4 Steps to Start Accomplishing More by Doing Less

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Season 3 Episode 28 with Alex Pang, author of Shorter, Rest, and The Distraction Addiction, and founder of Strategy and Rest.

You want everything your team does to have the largest impact possible. Working long hours has traditionally been the way businesses have tried to accomplish this, but science shows the key to getting more is actually doing less.

Companies are more productive, more sustainable, attract and retain great workers, and encourage better collaboration and creativity when they free up their workers’ time for more effective work.

It might sound like a growth hack, but achieving more by working less is a framework intended to create substantial improvement over time, and it starts by asking questions like:

  • What counts as rest, and why does rest matter?
  • How can working less lead to greater outcomes?
  • What must you do in your "off time" to accomplish more in your work?
  • How do you create a culture that prioritizes impact over hours?

We’ll help you answer these questions, so you can understand why constant work is counterproductive and how to create more opportunities for your employees to excel.

1. What counts as rest, and why does rest matter?

Quality sleep is important, and there is plenty of research to show that adults are not getting enough of it. But the kind of rest that recharges employees the most is the type that is active, both physically and mentally.

Active rest is typically something that triggers the other areas of your brain you haven't been using during your standard work day, and it can come in the form of:

  • Working out
  • Hiking
  • Reading a novel
  • Playing chess or other strategic games
  • Competitive sports
  • Practicing instruments
  • Meditating

Rest is not all vacations, it is not all sleep, it is not all laying on the couch. In fact, most productive individuals have serious hobbies like the ones listed above that they put as much effort into as work.

These hobbies are restorative because they have some of the same rewards as work like visual progress, competitive outlets, and personal fulfillment. They also remind people of what’s best about their working lives (but without the frustrations and at a quicker pace).

For example, mountain climbing can involve the same kind of leadership and deduction skills that are in an executive’s day job. But rather than waiting a full work quarter to see the payoff, they get to climb the mountain in a day.

Hobbies like these can counterbalance work life by giving people permission to get out of the office, plus play an important role in maintaining their mental and physical health.

People who take regular vacations and use them for hobbies like these have been found to be happier, healthier, and in some cases decrease their chances of chronic illnesses (no matter what the profession).

Passive resting behaviors such as snacking, sleeping, and engaging with media have their place, but their long-term benefits aren’t as great as active rest.

2. How can working less lead to greater outcomes?

Elon Musk and Bill Gates are successful people who are notorious for saying they pull all-nighters and work 100+ hours a week.

How can you push for doing more in less time when experts like them champion those kinds of long, intense work schedules?

The reality is icons like Musk and Gates have PR teams who emphasize their busyness, but not the vacations they take or the down time they spend with friends and family. It’s part of their self presentation, but not the complete picture of what goes into their success (which includes rest).

Be mindful of that when you compare yourself and your team to them—because being able to do non-stop work is a fantasy. Only a tiny amount of people who overwork actually become successful, while most end up discovering that lifestyle isn’t feasible for productivity.

In fact, teams who work more than a standard 5-day, 40-hour week typically experience significant negative effects in comparison to those who don’t, including:

  • Burnout
  • Injuries
  • Multitasking and making mistakes on the job
  • Procrastinating due to stress
  • Cutting corners that can eventually lead to the downfall of a company

 Companies that aim to make a bigger impact by working less have better work-life balance, better recruitment and retention, and they’re more creative workplaces because they have more time in their schedule to collaborate on ideas.

Why does creativity benefit businesses?

Creativity is not reserved for artists. Software developers, marketers, strategists, managers, researchers, writers, etc. all need time to think creatively, to come up with fresh ideas, and identify next level opportunities. Even traditional blue collar jobs need creativity to conceptualize and connect their tasks.

Otherwise things become stagnant and the drive toward growth gets lost when there's too little time to focus.

The majority of roles benefit from increased creativity—which is why you want to keep employees fresh and well rested so they have enough time to think outside of the box.

Employees who have time to be creative will ask deeper questions and look to make changes to things that aren’t working (instead of looking over them because they’re too busy).

3. What must you do in your “off time” to accomplish more in your work?

You want your team to accomplish more in less time, but how do you make room in your schedule for that to be possible?

The reality is automations have already made it possible for most employees to get way more done within a five-day work period. You should use this technology so your team is happier and more productive—especially when automations also increase lead generation and revenue.

It’s in your best interest to make a bigger impact by saving time and automating tasks, which is why 80% of top-performing companies use automations.

PC: GetResponse

Once you have those automations in place, your team is freed up to use that time to be more creative and look into other areas that can be improved to make a larger impact.

Meetings, for example, are a common pain point for companies, and 60% of organizations experience significant productivity when they cut down on them. So you could encourage your team to create agendas and choices about what needs to be changed in those meetings. This includes considering which meetings could just be over emails or phone calls, or if there are people who don’t benefit from being a part of them.

If your team can get a handle on meetings, it’s a great way to get the ball moving and push them to start wondering about what else they can improve through time management.

It all comes back to pushing for efficiency—start by making sure the time you spend on work has an impact, then create space for your priorities.

Related: [Podcast] 3 Essential Steps to Eliminating Workflow Bottlenecks

4. How do you create a culture that prioritizes impact over hours?

Our schedules are a reflection of what’s important to us—so if you’re intentional about carving out time in your calendar for rest, your team will follow suit. You can invite your team to check out your Google Calendar, or break down a recap of your week during meetings.

You’ll also want to be explicit that vacations and down time are intended to be for active recovery, instead of just lounging on the couch. Prioritizing things like hobbies, family, or professional development are what make a day off fulfilling.

You should also invite your team to share what they do during their downtime. Slack can be a great place for employees to post a picture of what they do to recharge and reinforce other employees to think about how they spend their down time. People will be more likely to go to the gym or take a hike when they see their other teammates aren’t just staying home and binging tv.

Sharing can create positive reinforcement, but not everyone wants to share, so it's not something you can force (or make people feel bad about not wanting to share).

Beyond just sharing activities between teammates, you can also externally promote the cool things your team is doing on social media.

It also looks good on social media when your team has lives outside of work, and you can use it to attract new talent.

80% of employees are more loyal to their companies when they have flexible work options, and 74% of workers say work-life balance is a top factor when evaluating a job.

Work and rest are ultimately partners that work together to benefit your business and get the most out of your employees.


How can you begin redesigning your schedule to accomplish more by getting better rest?

Small businesses and startups that aim to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time find that not only are their employees more energetic, but the process of creating more time for rest also brings about organizational and cultural benefits. They have a heightened sense of comradery and a greater capacity for growing skills and collaboration.

You can start improving your own team’s output and productivity by:

1. Finding automations that free up their time for more creativity and big goals

2. Setting specific goals for how they spend this new free time and what active ways they can rest

3. Leading by example and delegating more time in your own schedule for rest and creativity

Good rest gives employees the opportunity to think about how they can work better within a shorter amount of time.

And once they realize they can use their decision making skills to create more room for rest, they’ll realize they can improve anything! They’ll ask deeper questions about other things going on in your company and look to make continual improvements.

Related: [Podcast] 6 Steps to Successful Strategic Planning & Long-Term Growth