Why You Need to Do Less, Not More, to Be Truly Productive

Can you try too hard to be productive?

There are plenty of books, articles, and blog posts full of tips to help you squeeze just a little bit more productivity into your day. Maybe you’re trying to cut out TV, or you’re listening to War and Peace on your commute, or you’ve started writing a novel in your lunch breaks…

Of course, all of those can be great ways to make the most of your time. But it’s easy to go too far. If you cram every minute of your day with “productive” activity, you may well end up less productive overall.

Here’s why.

You Risk Getting Sick

However important “being productive” is to you, your physical and mental health should come first. If you get sick because you’ve been working so hard (or end up suffering a breakdown) then you won’t be in a good position to meet any of your goals.

A healthy life is one which involves enough rest and play. That means getting seven – eight hours of sleep each night and enjoying some down-time (even if it feels “unproductive”). You’ll also want to make enough time to prepare and eat healthy meals.

You’ll Focus on the Wrong Things

If you’re constantly worrying about how productive you are, you’ll probably end up focusing on the wrong things. You might well prioritize easy tasks over important ones: after all, if you can check off 20 items on your list, that’s better than checking off 3 … right?

An obsession with productivity at all costs can also lead to short-term gains at the expense of the long-term. Sure, you might make a quick buck this month — but if you go about it the wrong way, you could cause yourself problems a year down the line.

You Won’t Work at Your Full Potential

If you’re racing through tasks in a bid to be more productive, you’ll start cutting corners. Of course, damping down any perfectionist tendencies is often a good thing — but lowering your standards and settling for second-best generally isn’t.

By focusing on one or two key projects, instead of half-a-dozen, you’ll be able to give each one the time, energy and attention it deserves. Sure, you might have to give up on your plan to write a best-selling novel and run a marathon and start your own business and redecorate your house all in one year — but you will have a much greater chance at actually succeeding in one or two of these goals.

How to Do Less, Starting Today

Perhaps you have a nagging sense that you’re trying to do too much — that productivity has become all about numbers and checklists, not about reaching goals that truly inspire and challenge you.

If you need to cut down your to-do list, here’s how to start:

  1. Look for any commitments that you can ditch (or at least get out of temporarily). Could someone else take over your role on a particular work project or in a local community group?
  2. Go through your current goals and decide which are your real priorities. Put all the others on hold for now. Once you complete a priority goal, you can add one of the others back in.
  3. Delegate more often. If there are tasks on your list that really need to be done — but not necessarily by you — then find someone else who can take them on. Depending on the task, that might be a co-worker, a family member, or someone you hire.

And most importantly, don’t feel pressured into being more “productive” by other people (or by books, articles, and blog posts). Yes, it’s good to do meaningful and useful things with your life — but that doesn’t mean you have to cram every single minute with activity. Sometimes, true productivity means taking a break when you need one, or investing time in quality relationships.

Have you got any tips or ideas to share about being more productive by doing less? If so, leave a comment below.



Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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