Three steps to do less and be your best self in the new year

This isn’t your typical *new year, new me* post. As everyone is reflecting on 2022 and dreaming for 2023, I want to encourage you to do less. Yep, that’s right. LESS. You might be saying to yourself “Kasey, seriously? That’s not goal setting- that’s giving up” and I’m here to argue it’s just the opposite.

Why we should do less

First, we need to talk about WHY. Often we get so caught up in adding new goals to our plate, we forget about the very important goals we set last year and never achieved. In my work and research, it’s common to see old goals fall to the wayside (often 90% complete) when a new and exciting challenge arises. This happens a lot at the beginning of the year. Here’s the hard truth: When we toss aside those old goals, or just add a new one to our already full to-do lists, it doesn’t make us any more productive, better at our jobs, or help us actually reach our goals. In fact, research suggests the more we have to do, the less we actually get done.

This Stanford study shows that no matter how many more hours a person works over 55 hours a week, they still only get done the same amount of work as the person who worked 55 hours. So why should we crank away and force ourselves to add more, when research shows, it’s only making us more tired- not more productive? Additionally, we are terrible at multitasking. Check out this NPR article to learn more about it. Every task you add to your plate just clutters your brain and decreases your productivity even more.

Have I convinced you your goal should be to do less this year? I’d like to imagine all the readers right now are saying “Yes! I want to do less in the new year! But Kasey, I have soooo much to do, and I can’t just tell my boss “no”, how can I do less and not get fired?” Well, I’m glad you asked! Let’s talk about it.

How to do less

There are a couple general guidelines for how to actually do less in your job and in your life. However, it’s a lot of trial and error. Don’t be afraid of that. You’ll never live a happier, more productive life if you don’t try something new. Below is a process that’s based on research and has worked for me. Try it out and let me know if it helps you too.

Step 1: Really prioritize

We all say we prioritize, but what does that look like in action? Try making a brainstorm list of all the tasks, roles, jobs, and commitments you have to do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It’s a lot right? Is there anything you can cross off? Do that, and practice saying “that’s not a priority for me right now.” Because when we don’t protect our time, our brains say “yes” to tasks that don’t help us reach our goals and can sideline our progress. When we protect our time, we actually get the hard things done and feel better about how we spend our time.

Once you have the list of tasks you actually want and need in your life (no one wants to pay the utility bill, but it has to stay on the list. ugh). Try ranking them and assign a time value they take. What’s that look like? Do you actually have that much time in your day? Have you left any room for joy, friends and family, and rest? Is there anything else at the bottom of this list you can take off to make room for yourself? Do you need to have a conversation with your boss about offloading tasks or a raise to meet the workload?

Sometimes, taking tasks off isn’t possible. We all have busy and tiring seasons in our life. If this is one of those times for you, notice how you’re feeling and try find small ways to incorporate joy into your schedule so you have the motivation to make it through.

Step 2: Time block

Now that we know exactly what takes our time in a week, put it on a calendar. Yes all of it. I have reoccurring weekly calendar blocks for client work, yoga, school, visiting friends, and giving my dog her medicine. This does a couple of things for your brain. First, it helps clear the clutter. When you aren’t trying to remember all those deadlines and when the last time you vacuumed your living room, your brain has more room to actually think. This gives your brain the literal the space to be productive and think deeply about the tasks at hand.

Second, this method tricks your brain into working harder. When you give yourself deadlines your brain is less likely to put off tasks it doesn’t want to do. For example, if you know the next 15 minutes is the only time you have scheduled to check email for the day, you are much more likely to do so rather than say “oh I’ll just do that later”. Because later, you also have blocked for other tasks you deemed important in step 1.

Finally, I find time blocking makes it easier for me to say no. I really have to think about a new commitment and where it will fit in my schedule before I say yes. Those extra few seconds of thinking help me stay attuned to my needs, priorities, and overall wellbeing. I find that I make better choices and fill my life *mostly* with only the things I want and need to do.

Step 3: Be flexible

Steps 1 and 2 are great if you’re a robot and nothing chaotic ever happens in your life. So if that’s you, you don’t need this step. For all of us humans, keep reading. This is most important part of this process. You have to have room in your life for the unexpected. Because it will happen. A major dumpster fire will pop up at work or at home. But, because you know your priorities and how much time things take, it’s easier to rearrange and meet life’s demands. Be kind to yourself, take a deep breath, and move those calendar blocks around. The good news? Because you have those priorities, you should actually have space for life to happen.

The bottom line

Doing less isn’t easy. It’s hard work and often you’ll face ugly truths about where you actually spend your time. However, it’s so, so worth it. You’ll find that when you “do less”, you actually get the important things done at work, you reach 100% (not just 90%) of that important goal, and you have space for all of the rest of the stuff that life gives us- joy, dumpster fires, and everything in between. So join me this year- let’s do less, meet our goals, and live better lives.

P.S. If you’re curious about my 2023 goal it’s to leave space for creativity. This means protecting time for daydreaming, getting messy, and making mistakes. Because creative time makes me a better human, boss, and consultant.

Keep up the hard work, and give us a call if you need some help!