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This is not a piece on minimalism although I’m a big fan of the movement. This is a piece about a simple yet effective trick on how to become more productive. It seems like what everybody should know and do. Yet, the majority of the population does the opposite.

What’s the trick? It’s simply doing less to achieve more. Yes, that’s just it. It’s the same with the minimalism mantra, only different in application. You achieve more by doing less. It’s counterintuitive but it’s the truth. Let me explain.

Popular logic suggests that to achieve more, you need to do more. This is the common school of thought. The thinking behind this mentality is more activity should yield more results. After all, more always equal more. But a critical analysis will show the opposite is true, in fact. Read on to see why.

When you do a lot of things at once, there is a high likelihood of spreading yourself too thin and never really producing any tangible results. If a tree produces too many leaves, it will have little or no nutrient left to produce fruits which are in fact the essential products.

It was Bill Gates that said the single most important attitude to achieve success is focus. Doing too many things at once means you can barely maintain focus on any one thing. The result of this is little or no productivity. By doing less, you are able to focus and achieve tangible, commendable results.

Similarly, doing too much at once drains you far too quickly and easily. It’s a situation akin to burning your candle at both ends, to draining a container from multiple holes or outlets at a time. The candle will certainly burn out fast. What about the container? It will be emptied too soon without filling any of the outlets. Less productivity, you’ll agree.

Doing less means you are able to concentrate your energy on only worthy endeavours. Thus you end up accomplishing more and having something to show for your efforts.

Remember da Vinci’s quote? “As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.” The quote remains valid if you replace ‘mind’ and ‘studies’ with ‘person’ and ‘tasks’ respectively. Even the dynamic and versatile da Vinci knew that. 

I like the way a brilliant friend of mine puts it: Urgent doesn’t always mean important, busy doesn’t always mean productive. Pause. Think about it for a moment. How many times have you been ‘busy’ yet ended up achieving nothing significant? We’ve all been there. I know I’ve been there on many occasions.

So you might be wondering how to start applying this new knowledge. Well, it’s easy. Did I say easy? It might not exactly be easy but the things you have to do are simple. First, you must realise that your time is an asset, and that activity is not the same as productivity. This paradigm shift is essential if you want to do as much as you actually can and should.

Next is to separate non-productive activities from the productive ones just like you separate important activities from the inconsequential ones. Mostly, being busy comprises using non-productive activities to shy away from real productive work.

Identify the tasks that lead to significant tangible products―results. Focus on these tasks one at a time. One at a time. Empirical evidence shows multitasking actually diminishes productivity. Yes, it does because you are unable to focus on one thing. Shifting concentration every now and again is not at all helpful. So stick to one productive activity at a time.

Of course, this means that you have to cut off a lot of unproductive and less-productive activities. It’s hard; I know. But you’ve got to do it. What does a gardener or farmer do when they want a tree to grow and be more fruitful? They prune it! You’ve got to prune those activities and you’ve got to do it now. The longer they stay, the longer you remain unproductive.

Now here comes the best part. Gardeners don’t only prune the tree. For greater growth and fruitfulness, they manure it at the root. What does this mean for you? It means you have to add something. Mind you, what you are adding is not more unproductive activities.

So what exactly is it you are adding? You have already pruned the tree and now it’s time to manure it. You have already cut out the irrelevant and less-productive actions. Now it’s time to increase your capacity to do more of the productive activities and do them better. It’s time to add the manure.

One very popular manure gardeners use is animal dung. Another one is decayed organic matter like refuse and compost.

What am I getting at? What you need to increase your capacity to excel might seem unpalatable or hard to take―like the dung or the compost. One thing is sure though, you’ll be better for it. The manure could be more knowledge from a book, new training or course.

I know: taking that training is hard. Going on a diet is difficult. Reading a relevant book is a lot of work. Planning your day is not especially easy. Learning a new method or approach is exhausting. Shutting out distractions is exerting. But wouldn’t you rather take the manure and achieve a lot more?

C’mon! You’ve got this! Less is more. Yes, doing less―doing fewer things with greater energy and attention―yields more results. And yes, minimalism rocks too!