Only read this if you’re prepared to walk or cycle for 15 minutes today with your smartphone off.

Reduce to produce

“You busy?”

“Crazy busy. You?”

“Manic.”

Said this recently? If so, it’s time to consider developing a 21st-century, robot-proof (yes, they are going to take our jobs) skill – reduce to produce.

Try this. Ask a colleague in a senior position what they did yesterday, at what time and where. Then ask what was the outcome of this activity. Like those I coach, you will probably notice a) it’s not easy for them to remember; b) it’s a rare question; and c) it can be painful. Take it further by asking them how they actively reduce the number of individual activities on their to-do lists.

This simple exercise should convince you to think about how you can tackle your own to-do list. Here’s the first step I suggest you take – and it’s literally a step, because you and I are going for a walk.

Once you’re about to step outside the office and your smartphone is off, consider this question – what were the three ways today in which I contributed most to my goals and those of the organisation?

During my 12-week, 25-minute coaching sessions this simple question often stops people in their tracks. “Hmm … I’ve never thought that way,” they say. They tend to think instead about all those things they’re not doing, or how they can get faster, or who else they could get to do the work. And even if they do delegate more, they rarely use the time they save to go for a walk and think more deeply about the future of the market, or what trends are coming down the line.

Taking a walk is so effective because otherwise we’re surrounded by all those distractions that result in us reacting to events and constantly switching focus. Frantically tapping away at a keyboard makes you look busy and important to everyone else, but it isn’t necessarily productive. And so it continues.

When your head’s always down there’s no space to learn, to make new connections or simply to listen. Instead, we’re always responding to the latest ‘this’ or ‘that’. All the mindfulness classes, gym memberships, and productivity apps won’t address this home truth – we love being busy. We crave it. We measure our self-worth by it. This isn’t so damaging when we’re younger and don’t have so many responsibilities, but later in life it really matters. We succumb to busyness when really we want to be at home to read a bedtime story to the children, or eat together or play together as a family.

Here are some steps to take – physical and metaphorical:
  • Step 1

    Start the day with a five-minute walk (for me it’s a cycle) and ask yourself, “What can I reduce today?”

  • Step 2

    End the working day (if there is an end) with another short walk and answer this question: “What did I produce today?”

  • Step 3

    Regard this second walk as your most important meeting of the day, and decide on the way how you might reduce (even by a few minutes) the time you’ll spend in meetings tomorrow. This is like reducing your carbon footprint: for instance, you might think of each 15 minute walk resulting in at least 15 minutes being saved in time you would have wasted in meetings.

  • In short:

    With all the demands placed upon you at work and home (especially if you have young children) you need a simple approach to reduce needless activity you’ve found satisfying in the short term but that actually reduces your productivity in the long term. This is not a skill you will be taught at work. It’s something you can learn to figure out for yourself. Preferably while out on a walk.

    Or you could simply ask yourself this: could a robot have done what I did today?