Rethinking Productivity: When ‘Do More with Less’ Isn’t the Answer

Do more with less

How often have you heard the phrase that we need to “do more with less”? Especially in the current economic climate?

It’s a call to arms that’s common in business and management when leaders are looking to increase productivity and maximise efficiencies with limited resources. Often in the face of cost cutting and redundancies; and also, more positively, in the context of experiments like the four-day workweek, where we’re looking to deliver the same results but in 20% less time.

It can be accompanied by calls for increased resilience and individual responsibility (I do talks and workshops on these topics myself), and, in theory, this is incredibly empowering as well as necessary to motivate teams in tough business conditions.

However… pleas such as these can be exploited to put unfair pressure on the individual. And they may well be disguising the real underlying problem of unhealthy levels of stress and unrealistic workload.

When people are already pushed to their limit, over-delivering and just barely keeping their head above water, then asking them to do even more with even fewer resources is not going to be an effective strategy.

Ultimately, this will only further undermine employee wellbeing and engagement as well as organisational effectiveness as a whole.

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority

As a junior manager in corporate, when it came to putting together our annual work plan, the result was always the same: every project on my work plan was priority “1”.

Today, as a ‘solopreneur’, I wear multiple hats in my business, without a large multi-functional team to support me. I have the pressure of bringing in more and more income to cover childcare costs and a big house renovation. And my personality is such that I’m always curious and excited by different ideas, and I can easily create more and more projects to fill my time.

But, if I keep adding projects and ‘hustling’ my way to do more and more even with the limited time and energy that I have at my disposal, I know from experience that I am not going to see the big impact and results that I want.

One particular example I like to give my clients was in 2018, when I had the ambition to launch my first group coaching programme, publish my first book, and launch my first podcast. I was working on all three projects at the same time (while juggling everything else like client delivery, marketing, admin, and accounting) and not really making any progress on any of them. Finally, I made the choice to focus on one at a time. I launched my group programme in February; my book on my birthday, 3rd October; and my podcast in December, just in time to hit my goal for the year.

Do less but do it better

Rather than doing more with less – which can only lead to stress, burnout, and compromised results – I would suggest that we should be doing LESS, but doing it BETTER.

A classic paradigm that you may have heard of is the Pareto principle, where 20% of your projects or clients are typically generating 80% of your profits. This is the only sensible way of trying to do *more* with less, by focusing on doing less in the first place. 

So what does this look like in practice?

1. Make the call

    Former P&G CEO AG Lafley used to tell us that strategy was a choice. Playing to win in one area means making a conscious, and often difficult, choice *not* to win, and maybe even not to play at all, in another area.

    Be intentional about choosing what you’re going to do and, just as importantly, what you’re *not* going do do. Start fewer projects, and then follow them through and deliver them with excellence. You can always save your other ideas for further down the line, once your current priorities are completed.

    2. Learn to say, “no”

      Brené Brown says that you need to “choose discomfort over resentment”. Saying “no” in the moment can be awkward and uncomfortable, but that’s far better than either feeling resentful when you have to do something you don’t want to be doing, burning out from the over-commitment, or letting them down further down the line when you physically can’t deliver.

      Find a way to say “no” or, at least, “not right now” to people and projects that don’t align with your strategic choices and priorities. Future you will thank you for making the right call, for the right reasons!

      3. Drop the ball on purpose

        Former CEO and President of Coca-Cola, Robert Dyson, talked in a commencement speech about the difference between the glass balls in your life and the rubber balls. While the rubber balls (which, let’s face it, encompass most of your work projects) will bounce back if you drop them, the glass balls (in particular, your health and caring responsibilities) may be irrevocably damaged.

        Get super clear on your glass and rubber balls and be bold enough to drop one or two balls on purpose. If you don’t, you’ll eventually let some balls slip and it may not be the ones you want. Drop them on purpose, before it’s too late.

        You really do have the responsibility to make your own choices, as a business leader and as a human being.

        So what will you do to do less and do it better? What will you say “no” to?

        I look forward to your comments.

        share this article

        You may also like