“Get more done by doing this!” “Do this and be more productive!” These are common headlines in the productivity space.
As a contrarian, I usually feel like I need to do the opposite when I see everyone doing something. Now, that’s not always a smart thing to do.
But when it comes to career, business, and productivity, it usually pays off if you do what’s counterintuitive.
So while everybody’s focused on doing more — what about doing the opposite?
Do less. Remove things. That’s because time is limited.
The Stoic and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius said it best:
“Your energy and time are both limited, so don’t waste them on what those inconsequential to your life are doing, thinking, and saying.”
So let’s remove all those inconsequential things to make space for things that actually matter. Here are 4 things you can remove from your life to gain 20 extra hours each week.
1. Your to-do list
A cluttered to-do list leads to decision fatigue, which gets you stressed. “Analysis paralysis” is a thing. When you’re faced with too many choices or a list of things to do, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed.
So ditch your to-do list.
Every time I say this, people freak out. “How can I live without my to-do list??!!”
There are days when we really have a lot of things to do. Maybe you have a tight deadline coming. Or you’re way behind on your house chores that you have to do everything in a single day.
In these cases, just go with your to-do list. The point is that you don’t want to become a robot who just can’t function without lists. How often do you have tasks on your list that shouldn’t even be there in the first place?
You want to be intentional about everything you do if you want to save time.
So always ask yourself: “What’s the top 3–4 most important things that make the most significant impact on my life and career?”
You don’t need a to-do list to remember those things. And you can focus that time and energy on execution instead of obsessing about your list. When you prioritize this way, you’ll find that you can accomplish more in less time.
If you’re finished with those top 3–4 tasks and you still have time/energy? Then you can switch to all those other tasks you usually put in a to-do list.
Don’t be that person with a never ending to-do list.
2. Uncertain waking hours
Do you ever feel like you’re just trying to survive the day before you’ve even started?
This happens when you’re in reaction mode. You probably didn’t plan your day the previous night. Your mornings are so important.
Even if you’re not a morning person (take it from me, someone who’s also not an early morning person).
When I spend my first waking hours “right,” which is usually between 8 and 9 in the morning, I feel that I have more energy and focus throughout the day. I think that’s true whether your first waking hours are 4am or 4pm.
Remember, it’s not about WHEN you wake up but rather about WHAT you do when you wake up.
When you wake up not knowing what you’ll do, you’re more likely to procrastinate or stay in bed for too long or browse your phone.
I like to plan my day the previous night. It just takes a few minutes. And it makes a huge impact on how focused I am in the morning.
My editor, John, also told me about his lawyer friend who prefers to plan his day in the morning. John’s friend says he’s too tired at night (which is usually around midnight or later) to plan his day and he’s more focused in the morning.
So he blocks 15–30 minutes of his first waking hour to journal his thoughts and plan his day. That’s the key here: John’s friend makes it a point that the first thing he’ll do is journal the day’s plans. So he always wakes up focused.
If you think that would work better for you, try that too.
3. Repetitive tasks
Software and AI are becoming better at automating menial, repetitive tasks. So far, many of these tools are inexpensive or free. So use them.
This also helps with mindset. When you start thinking about automating your tasks, it puts you in a mindset where you’re trying your best to be efficient. You’re forced to take a deeper look at your work. And you can ask yourself:
“What am I doing that I don’t really have to do myself?”
You’ll be surprised at the amount of things you can leave either to machines or other people. And you can focus more on things that have a significant impact on your life and career.
Do that, and you save yourself more time.
Imagine the things you could do with an extra 20 hours each week.
You have better focus on the creative aspects of your career, be with loved ones more, tackle a new hobby, or simply relax and recharge.
By automating repetitive tasks, you free up time to focus on what truly matters.
4. Unnecessary screen time
It’s easy to fall into the trap of endless scrolling and mindless browsing. We sometimes forget how much time we spend on our screens.
And that’s aside from the time we spend working; where many of us likely spend 90% of our work time in front of a screen.
So what can you do to minimize screen time, even if your work is mostly screen-based?
- Set specific time for checking social media and emails. And stick to those times. Try to curb the urge to check your phone consistently.
- Keep your phone away when you’re working. Physical distance from it will help keep you more focused on the task at hand.
- Finally, don’t bring your phone to bed. Leave it out of your room. Your sleep and your dreams don’t need your phone screen.
I know people who sometimes use their phone up to 8 hours a day. That’s waay too much.
My goal is to keep it around 2 hours a day. When I notice I’m using the phone too much, I tone it down. That’s because phones are mostly for consuming content and communicating.
We don’t need a lot of that every single day.
It’s not enough to be “busy”
Henry David Thoreau once said:
“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants.”
Thoreau lived in the mid-19th century. But what he said is even more relevant today. So always ask yourself; “Are these things that keep me busy truly important in my life and career?”
Say goodbye to your to-do list, uncertain mornings, unnecessary screen time, and repetitive tasks. Make time for what truly matters to you and live life on your terms.
You can always earn more money or work more in the future. But time is something you can’t get back once it’s lost.
So use it well. And avoid spending it on things that don’t matter.