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Have the Courage to Do Less. You’ll Get More Done

Have the Courage to Do Less. You’ll Get More Done

In our neurotic, overachieving culture, there are many reasons we pile the wrong projects on our plate. Some may be well-intentioned, like helping out a friend or pursuing a hot new idea at work. But others aren’t. Like trying to keep up with the Joneses. Or letting financial fears drive all our decisions. Or accepting work assignments just to suck up to the boss.

Every project we take on requires our energy and effort, and in some cases, even our hard-earned money. And when we choose to agree to the wrong ones, we siphon off our already limited resources. Worse, we stop ourselves from doing our best work on our ‘right’ projects.

These days, it takes courage to choose to do less. But ask yourself: How much more would I get done if I weren’t spinning my wheels? How much better would my work be? How would I use my energy and effort differently? And, if I could, what projects would I actually walk away from with no qualms or hesitation?

Cultivating Courage

When you think about courage, you probably think about rushing into a burning building to save someone or literally risking life and limb to march for human rights. And you’d be right.

But that is what I call “big C” Courage — heroic, larger-than-life acts to be applauded and admired, or for the rest of us, to aspire to.

However, there is also “little c” courage — the kind that exists within everyday people, in small everyday moments. Having hard conversations. Saying no to someone you love. Facing up to bullies. And calling out injustices at work or in life.

Moreover, little-c courage includes seeking out opportunities to build up and flex your own courage muscles. That is, to actively do things that push you to grow and evolve as a human being.

That could be taking more and bigger risks, traveling or socializing on your own, facing age-old fears, or whatever else that forces you to step outside your comfort zone and really stretch yourself. You might even gamify things by doling out ‘courage points’ and then rewarding yourself when you reach certain milestones.

So let’s get to an act of little-c courage that can change your life: to wipe your plate clean of wrong projects.

Choosing Less

Odds are your plate is overflowing with projects and ideas, like a closet so stuffed that you can’t actually see — let alone find — anything.

Now you’d probably say that all those things are there for a reason. And I’d believe you. Some may have a story. Others might represent a promise. And perhaps a few even feel really personal.

But just as a closet isn’t meant to hold unusable, meaningless, or totally impractical things, your plate isn’t meant to hold wrong or stupid projects or any other work that is just flat-out unimportant.

So, again, ask yourself: Where is my productivity? Where is getting more and better things done? Where is doing my best work? And, even more essential, where is my sanity? Not on a needlessly overflowing, overwhelming plate.

You must have the little-c courage to choose less. Only then can you get more done. Only then can you do — and finish — your best work.

Surely that sounds all well and good. But now what?

Letting Go

Carve out an hour to sit down and write out a list of all your current projects and ideas. And not just those at work, but also at home and everywhere else. Consider everything — from major business initiatives to minor home projects — not leaving a personal, family, or on-the-job stone unturned.

Once you’re done, study the list and start paring it down. To begin, ask yourself four questions, putting an asterisk next to every project or idea that meets the ‘criteria.’ Be honest. After all, your sanity — and success — is on the line.

1. Which items wouldn’t trouble me at all to eliminate here and now?

2. Which items would I feel delighted or at least relieved to put on ice or to abandon altogether?

3. Which items concern other people’s priorities way more than my own?

4. Which items are perfectly fine ideas, but don’t spark me emotionally or in meaningful ways?

At this point, if you were absolutely honest with yourself, you’re looking at lots of asterisks. Some may surprise you. But others not so much. Either way, take a deep breath: It’s time to let go.

Ignore the predictable chatter in your head. “But I’ve spent so much time on that already.” “What will my boss think?” “The kids would kill me.”

Letting go isn’t easy, but it’s critically important. Finishing things simply because you started them or because other people selfishly want you to do them is never a good excuse to hold on to a bad project or idea.

Now create a new list or, proverbially, an all-new plate. This one should be significantly ‘cleaner’ and smarter, and put a spring in your step. In choosing less and letting go, you’ll feel lighter, happier, and more positive. And you’ll get more done — and do your best work.

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by Charlie Gilkey // Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. Learn more at

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.