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Why You Should Do Less

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It feels like everyone I know is overwhelmed almost all of the time. I speak with clients, friends, and even family members who are retired who consistently feel like they have more to do than they can successfully cram into a day. My neighbor bashfully confessed to missing the days of covid lockdown where she allowed herself to slow down because there was no other alternative. Now her days are jam packed with activities, social plans, kid play dates, work meetings, and endless errands, and she’s tired and depleted again. Sound familiar? If so, I have some good news: While there is so much pressure to constantly be doing and achieving more, there is now plenty of evidence that the key to lasting success, contentment, and vitality is actually doing less. Cue the confetti! Ready to feel less frazzled and more focused? Here are a few simple ways to get started:

feeling overloaded

Pick Your Priorities

Clarity is the first step in my home organizing process and the same approach applies here. As my mother always told me “you can do everything, but just not all at once.” I find it helpful to start by clarifying your goals for just one season at a time. I typically choose to focus on one big, meaty personal and professional goal and then other smaller side goals. Example: My current professional goal is to complete my manuscript for my second book. Since my due date is fast approaching, I’m finding it easier to constrain my energy to writing up a storm and to say no to almost everything else. Full disclosure – sometimes this means ordering pizza for dinner (and some weeks dinners) or turning down fun social plans. My personal priority is to just continue my morning solo walks. The bar is low on purpose because it means I’ll actually succeed.

Your turn: If you think about the next three months what are 1-2 big priorities you want to focus on? Make sure to also clarify why are they important and worthy of your time and energy.

Slash Your To Do List

Get out your favorite Sharpie and get ready to make some tough cuts. I’m willing to bet there are items on your to-do list that aren’t actually moving anything forward. Do you really need to go to that event? Is it absolutely necessary to respond to that email? Is that errand non-negotiable? When in doubt ask yourself:

  • Does this task align with my current purpose and priorities?
  • Will doing this move me closer to my big goals?
  • Will this task energize or deplete me?
  • Can this task be postponed, delegated, or let go of completely?

In addition to the non-negotiable responsibilities like showing up for work and feeding your family, try picking just ONE specific goal to focus on each day. This can be small and sweet like “spend fifteen minutes with my youngest daughter” or “buy myself flowers” or big and achievement driven like “finish X project.” Consider: what ONE thing will move you closer to the big results you want? What will bring you the most peace and relief? What will feel the most satisfying to complete? Do that. Let the rest go.

Schedule Down Time

Most of us are very good as scheduling meetings, events, plans, and activities, but rarely do we make a date to just lay low and relax. If you have a hard time making space for yourself, try blocking out a chunk of time each day, or at least each week, and schedule personal time the way you would any other thing you put in your calendar. You can plan a specific activity that helps you unwind like yoga or meditation or just jot down “time for me” and decide how you want to enjoy your free time when it arrives.

Practice Saying “No”

As a former card carrying member of People’s Pleasers Anonymous, I used to have a very hard time saying “no” for fear of letting other people down. Once I realized that my time is better spent showing up big for a few things, rather than frazzled and fried for a lot of things, it got easier.

I had to practice saying no. A lot. No to running the auction at my kids school. No to the free samples at the beauty counter. No to the conference swag I really don’t want. No to the bag of hand-me-downs we don’t need. No to the social event I really don’t want to go to. A gracious “no thank you” will get the job done, and while people may be momentarily disappointed, being clear and authentic about your personal boundaries and limitations always wins the day.

Choose One Thing

In an attempt to teach my kids the value of the less-but-better principle (and to avoid becoming a full time chauffeur), I have them select just one after school activity per year. That means soccer or gymnastics, not soccer and gymnastics. Does this mean they will miss out on things? Definitely. But what also happens is they’ll get really good at one thing that they care about, they’ll overcome obstacles and challenges, they’ll build meaningful connections and relationships, and most importantly (IMO), they’ll have plenty of free time left to lounge, read, daydream, and hang out with friends. Their brains and bodies will get a much needed break to rest and recharge – and we’ll have more time together as a family and the energy to enjoy it.

If you want to start nine new hobbies or launch a business and write a book, or learn how to scuba dive and take a trip around the world and become a certified reiki instructor, take my advice: Pick ONE. Go all in on one big thing at a time. This one shift is guaranteed to make you more productive, efficient, focused, and successful.

Want more where this came from? Check out one of my favorite books Essentialism, and listen to this podcast episode from one of my great teachers, Brooke Castillo, on the power of constraint.

Have you tried ruthlessly slashing your to-do list and constraining your energy to a few important priorities? What successes have you had simply by doing less? Share in the comments below.

Photography Credit: Vivian Johnson

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6 comments on “Why You Should Do Less

  1. Shira, this is fabulous and I couldn’t agree more. My clients, friends, family (and me) are all expressing the feeling of overwhelm lately. Indeed missing those less hectic Covid days. Great suggestions and love that you are suggesting to give yourself permission to do less – Amen!

  2. “Have you tried ruthlessly slashing your to-do list and constraining your energy to a few important priorities?“ – this is gold. Thanks!

    I am going to open my to do list now and start slashing.

    I opened my medical practice just 7 months ago with the goal of only 20 patients in one year. By having less patients I am able to fully invest in each persons’ success and grow the business in a sustainable fashion.

  3. “Spend 15 minutes with my youngest daughter.” The most important thing on my to-do list. Thank you for reminding me that it’s ok if this is the only thing I get done on my to-do list. I suppose I should add ”Spending 15 minutes on myself.” Also important.

  4. As an Essential Minimalist, focusing on one big hairy goal each year has been a game changer . It’s given me the opportunity to focus on the one thing at a time that I’ve always had a burning desire to do. This year it’s been women’s weight lifting and macro nutrition. I started January 1st and am slowly accomplishing Body Recomposition changes from fat to muscle. It’s been truly rewarding to focus on this one goal as I see the results!

  5. I am in the process of re-decorating my house and using “Minimalista” like a bible! Editing is clearly not a big enough word for the tasks I have in front of me. Every drawer, closet, room, garage etc. is on the chopping block and as a result, the property is a MESS! Along with this I have a huge garden, church & women’s group obligations. Along with my American Eskimo rescue operation.
    I finally sat weeping quietly one morning, looking around at the nightmare what was once my house and realized… Becky STOP! The crucial mistake I made was starting but never finishing projects, in that quest for instant gratification every area got started but never finished. Now I’ve prioritized and let go of the things that are not going to get done this season. With my manic behavior, nothing was getting done properly. Now I make time to walk away from the mayhem and revisit after a refresher time out. Yes, everything is still a mess, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and ways to tackle feelings of being overwhelmed. I don’t look at these tasks as, “I have to do that.” I now look at them as, “I GET to do that!” As a two-time cancer survivor, I’ve morphed into one of those people who feel their living on borrowed time and must fill every minute of every day! I now know that relaxation is a BIG part of that! And a major stress reliever. My big priorities for this season, #1 Bring date night back with my hubby. #2 More quality time with my rescues, and on the look out for another! My big let goes this season, #1 Passing on the giant garden and opting for a small manageable container one this year. #2 Continue working on editing the home. Slowly and methodically and letting go of the non productive behavior.

    Thanks Shira, for more helpful handy coaching!

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