Do less but achieve more in 2014

Most people right now are still thinking about the goals they have set for the coming 12 months. And for the majority it sounds something like “this year I'm going to get fit, drink less, lose weight, spend more time with family, learn the guitar, etc”…

And while I always encourage my clients to set and review goals, it can also help to strip things back and think about what you're going to do less of.

Study after study says we are time-poor, overloaded and constantly connected to our digital devices – resulting in feeling tired, fatigued, flat. We are working extra hard, but spinning around in circles.

So – let's flip the approach for today. Just like a gardener pruning trees in the winter to get ready for extra growth in Spring, in the same way we can prune some of the 'dead wood' in our lives and say no to things that, while they might look and feel good, aren't doing anything to add real value or richness to our lives.

Doing less is not about being lazy or taking the easy way out. It's about focusing on quality over quantity. It's knowing the difference between being productive and simply being busy. It's about getting clarity and understanding what really is important.

And while it sounds counter-intuitive, cutting back can actually help achieve more.

Jacinta Tynan is a presenter at Sky News and mother of two young boys. “A few years ago I made a conscious decision to cut back in my life and prioritise my family. In doing so it gave me clarity about what is important and what isn't,” she says.

Like so many people who go though the process of pruning, Tynan found it helped her career rather than hindered it. “While the intention was to spend more time with family, saying no to activities that didn't add value gave space for more doors to open and so it actually led to more opportunities. By cutting back on things that were irrelevant, it helped me in other areas."

Trevor Osborn, an IT specialist who works for Accenture in Singapore, was sucked into working 80+ hours each week. “I got caught up in the busy trap of working around the clock. I would regularly leave my office after midnight only to get up at 5am the following morning and head back into work. I was spending less and less time with my wife and two young girls.”

Osborn sat down and reviewed what was important in his life (family, friends, health and fitness, having fun and learning new skills to progress his career). Upon getting this clarity a light went on. “I instantly changed the way I was working. Why did I have to respond to every email, go to every meeting and get caught up in all of the office politics and daily distractions? I set a goal to leave the office at a decent hour at least three days a week so I could be home to have dinner with my family. I also practice mindfulness to bring me back to what is important in life and what is not. Cutting back has made me so much more productive.”

Trevor now works 30 fewer hours each week and achieves a lot more in less time.

Tips to do less and achieve more

1. Cut down on back-to-back meetings

Having fewer meetings that don't add value or provide valuable information frees up your schedule to think more, be creative and work at a more controlled pace.

2. Say no to committees and working groups

I know some people love being involved in committees, but do you really need to be on every working group and every new internal project? Cut back on some of the extra-curricular activities and focus on what is most important.

3. Fewer distractions at home

When you are with your partner/family/loved ones, be “with” them. There is no need to constantly check Twitter, Facebook , news and stock market updates every minute of every day. If you have kids, before you realise it they will be old, like the rest of us. Make every moment count while you have the opportunity to engage with family and loved ones. Make sure you regularly let the people you love know just how special they are to you.

4. Prune the time wasters

Grab your diary and look over the last few months and do a mini-time audit. How many hours each week do you watch TV, read emails, wait in queues, or spend on Facebook or social media? Be ruthless and prune back the time wasters.

5. Less negativity

For some people this might be a cliché, but life is undoubtedly better with less negative crap going on. What is causing you stress and tension in your life? Is there something at work, in your personal life or in your relationship that needs attention? Try and focus on the positive parts of your life and spend your time and energy on what makes you feel good.

So, what are you going to do less of this year?