Want to know the secret to working smarter? Work less.
By Camille Preston (Founder & CEO, AIM Leadership)

Most people don’t know that they can work smarter by working less, but that is the essence of productivity. Now, being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, and few efforts in life are as demanding, time consuming, and stressful as starting your own business, especially a tech startup. The demands never stop.

We feel like we have to be on 24/7 to be productive and make progress, and so we do as much as we can, wherever and whenever we can. This, of course, leads to multitasking.

These days, we wear our ability to multitask as a badge of honor. And technology is the great enabler of this. We can send texts, answer emails, listen to voicemail, and check Women 2.0 all at the same time, on one gadget or many screens simultaneously.

But multitasking is actually the least efficient way to work. Studies show that:

  • Our productivity decreases when we multitask.
  • The quality of our work decreases when we multitask.
  • Shifting back and forth between tasks drains our precious brainpower. And, yes we have a finite amount of brain capacity.
  • We don’t learn and process information properly when we do two or more things at once.

Want to know the secret to working smarter? Work less.

Do one thing at a time. As an expert in virtual efficiency, this is the most important piece of advice I give my clients: unitask. Now, you wouldn’t think that you would need tips to do this, but we have learned to multitask out of habit, so we have to make a new habit to unitask. The key is to do just one thing at a time, and to give that one thing your full attention.

Here’s how:

  1. When you start your day, start it right by doing just one thing at a time. Drink a cup of coffee, or check your e-mail, or walk the dog, or have breakfast; just don’t do them all at once.
  2. Notice when you are at your sharpest, and plan more intense thinking during those times.
  3. Prioritize once or twice daily, and then channel your energy to execute.
  4. When you work, keep only one task in front of you. Try to close other screens and programs so you can work without distraction.
  5. Same thing goes for downtime, too. Shut off the computer or mute your smartphone when you are socializing or spending quality time with friends and family.
  6. Do not check your email constantly throughout the day. Email, while crucial, is also the number one time suck in any working person’s life. Schedule time — every hour, five times a day, whatever you need — to check and reply to emails, and then don’t check it outside of that window.
  7. Talk yourself out of it. When you are tempted to open your MacMail because you see that little red circle announcing 11 new emails, stop, tell yourself to return your focus to whatever you are working on, and then put it out of your head until it is time to check that program.

Unitasking is actually a form of mediation called mindfulness, and it’s about being present with what you are doing right at that moment. It is the essence of working smarter, working better, and working less. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
Photo credit: Sébastien Barré on Flickr.
About the guest blogger: Camille Preston is the Founder and CEO of AIM Leadership, a coaching and training company focused on improving individual, team, and organizational effectiveness by developing leadership capabilities from the inside out. She serves as an adviser, guest speaker, and mentor for Compass Partners, a nonprofit collegiate organization that helps develop responsible entrepreneurs. Camille holds a BA from Williams College and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Virginia.