Accomplish More by Doing Less

UPDATED: May 24, 2011
PUBLISHED: May 24, 2011

SUCCESS has profiled some of today’s greatest achievers—Richard Branson, Maria Shriver, Arnold Palmer, Tony Hawk, John Wooden and Colin Powell, among many others. As I’ve considered what they’ve accomplished in their lifetimes, I’ve thought about why many of the rest of us work harder and put in longer hours without achieving the same big results. What makes the difference?

Here is my problem, and maybe yours: I am an addict. My drug is constant movement, constant communication, continual achievement—the long list of to-dos and completed tasks at the end of the day. It’s a wonderful high. But this behavior of constant busyness can actually take you off course from your high-value goals; tax your physical, psychological and emotional system; and even damage or destroy relationships.

I spent some time contemplating my goals, knowing I wanted to make quantum leaps in many areas of my life, not just incremental improvements. After a great deal of thought, I realized the key is not to do more or work harder; the key is actually to find ways to do less and think more, to be less busy and more productive. In this, I have struck upon the very secret to what separates the super achievers from the rest of us.

I’ve started applying this strategy in my own life and work. And, I’d like to share with you the principles I have found to move from stress-filled “success” to super achievement and obtain a more balanced lifestyle filled with joy, harmony and personal fulfillment.

Learn to Stop Doing

We all have our to-do lists that seem to keep growing even as you check off some tasks. Your workdays get longer, your time with family dwindles, and you find that even though you are in constant motion, you’re really standing still.

Reevaluate how you spend your time and stop doing the time-wasters. The only way you can gain more time is to stop doing something. If you don’t like what your life has become or you want to take your life and productivity to the next level, you need to figure out what you can stop doing so that you can concentrate on what you should be doing to get better results in your life.

We’ve all heard about the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule that 20 percent of your activity produces 80 percent of your income. Simply put, this means you should spend 80 percent of your time on the 20 percent of your activities responsible for driving your income. Figure out what your 80 percent activities are, and stop doing those so you can focus more time on the 20 percent activities that make the real difference in your results and income.

Imagine this: If you just spent 40 percent on your high-value activities, you could double your income. Spend 60 percent or even 80 percent, and you could multiply your income by four times.

Create and Protect Your Boundaries

For a workaholic, these are dangerous times. The natural boundaries of time allocated to work, personal and family have been obliterated. Technology has penetrated the walled garden separating these important segments of our lives. This breach provides for constant intrusions on our attention, keeping us constantly connected and at the mercy of a stream of information and demands.

Put a junk filter on your life. To filter incoming requests, it is important to first become clear on what you want.

Determine your values. Who are you? Who do you want to become? What is most important to you in life? What direction do you want your life to take?

Focus on your goals. What are your three most important goals for the year? This month? This week? Today?

Identify what and who is important. Decide what areas of your life you want to develop and expand, and then leave room for it.

After identifying your values, goals and priorities, put a junk filter on everything else and keep it out of your inbox and off your to-do list.

Just say NO. There is no middle ground here. This is one of the most important disciplines you can develop to unhook yourself from your addictions. If you aren’t comfortable with saying “no,” say “no, thank you.” People most often over commit because they try to please everyone.

Remember that whenever you say “yes,” you’re also saying “no” to something else in regard to your objectives and goals. You don’t make time; you only trade it. Be a better trader.

You get in life what you tolerate. This is one of the greatest success philosophies I’ve ever heard. Put another way, you will get in life what you accept and expect you are worthy of. If you tolerate disrespect, you will be disrespected. If you tolerate being underpaid and overworked, that will continue for you. If you tolerate being overweight, tired and perpetually sick, you will be. Life will organize around the standards you set for yourself. Some think they are the victim of other people’s behavior, but in actuality, we have ultimate control over how people treat us.

Study More

Knowledge is not power; it is the potential of power. What you do with knowledge is where the power lies.

Here is the conundrum: For any SUCCESS reader, learning is not what we lack; in fact, it might be what’s bottlenecking us.

We might be reading a lot, seemingly learning a lot, but never really stopping long enough to digest, contemplate, act, review and improve on anything we have just learned.

Learning is not the problem; lack of real study and implementation is. Don’t just read a book and put it down. Read it, summarize the key ideas and then write out how you are going to implement those ideas into your life. Now act, review and improve.Stick with the ideas in that book until you realize some transformation in its implementation.

Stay Consistent

I used to get frustrated when starting a new venture and then seeing the competition leap out in front and get off to a fast and successful start. Then I found the single discipline that gave me the advantage to beat anybody at almost anything—consistency.

A lot of people get gung-ho about new goals or achievements and charge out of the gate in an explosion of activity that eventually flares out. If you make a commitment to consistency, you’ll not only catch your competitors, but you’ll usually leave them in the dust every time. I do what I have found most people cannot—stay consistent.

Lack of consistency is the subtle but great stealer of dreams and desires. The stop-and-start process is what kills progress in any pursuit. It is probably one of the greatest reasons people don’t ultimately achieve their goals and end up living lives of discontent, frustration and disappointment.

The Management of Time

There is one force in our life that makes everyone equal. How you handle and treat this force is the single most important contributor to the income you will have and the lifestyle you will lead. This is why Jim Rohn called it the single “best-kept secret of the rich.” The secret? The management of time. Time is life’s most precious commodity, and how it is managed separates the rich from the poor.

When I interviewed Dr. Mehmet Oz for the October 2008 SUCCESS DualDisc, I asked for his secret to managing time. He performs 250 open-heart surgeries a year and is a professor; a chairman of surgery; a medical program director; a prolific writer; a regular on TV and radio,including Oprah; and he’s now launching his own TV show. Oh, and he is also a devoted husband and father of four. What he said was one of the best distinctions about time management I have ever heard: “It’s not about time management. It’s about energy management. The things you do in your life should give you that zest for life.”

Look for ways to get a better “Return on Energy” (ROE). If you are doing a good job at efficiently and effectively using your time, but you’re doing things that drain your life force and zap your joy, what good are you doing? You will immediately know if you should be spending your time on something if you ask yourself whether it gives you energy or takes it away. Spend more time on what gives you energy, and guard against, eliminate, delegate or mitigate your time on those things that deplete your energy.

The Art of Delegation

One of the greatest success disciplines of superachievers is delegation. Learn to ask for help. Learn to trust and empower others to accomplish what needs to be done.

I love watching movies on kings, presidents, generals and industrialists. You will observe something very interesting: You don’t ever see them in front of a computer, filing, cleaning, balancing their checkbook or doing much of anything, but thinking, making decisions and directing. That is the highest and best use of their genius.

When you can spend most of your day using your mind and empowering others to execute your ideas, you will become wealthy and powerful beyond your imagination.

Value Time Off

How does America regain its supremacy in the productive world? How do you improve your personal productivity? Go on vacation.

Americans failed to take 438 million vacation days in 2007, according to Harris Interactive research group. That’s more than any other industrialized nation. The result is that America ranks No. 1 in depression and mental health problems.

Americans are experiencing burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, failed relationships, and stress or stress-related ailments, such as depression, heart disease and stomach ulcers, in record levels.

Our puritanical conditioning—being valued on how “hard” we work—as well as our fear of being replaced or left behind, and our addiction to always being “busy” are not only destroying our mental and physical health, but destroying our creative productivity.

This is especially true in our new global economy, where our advantage and future lie in being knowledge workers, not laborers. Your future lies between your ears—in your mind and your ability to think creatively, innovatively and productively.

When you are working 80 hours a week, your mind gets cluttered and stale. Like a pressure cooker, if you don’t give your mind some time to clear some steam out, it will boil over, causing ailments and loss of effectiveness and real productivity. I am not suggesting you need to take a vacation to better “enjoy life,” “find your bliss” or have “life balance”; I am telling you time off is an important component of hard-core achievement and productivity.

I hope you will take the time to stop and examine your own life and incorporate these principles into your daily routine on your journey to super achievement. These steps, if applied, will help you transform your productivity, performance and lifestyle. Remember: It’s not what you know; it’s what you do. The actions you take with regard to information you learn is where the power of change and transformation resides.

Darren Hardy is the former publisher of SUCCESS magazine, an entrepreneur and New York Times best-selling author of The Compound Effect and Living Your Best Year Ever: A Proven Formula for Achieving Big Goals.