Work Less—Even If You’re a Procrastinator

Whether you work too much, or not enough, you can benefit from being better focused
August 17, 2020 Updated: August 17, 2020

When it comes to work, I’ve found that most of us fall in one of two camps.

We either work way too hard, constantly churning, never feeling like we got enough done—or we put off work, going to distractions, feeling guilty about how little we’re getting done.

Either camp results in long working hours. And it drains us. It leaves us feeling depleted, not alive.

There’s no simple solution to this, of course, but I’d like to propose something here, to both camps:

  • Work less.
  • Do fewer things.
  • Be more fully engaged in those fewer things.
  • Recognize your victories.
  • Rest more. Play more. Connect more.

Let’s look at this from the perspective of each camp.

And please note: I know that not everyone falls into these camps, and not everyone can change the number of hours they work. Take from this article what might be useful to you, toss out the rest.

The Work-Too-Hard Camp

This is the camp I’ve been in lately—we try to get everything done. When there are things left undone (there always are), we feel like we haven’t done enough.

We never feel like we’ve done enough. Even when, by all external standards, we’re kicking ass.

So working less seems like an impossible thing. But if you recognize that you’re working too much, then it’s actually an obvious fix.

Working less would mean reducing the number of things we do—which would mean focusing on higher-priority tasks.

If you could only work one hour today, what would you spend that hour doing? What would you do with the rest of the things on your list?

When we ask ourselves these questions, it might become clear that there are some key items we could spend more of our attention on, and many other tasks we could let go of somehow.

Then, after we’ve reduced the number of things, we can practice being more fully engaged in those things.

Then call it a day—a victorious day, where we got the important things done.

Now ask yourself this question: If you had two hours of free time where you couldn’t work, what would you do with those hours?

Most of us spend free time doing more work. Or going to favorite distractions. But what if we used that time to be fully connected to the people we care about? Or to take care of ourselves, to read, to play, to do nothing?

The Procrastinate-Too-Much Camp

I was in this group for years. In this camp, we don’t feel that the “work less” philosophy should apply to us, because we already feel we’re not working enough. We feel guilty for all the time we waste.

Well, let’s start by tossing out that guilt. It’s toxic. We heap all kinds of expectations on ourselves, and then beat ourselves up when we fail to meet those made-up expectations. Let’s throw all that out and start fresh.

With a fresh slate, what would you do with your day? What would feel like an absolute victory?

For this camp, “work less” means have fewer hours, but more focused ones. Spend less of it in avoidance and frittering away the time, cut back the number of hours you work, and be fully in those remaining hours.

So if you were only to work two hours today, what would you do with those hours? What tasks would be most important to accomplish? What would make this day feel victorious?

Once you’ve identified those tasks, set aside the time, block out the distractions, and pour yourself into them.

It can help to do them in 15- to 20-minute chunks, with headphones and music, or for longer sessions to do it on a call with someone else who is trying to focus on their meaningful work as well. Help each other focus, celebrate each other’s victories.

If you could work fewer but more focused hours, you’d free up time for true rest. For play, connection, self-care. And perhaps, more than doing the tasks themselves, this would be the true victory.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net