Achieve More by Doing Less: 5 Ways to Work Smarter

written by Dan Silvestre
Energy Management, Productivity

achieve more by doing lessIn this post, I’ll share 5 ways to achieve more by doing less.

Weird, right?

Here’s the truth:

Life does a good job of teaching us that to achieve more, you should do more. You should “hustle more” and “work harder”.

And so our days become one long battle of trying to complete endless to-do lists.

But the secret to ramping up your productivity isn’t addition, it’s subtraction.

When you reframe your work this way, you focus on trying to work smarter, rather than harder.

You stop doing tasks that make you feel busy but don’t deliver results.

And this leaves you with enough time for what matters.

Here are 5 ways to achieve more by doing less.

#1 Prioritize Your Tasks

To achieve more by doing less, you need to focus on what truly matters.

The 80/20 rule (aka The Pareto Principle) tells us that “80% of the results come from 20% of the actions”:

how to achieve more by doing less 80 20 rule the pareto principle

In other words, only a few tasks account for the majority of the results.

My favorite framework to prioritize tasks is the $10K framework. It’s a simple process of identifying your highest-leverage tasks.

10k framework

Grab your master task list and insert each task into one quadrant:

  • $10 work. Replying to emails (getting to ​inbox zero​), some meetings, or talking to unqualified prospects
  • $100 work. Outsourcing simple tasks (that you should automate), or listening to an audiobook from your industry
  • $1.000 work. Planning and prioritizing your day, ​delegating complex tasks​, or acquiring a unique skill
  • $10K work. Recruiting for a senior position, ​implementing systems​ and SOPs, selling to high-value customers

Now you know your highest-leverage activities.

I work on my $10k tasks before everything else. Then I move down to $1.000 tasks. And that’s it. Works for me.

Here’s a video on how I use the $10K framework:

And here are more frameworks to prioritize your tasks.

#2 Decide What Not to Do

not-to-do list

We all have limited time and energy. The only way to have more time for what matters is by cutting unnecessary busy work.

The most successful people I know have a narrow focus. They protect themselves against time-wasters and say no to almost everything.

Instead of taking on more work, you need to consider what to stop doing.

What you don’t do determines what you can do.

And the best way I’ve found to decide what you won’t do is using a not-to-do list.

A not-to-do list is like a list of things you’re deciding not to do. These are tasks that don’t match your goals, drain your energy, or zap your motivation.

Here are a few examples of items on my not-to-do list:

  1. Do not check email constantly
  2. Do not attend useless meetings
  3. Do not drink coffee after 3 pm
  4. Do not do personal tasks during work hours
  5. Do not work after work
  6. Do not skip exercise
  7. Do not try to get things perfect the first time

#3 Cooperate With Your Body

When working, we pay little attention to how our bodies work. But if you work with your body, rather than against it, you can achieve more by doing less.

There are 2 ways you can cooperate with your body:

First, use your natural ultradian rhythms.

You see, your brain is only designed to work at peak performance for a limited amount of time.

how to achieve more by doing less Ultradian rhythms

Each cycle features 90 minutes of high-frequency brain activity. This is then followed by 20 minutes of low-frequency brain activity, give or take.

In other words:

You can only be truly focused for a maximum of 90 minutes at a time. After that, you must rest. Otherwise, you’re pushing your body when you have exceeded its limits.

You can use these natural rhythms of your body to achieve more with less. Break down your tasks until they take 90 minutes or less. Schedule them into your calendar and add a 20-30 minute block after to rest.

Second, there’s your biological prime time. This is the period when you have the most energy.

For example:

Do you have more energy and find yourself most alert in the morning or the afternoon? When is it easy for you to complete complex work?

To cooperate with your body, schedule your most important task during your biological prime time.

#4 Make Deep Work a Habit

Deep Work allows you to quickly master hard things and produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

Your goal is to systematically develop your ability to go deep — and by doing so, reap great rewards.

Here’s how to make Deep Work a habit:

First, choose your Deep Work strategy. There are four strategies:

  1. Monastic
  2. Bimodal
  3. Rhythmic
  4. Journalist

Decide on your philosophy and start designing your work accordingly.

Then, commit to scheduling Deep Work blocks into your calendar and sticking to them. Scheduling in advance takes away the need to use willpower.

Build rituals and routines to minimize friction in your transition to depth. Choose your Deep Work location, timeframe, and execution method.

Third, remove distractions.

We live in a world of distraction. Long uninterrupted periods at work are all but impossible. And we are distracted in our personal lives, by television or social media.

Context switching lessens our capacity to focus. Deliberate focus work, on the other hand, leads to the reinforcement of neural pathways.

Finally, use downtime to enhance Deep Work efforts. Be equally ruthless in protecting your rest as you are with your Deep Work.

Quality downtime is not mindless web browsing or watching Netflix. Be more intentional with tech by adopting digital minimalism and doing a digital detox.

#5 Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”:

Parkinson's Law

Which means that working longer hours hurts your productivity. Weird, right?

The time you spend on a project is not directly related to the output. Instead, the most important factor in time to completion is the deadline.

For example:

You receive an email from your boss asking for a report due 2 weeks from now. So you spend the first few days procrastinating.

But what if you need to hand the report in one week? Or tomorrow?

Chances are you could still manage to complete the report on time. It wouldn’t be easy, but you could get it done in time.


By cutting out the unnecessary work. The shorter deadline forces you to focus on the 20% of tasks that bring 80% of the results.

When you have more time, you spend it.

That’s the Parkinson’s law at play.

The key to breaking free from this paradox is to adopt a more strategic approach to work.

To give my absolute full attention to the task at hand for a fixed period and then rest. Give my body and mind time to recover and get ready for the next sprint.

When I first read about Parkinson’s Law years ago, something clicked. I started looking at deadlines not as enemies, but as an essential tool for productivity.

Use smaller, shorter deadlines to challenge yourself.

How to Achieve More by Doing Less

To achieve more by doing less, you need to become more strategic about your time and work smarter rather than harder.

To do so:

  1. Prioritize your tasks using the $10K framework. Focus on your most important tasks first
  2. Decide what to stop doing with a not-to-do list. These are tasks that don’t match your goals, drain your energy, or zap your motivation.
  3. Cooperate with your body taking advantage of ultradian rhythms and your biological prime time
  4. Make deep work a habit so you can quickly master hard things and produce at an elite level
  5. Take advantage of Parkinson’s Law and use smaller and shorter deadlines to challenge yourself

Give each one of these tips a try and you’ll be surprised by the results.

Thanks for reading!

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