Doing less with less - My top 5 tips

Ever since 2009, business has been tough. The global financial crisis has somewhat changed business  and in some places the economy has never really recovered. Greece and their ongoing debt issues comes to mind and my home country Australia, while never officially heading into recession, has   ver really hit its straps since. Like the US, and many other countries interest rates have remained low and Australia’s unemployment has continued to rise.

The organisations I have worked for since then have continued to lay off people in light of uncertain  market conditions. Uncertainty and less people in organisations has driven the catch phrase “we have to do more with less”. How often have you heard this? In many organisations there is no redundancy left. No extra people to help out when things get busy. No one to look after your day-to-day work while you work on a project or are travelling. No one to handle your job if you are sick or on holidays. Familiar?
I often feel like I need to achieve more with less but of course there is a limit. There are only so many hours in the day and though I’m happy to work a couple of nights a week with teleconferences or catching up with email, I know that if I do this consistently and neglect things like exercise and doing something creative I won’t be good at my job at all. I get tired and cranky and start resenting my job. Travel on top of my day to day work, which I do a lot, just means the chances of getting sick increases.
Last year while attending a HR conference, one of the speakers spoke about doing less with less. That really stuck in my head. They weren’t talking about being less effective or slacking off, they were talking about getting really focused. They talked about getting clear on the true priorities and not expecting you can do everything. True priorities are the 2-3 things that if you didn’t do them the business would fail, or you wouldn’t be successful.
I try to keep this in mind.
So here are some things I do to try and do less with less:
1. I don’t keep on top of my inbox: (gasp) Now I know some of you are horrified by this.  I currently have over 33,000 emails in my inbox. Is your stress level rising just reading this? I use my emails extensively to keep track of information and priorities (the search function is my friend) but I don’t religiously manage them by putting them in folders and ensuring every email is replied to. A few jobs ago this was possible but the complexity and scope of my role now means is I did this I wouldn’t be working on those 2-3 important things. All I would be doing is working on email!
So what do I do? I deal with the critical stuff and try to have more conversations and less emails. If I miss something I apologise to that person and if some things slip through the cracks and no one follows up, well maybe it wasn’t that important?
2. I write a monthly report: Yes I am so innovative! So this is not exciting but it’s pretty simple. The report has two main sections. One: what I achieved this month  (which makes me feel good if I have made progress against my goals). Two: what I plan to do next month (which keeps me focused on what I need to work on).

When I’m writing the report, which goes to my Managers (so there is accountability), I have to review the previous month’s report to see what I committed to. Often there are items which I missed or for whatever reason were not a priority but I try to ensure they get done the following month. The report works well as I also have to go back to the goals I set at the start of the year to see what I might have missed.
3. I work in blocks: By block I mean a block of time. Some days are manic where it seems like I work on a hundred different things (and achieve nothing) but on other days when there are no meetings or urgent priorities I try to work on big pieces of work in “blocks” of time so I can focus. If it’s detailed spreadsheet type work sometimes I do it first thing in the morning and don’t open my email so I can’t be distracted. This is the classic important versus urgent management. Emails are the classic urgent. People wanting information and time that may take a short or long amount of time to respond to. The important stuff is the things that show you can deliver something, implement a project or finish something. There are days when I have reached lunch and all I have done is respond to emails which is often not very effective.
4. I exercise: Man I bang on about this don’t I? I wrote about it here, and here and probably a few others posts. You would think I looked like an elite athlete or a model the way I go on about it! But it’s a struggle and I don’t manage it every day and as soon as I get out of an exercise routine (as often happens when I travel) it all goes to shit pot. My sneakers are my best travelled pair of shoes but sometimes they don’t make it out of my suitcase.
The thing with exercise is that I am more focused and can do a bit more with the “less”. The body feels better and the mind clearer.
5. I don’t try not to read emails in bed: Ahhh…I remember when I got my very first Blackberry about 14 years ago. So exciting, so cutting edge. At the time the iPhone didn’t exist and this was the only way to get your work emails and diary one device that wasn’t a laptop. Great for travelling. Not great for any kind of separation from your work. We now have smart phones where every aspect of your life and communication is held in one device just sitting on your bedside table taunting you when you wake in the morning.
Over the past few months I have had to develop some discipline around reading my work emails, particularly in the morning before I have stepped out of bed. Working for a global company means a number of emails come in overnight. The problem is that some emails are either complex and/or frustrating and I find I’m not yet in the right frame of mind to deal with them. If I wait until I’m out of bed, dressed, hair and make-up done, and food in my belly, everything is easier to deal with. If I don’t wait some emails put me in a bad mood before I have even said good morning to my family, and it’s hard to recover from that.
Ditto for emails later in the evening. I have gotten into a routine of going a few nights a week to yoga.  I find yoga a blend of being difficult and relaxing and in any case you can’t think about work when you are bent over with your head between your legs trying not to topple into the person on the mat beside you. I get home from yoga about 10pm and shower and hop straight into bed. No emails. I’m not a brain surgeon. Lives don't rely on me reading my email. Whatever is in there can wait.
So there you have it. The things I try to help me doing less with less. How do you do less with less?