How To Get More Done And Work Less
From an early age, I adopted a belief like many of us that achievement, success, and knowledge only come from working batshit-crazy hours. Keeping up with the pace of modern culture is a major contributor to record burnout rates. A laundry list of projects and dreams further overwhelm you when they fizzle out. Battling with this tug-of-war mentality of wanting to do more great work but still live a happy, healthy, purpose-driven life drew me into seeking the knowledge of those before me. What I discovered may surprise you. You can get more done when you work less.
"The greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less." When I first heard the quote, I thought what a lazy bum. But when I read who it was attributed to, I had a tough time sticking to my hasty criticism. And I'm not just saying that cuz my favourite crime-fighting Ninja Turtle is named after him.
Leonardo Da Vinci died 600 years ago and is influential as ever. He devoted his life to the pursuit of being the best version of himself. It took him down many winding paths. Da Vinci was an architect, musician, engineer, scientist and inventor. He sketched the first parachute, first helicopter, first aeroplane, the first tank, first repeating rifle, swinging bridge, paddle boat and first motor car. Not to mention, he painted the Last Supper and the freaking Mona Lisa for Christ's sake.
Was your initial reaction to judge yourself against his accomplishments? This isn't about notching another win beside your name. Da Vinci was a master of focus. He didn't squander his time on shit he was sort of interested in. He threw himself into what he had an unquenchable thirst for.
The creative process rewards those with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment like no other. Take the simple act of making a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, versus pouring a glass of store-bought Sunny D. There are clear intentions behind your actions. All intentional acts carry the greatest payoffs. Their value is in the act of being present and using your time with the intention of creating something from nothing and bringing it into the world.
In researching the science of getting more done by working less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of Rest, discovered how the power of rest served Da Vinci and countless other creatives, inventors and innovators in etching their indelible marks on the world. They didn't need the proof of brain scans to recognize "that when we rest and let our minds wander, our brains are almost as active as when we're concentrating hard on a problem." Which further helps us understand the power of the unconscious mind, "to make sense of the past, and search for solutions to problems that are occupying our waking hours." Without these moments of rest, the brain has no way of consolidating the ridiculous amount of information we consume on a daily basis.
If you have a smartphone, you know exactly how hard it is to pull yourself away from the addictive nature of their design. I don't want to make excuses, but even Da Vinci would struggle in today's consumer culture. From the moment you wake up, you're pulled in a million directions of endless to-do lists and make-work projects. Here's your chance to hit the pause button and ask yourself, What is it that you want to be remembered for? Put yourself through the rocking chair test. Sitting on your porch, pouring through the memories of what you did (or didn't do) in your lifetime; did you spend your days mostly consuming or did you invest it with the intentional focus of being the best version of yourself?
If you find yourself too busy to answer the question like I felt I was, you need rest more than you think you do. "As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself." Da Vinci was talking about clarity when he said these words. Taking the time to seek clarity is worth far more than chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The arch of the colours is a path dependent on circumstances outside of your control.
If you want to make the most of your days, invest the time to get clear on what you're after. When we aim for the horizon, we never lose sight of our mission. And we can seek the help we need to get there. A daily habit of small intentional steps forward builds momentum far beyond what you believe you're capable of accomplishing.
Peace comes out of many things, but it comes from understanding yourself and saying aloud the desires you have in life. Embrace the belief that you too can get more done by working less.