At first, this might seem like counter-intuitive productivity advice. Surely we should be aiming to do more, not less?

Yet often, doing more, more, more until we go beyond our limit of what we can manage isn’t healthy or productive.

We might appear busy, but be spending time on the wrong things. Or we might be exhausting ourselves creating quantity, while neglecting quality.

We often push to fit in one more task. What if, instead, we left space to breathe? What if we did a bit less?

Many of us are experts at being busy. It’s easy to do in a digital world. There are always emails to process, endless social media streams to browse, and things to read and research on the Internet. We can fill our minutes, hours and days sending, receiving and checking for messages. It is simple to ‘create’ tasks to feel or seem busy.

But is there a danger in this?

When we’re busy all the time we can exhaust ourselves with non-important tasks, make poor decisions, and lose our sense judgement. We can also get easily distracted, sapping our productivity.

When we’re faced with a difficult task – such as something that requires deep thought, or something that is a push beyond our comfort zone – it’s far, far easier to resort to being busy (for example, by checking email) than it is to force ourselves to get on with the difficult task.

Doing less is not always as simple as it sounds.

It can feel uncomfortable to do, well, nothing. Our constant busy-ness might be a comfortable habit. It might also give us a way to ignore questions or issues we’d rather not face.

But by leaving space we can achieve clarity. By stepping back from being busy, we can regain perspective.

We might notice, for example, where we can simplify things, what we’re over-complicating, where we’ve been spending time on unimportant things, and ways in which we can be more efficient. [See my related article: Could Pausing For Five Minutes Make A Difference To Your Stress Levels?]

When pushing to do more, more, more isn’t working for us, doing less provides an interesting alternative strategy to try.

So what might doing less look like, in a day-to-day situation?

We could, for example, check social media less: once less a day, once less an hour, or even half as much overall.

We could do the same with email: checking once less each day, or once less each hour and leaving space we would have filled.

Thinking about how we can do a less also helps us prioritise.

We’re often quick to over commit – especially to requests from other people. Much further down the line, when we’ve got no time left for anything else, we might regret giving away our time so freely.

Remember that most requests require back-and-forth communication that takes time. Questions take time to research and respond to. Calls and meetings take time to arrange, attend, and time either side. Events require travel time and preparation. Dealing with disorganised people takes extra time. Factor all of this in. [Read my related article: Top 10 Ways To Say No And Save Time]

What might appear a small commitment can still take a significant amount of our time.

If we’re thinking about how we can do less, we might decide on ways we can help with part of a project, or commit for a limited amount of time, rather than overloading ourselves.

Doing less of the things that are not as important to us leaves us more time for the things that matter.

We spend so much of our time being busy. But how much do we actually spend being productive?

Doing less of the things that are not as important to us also gives us space to think and recharge. This helps us to stay productive in the long-term.