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Want To Get More Done? Stop Doing So Much.

by | Process

The world is accelerating, and there are more platforms and opportunities for expression than at any point in history. As a result, we often expect more of ourselves and others. If time is available for a project, then it seems reasonable to agree to take it on or to expect others to do so. However, as these commitments build they can quickly begin to suffocate our capacity to engage with the work. We find that we are still able to technically get around to everything, but our effectiveness is decreasing. We are sinking slowly into a sea of mediocrity.

This is why pruning is critical.

In a vineyard, the vine keeper knows that if a vine is not regularly pruned, new fruit will eventually begin to steal resources from the older, more mature, fruit-bearing parts of the vine. Over time, the unpruned vine will eventually succumb to systemic mediocrity because it simply can’t support that much fruit. There aren’t the resources available. The good fruit suffers in order to support the less mature fruit.

In the same way, it’s critical that we (both individuals and companies) get really good at “pruning” – learning to say “no” to opportunities and projects – that don’t align with the important work that we’re doing. This means passing on opportunities – even really good ones – in order to preserve the energy needed to bring our best effort to the work that we know we need to excel at.

Sit down once a month with your calendar and your projects list, and look for things that might be good ideas, but need to be pruned in order to give you more capacity to do your crucial work. This doesn’t mean that you’re saying no to them forever, it just means that you’re recognizing that you don’t have the bandwidth to do everything all the time. It’s not failure, it’s the first step toward success.

Mosquitos ruin the hunt for big game – David Allen

Time alone is not sufficient to do great work. You also need to have the focus and energy to be able to engage. The best strategy for ensuring that you are well-positioned in those moments when you must be effective is to prune relentlessly. What will you prune from your life today so that you’re more effective tomorrow?

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. JustinTimeSD

    Great post Todd! This makes so much sense, I’ve had to do some pruning by cutting out “old” habits and, let me just say, this is no easy task! It takes a good plan, time, patience, and focus.. Most importantly, we have to cut out the influences that keep us from our accomplishments. I don’t like to use the word negative [influences], because I don’t believe there are negative influences in a “bad” connotation sense. There are only influences that are what we need at a given time and there are influences that we have outgrown and have to prune in order to make room for the next batch of fruit, as you say.. I do believe the key word is maturity. We can never change, but we do evolve… Anyway, nice post!

  2. Srinivas Rao

    This is a really great point Todd. I’ve noticed that when I limit my to-do list to about 5 things I become much more productive. I think back to what Jason Fried said about our culture praising workaholism even though it’s ineffective and stupid. What I’ve noticed is that you feel more productive when you limit your to do list and as a result you are.

    • Todd Henry

      Agreed. I’ve also learned that it’s easy to get lost in “to do” and “projects” but forget about the big picture of what you’re actually trying to accomplish in a given day. The ping of immediate productivity is at the expense of the value I wanted to add.

  3. carrie anne hudson

    Great words! I find the hardest part is getting over the ego trip that comes in being busy. We live in China and their concept of “busy” is radically different than my American paradigm. In their “busy,” there is still time for a nap everyday and long chats in the evenings with friends. It has been good for my soul to question my addiction to busyness.

    • Todd Henry

      There was an article recently that shared results from a recent study that indicated that some people tend to over-report the number of hours they work by as much as 20% in order to appear more busy than their colleagues. People who report working 70 hour weeks often work 50 hours, and those who report 50 hours often work 40 hours. Found it interesting, and probably tied to the need to be seen as “busy” all the time.

  4. Joy Wainwright

    You make my life better every day.

  5. Bea Silva

    Hi! I have just “discovered” your site, and it is like you are in my back seeing what I do and my expectation of my daily basis, that obviously, the most of the time ends on frustration, because I feel i couldn’t achieve even one of the goals I set for that day. Thank you, and please keep on sharing your thoughts, they are inspirational and helpful!

  6. Ellen Zimmerman

    What a good day to see this message! I did not use my time well today. Gotta do better tomorrow.

  7. TheBlizzrdGroup

    “Pruning” reminds me about another article you wrote … “Find Your Creative Groove” with a F.R.E.S.H. approach. I’m on my way to greater awareness.


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