Do More by Doing Less!

–How to Maximize your ROE (Return on Energy) by Focusing on Your Priorities!

I’m a big believer in the power of Results And Relationships. The data tells us that by seeing worthwhile results of the work we’re doing and developing and nurturing strong relationships with the people around us, we’re priming ourselves for success. Today I got to experience both, and it was glorious. I had the opportunity to participate in an Evergreen Leadership Circle organized by Kris. Our “Circle” of twelve accomplished professionals (including Kris) spent the morning taking a good, hard look at our own behaviours and collaborating on ways we can “Simplify to Focus.”

The epidemic of “Eternal Busy-ness” has taken over our lives to the point that we practically (or literally!) have to schedule bio-breaks to guarantee we’ll get them anymore, and forget work-life balance, the current model of time management looks more like a nightmarish game of Tetris with tightly controlled segments of time carefully arranged so we can pack in the maximum amount of “stuff”, and ohhhh, if I only had 2 extra hours a day I’d… probably fill it with 6 more hours’ worth of activities that still aren’t adding to our desired outcomes or our quality of life.

Let’s be honest. It’s not that there aren’t enough hours, it’s that so often we’re not intentional with the stuff we’re doing, or we feel like we have to do all the things to be seen as valuable, or that by joining the Cult of Busy we somehow insulate ourselves from the underlying imposter syndrome or fear of being seen as “not a good team player” in a world that, despite the social narrative about “employees being the most valuable asset”, all too often does judge our performance by how many billable hours we have, rather than the accomplishments we have during the hours we spend engaged in “work”.

It’s time for some tough self-love. If you’re on social media, you know how the minimalist process works. I haven’t succumbed to the closet purging trend yet, but there’s a lot of merit in the concept of “If this doesn’t bring me joy, and it doesn’t add value, why am I doing it??” Look at your calendar, your project list, and even the things you haven’t written down but are pouring energy into on a regular basis. What can you remove from your list of work commitments? Do you need to sit in every single meeting just to “stay in the loop”? Can you trust your team to tell you the stuff you need to know when you need to know it? (If not, no amount of meetings is going to fix that!) What can you “decline” on your calendar to reclaim some of your valuable time?

And then… give yourself a minute to just breathe, and congratulate yourself for having the discipline to say “No”!

For many of us, another layer of complexity is that even if we know what our priorities are, there are almost infinite opportunities to take on projects that are in line with those priorities, so we wind up saying yes until we’re drowning, and then we’re loathe to let go of anything because we’re personally invested in these amazing things we’re doing, and it feels like a moral failing to admit that we can’t do everything.

Whether we’re cutting back the actual number of projects we take on, or we’re finding ways to consolidate work or delegate parts of it to share the experience and the opportunity with other members of our team who can benefit from the exposure and the journey, this is another exercise in discipline. Another aspect to consider: One person’s trash can truly be someone else’s treasure. Is there somebody who wants to learn pivot tables or how to make cool slide decks? Loves market research? Give others the chance to take the ball and run with it. Share the spotlight! After all, no one has a monopoly on excellence.

I think of this as fine-tuning your “Must Do” list to keep it crisp and efficient. Sure, you need to have check-ins with your team, but can you schedule 1:1’s every other week, or maybe once a month? Can you cut your absolutely necessary meetings down to 45 minutes? What about 15? C’mon… challenge yourself! Can you schedule a couple of 15 or 20-minute single-topic meetings, instead of a two hour packed agenda that’s going to bloat and drag everybody down endless rabbit holes where decisions can’t be made?

Does every conversation even need to be a meeting? Can you make a commitment as a team that you can just pick up the phone to get those simple issues resolved so you can get back to the work of… well.. working? What are other creative ways you can pare back some of these necessary activities to ensure you’re getting the best “Return on Energy” possible? (thanks to Mark Bender for this awesome acronym!)


Sarah Ratekin
Sarah Ratekin
Sarah Ratekin, founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happiness Is Courage Inc., translates the science of happiness and well-being into actionable plans that get radically positive results. An enthusiastic positivity activist, speaker, author, and researcher, she believes we can change the world for the better by being positive, grateful, and kind, and she’s often quoted as saying “Happiness is a gauge, not a goal”. Her current focus is on helping organizations and teams navigate the particularly complex reality of today’s stressors and engagement challenges by nurturing healthier workplace cultures. No stranger to weird working environments, she believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to develop their strengths, find joy in their profession, and engage in the pursuit of happiness in the workplace and beyond. Sarah has a veritable army of garden gnomes keeping watch over her extensive container gardens and is the proud mother of four amazing humans who are making their positive own marks on the world. She and her spouse Kris, both certified Laughter Yoga leaders, also travel extensively bringing the joy and power of laughter and positivity with organizations of all sizes and industries. In their downtime, they enjoy exploring the outdoors (usually by kayak), dancing, and general merry adventuring. Sarah and her family currently reside in Indiana and travel as often as humanly possible.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Sarah, this is such a great reminder and such an easy formula… Shed, Shrink and Simplify. I think this will become my new compass as I manage my days in this beautifully crazy time. The days are passing so quickly and it is time to laser focus on truly “what matters most”!

  2. Thanks Sarah! Taking today off to learn and refresh to be ready for tomorrow. I have indeed found that I do more by doing less. Yet today, in reading and learning from you (just as I was about to turn off computer!) I realize I learned a lot today. Relaxedly-so and with joy. Experiencing that where to be is here. More consistently. And in tiny bits!!! Thanks.


  3. I loved your second point on handing off tasks.
    Particularly in environments where specialists are promoted into management – when that is the only type of recognition the top execs know and the organization thus is trained to appreciate – there are many tasks that these poor managers can offload to other employees. Not because they are not important or not interesting but because the managers themselves may not be very interested in them and thus NOT GOOD at them.
    The tasks deserve somebody doing them that find them important and interesting. They can function as on-the-job training for somebody more interested in management tasks than the specialists – who themselves will contribute more to the organization by doing what they are best at.

    I also found your points on trust right on the mark.
    Whenever I meet “mischief” I get a little annoyed because of “what was wronged” but I get absolutely splintering mad about what this wrongdoing does to general trust down the line. The price of making people mistrust each other or mistrust the organization or “the system” in general is many, many times higher than whatever “petty cash” somebody got from “gaming the system”. It reverberates far beyond the small circle initially involved and trust takes years and much effort to rebuild.

    • Oh Charlotte, your point on trust are so poignant, and so powerful. I often wonder how much of that trust-damage is intentional, because it seems almost too common for it to be completely accidental. Does the old Command and Control model work best when people don’t trust each other? (I’d argue NOTHING works “best” when we don’t trust, myself).

  4. Really interesting.
    Everyone has his own method and everyone can be good.
    Personally I believe that to define priorities that make sense the only resource is the time you have available. And that the only way to be focused on the right priorities is to start from the end!
    We must set a measurable goal and always associated with a time and from the goal we go back, putting in order what we think needs to achieve the goal.
    Take various shopping lists, important meetings, etc., that do not come close to the goal, and put them aside. We don’t even look at them until we have reached our goal.
    We measure every action that is taken to understand if we are actually approaching the goal.

    • I think it’s super helpful for us to find the methods that sing in our hearts, @Aldo. Super good points. I know that I often don’t have a clear end point in mind, due to some of the work I have, so for me that sort of “waterfall project management” approach feels paralyzing, BUT I have seen it work beautifully for MANY many people. As long as you have a system to manage the chaos, I’m in favour! 🙂