Draw a line connecting each of your biggest wins to the activity or task that was most responsible for that result. Reading and researching, for instance, were essential to getting your pitch accepted for publication, so connect these two.
Step 6: Circle all the activities and tasks on the left side of your paper that have been responsible for your big wins. Look at what’s left. Whatever isn’t circled is something that you need to either stop doing completely, significantly minimize or delegate if it absolutely must be done. For instance, if you discover that traveling for conferences once a month isn’t directly contributing to any wins, it’s time to set that aside or at least cut back.
Repeat this exercise for as many areas of your life that you’d like to enhance through subtraction. Be ruthless. And don’t forget to consider what brings you joy. Not only does happiness make you at least 12 percent more productive, but it’s also what makes life worth living in the first place.