When you think “I should be more productive”, you're probably imagining doing more. Working more hours, getting through more work during those hours, clearing your inbox, cleaning out the garage … just thinking about it is enough to make you feel exhausted already.

The truth about productivity, though, is that we don't necessarily become more productive –producing more worthwhile results in our lives –by constantly doing more and more. Real productivity might actually come from doing less.

Less Really Is More

I expect you're familiar with the Pareto principle – that 80% of results are derived from 20% of effort. While this doesn't hold true for every single situation, it's a good principle to keep in mind. There are probably some areas in your life where you're expending a lot of effort for negligible results.

By doing less –cutting back in the areas which don't really matter –you'll have more energy, focus and enthusiasm for those things which do make a difference.


Productivity advice often revolves around making us more efficient. Keep a to-do list. Use a timer to keep you on track. Blitz through your emails. Learn a bunch of keyboard shortcuts.

It's often good advice –but it's easy to start missing the point. Being efficient isn't enough –sure, you might be racing through your to-do list faster and faster, but are the items on that list really worth doing in the first place?

Although effectiveness and efficiency can support one another, there's sometimes a tension between the two. Being effective, on the other hand, means looking at the impact of our actions. To be effective, you might have to take a step back from being busy, and look at the real priorities in your life.