Doing More by Doing Less

My trainer frequently reminds me to breathe when I’m working out. It seems silly to need to be reminded to breathe, but I’m so focused on completing the set of repetitions and using the correct form that I do often forget to breathe. Fortunately, he’s there to remind me.

Glass sculptureUnfortunately, the same is not true at work. I run from one meeting to the next. I multitask. I eat lunch at my desk. Frankly, I’m tired, and I’m not alone. Seventy-seven percent of workers say they are sometimes or always burned out in their jobs and 43 percent of workers say their stress levels on the job have increased over the last six months, according to a CareerBuilders survey.

The other week, I met with a business coach, who reminded me of some simple things I can do to make myself feel less overwhelmed and even more productive. They include:

  1. Take a break
  2. Schedule vacations
  3. Do one thing
  4. Follow 18 Minutes

The idea of taking a break feels counterintuitive. And yet, he was right. When I stop and take a short walk outside around my building, I return to my office reinvigorated and with a clear head.

One thing that keeps me going is knowing I have a vacation scheduled. It’s a carrot for me. I realized several years ago that I needed to sprinkle my vacations throughout the year and get them scheduled. Also, because I know it is coming, I like to wrap up loose ends. It’s a great way to complete assignments that have languished.

My office recently installed WiFi. It’s a blessing in that I can meet anywhere with anyone. It’s a curse because the temptation is great to take my laptop to a meeting and answer emails during a meeting. When I do that, I’m not giving my full attention to either the email or the meeting so I try to avoid it. I put my purse with my cellphone in the trunk most days so I’m not tempted to drive and talk. It seems like a great way to combine two activities, but it’s also a great way to cause an accident. They key is to do one thing only.

My coach also suggested I follow 18 Minutes, written by Peter Bregman and based upon his weekly Harvard Business Review columns. Step 1 takes 5 minutes and is about setting the plan for the day. Bregman says that before turning on your computer, we should sit with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. In Step 2, we refocus for one minute every hour. At the end of the day, we review for five minutes. It sounds simple. I’m fairly consistent with Steps 1 and 2. Step 3, not so much.

However, the more I follow it and focus on doing one thing only, the more I accomplish. I also breathe more – and that’s a good thing!