4 Ways to Increase Your Output by Reducing Your Effort

In the 21st century, many people worship the “hard work equals success” dogma. Sometimes, however, reducing your effort can be the key to more productivity. 

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The more hours I invest, the more work I’ll get done. I need to increase my effort to outpace the competition. And most importantly, I can only become better by knowing more, doing more, and sleeping less.

In some cases, however, more effort will produce the opposite outcome.

In other words, by increasing our effort — call it hustling, grinding, or simply hard work, our output suffers over time because our brain can only process so much.

Because many environments — like the finance sector, where 95-hour weeks aren’t uncommon — glorify the notion of hard work, we assume that the correlation between hard work and better output is automatic.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with working hard toward your goals. There is, nevertheless, a point where working with more effort won’t improve your results. In this context, productivity is sometimes the result of less effort.

4 ways to increase your output by reducing your effort

By rejecting the “hustle dogma” and working fewer hours but with more focus and direction, you can become more productive by doing less.

On this basis, here are four ways to increase your output by reducing your effort.

Ways to Increase Your Output by Reducing Your Effort - man sitting on car at sunset
Photo by Kylo on Unsplash

Minimalize your decisions

To improve your output, you need to reduce the number of decisions you make every day.

Take out a notebook and write down every decision you make on a regular workday.

I decide what clothes to wear, what to eat for breakfast, which task to start my day with, and when I should clear my email inbox.

Once identified, ask yourself which of these you can automate. Most of our decisions concern trivial everyday actions. The secret resides in removing these micro-decisions from your daily routine.

You could, for example, decide in advance what you’ll wear by preparing your clothes the night before. The same applies to your breakfast and workstation or home office setup.

By themselves, these micro-choices don’t appear problematic. However, once you combine them, they hinder your productivity by taking little chunks of time and energy away throughout the day.

Declutter your brain’s hard drive to perform better

If you want to become more productive by reducing your effort, start comparing your brain to a computer. Modern PCs are highly performant and sophisticated, and they make millions of calculations within seconds. Nevertheless, if you spend years cluttering their hard drives with useless data, they will become slower and stop working at factory-level performance.

Our brains function in the same way. The more we clutter them with unproductive, destructive thoughts, the more our output will suffer.

In this context, Greg McKeown writes the following in his 2021 book Effortless:

Think about how a computer slows down when its hard drive gets cluttered with files and browsing data. The machine still has incredible computing power, but it’s less available to perform essential functions. Similarly, when your brain is filled with clutter, […] you have less mental energy available to perform what’s most essential.

Consequently, instead of working harder, invest more energy into decluttering your brain’s hard drive.

Whether it’s negative thoughts, distractions, unresolved issues, or other thoughts clouding your mind, focus on getting rid of those.

Create a “to-stop doing” list

Another step toward increasing your output with less effort is the so-called “to-stop doing list.”

In simple terms, it works like the contrary of a to-do list. Here’s what a classical to-do list looks like:

  • complete project X;
  • clean email inbox;
  • do laundry;
  • call business partner Y;
  • work on assignment Z; and
  • journal for 10 minutes.

Instead of filling your schedule with to-dos, create a list of things you’ll stop doing. At work, for example, that list could include the following ideas:

  • Stop checking your inbox every ten minutes;
  • Stop working on more than one assignment at the same time;
  • Refrain from saying yes to every new task; and
  • Don’t allow interruptions unless they’re essential.

The “to stop doing list” works wonders because it reminds us of productivity-reducing habits. As such, every time an impulse or external cue takes our attention away from the activities that matter, we’ll receive a gentle reminder to slow down.

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