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Boost Productivity: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential

Limit yourself in tasks, goals and time spent using the Haiku Productivity system to increase your efficiency when in the office or working around the house.

| January/February 2016

  • Instead of spending too much time in front of the TV, find ways to improve the quality of your interactions with people you care about.
    Photo by iStock

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Pareto principle, known also as the 80/20 rule. It’s a common rule of thumb in business that suggests that 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of your clients. In the world of simple living, we could use it to suggest that 80 percent of our benefits come from 20 percent of our efforts. While I don’t think the percentages are exact, the principle is true: We should focus on the few things that get us the most benefit.

In an effort to figure out a systematic way to focus on the essential stuff and eliminate the rest, I developed what I call Haiku Productivity. The key to Haiku Productivity is to limit yourself to an arbitrary but small number of things, forcing yourself to focus on the important stuff and eliminate all else.

To understand this simple concept, think about the form of the haiku (the common version, at least): it’s poetry in 17 syllables, with three lines of five, seven and five syllables (I know there are variations and this is only a rough definition, but that’s not important here). The point is that the form of the haiku is extremely limited to a small number of lines and syllables, forcing the poet to focus on only those words that mean the most to the poem. While other forms of poetry can go on for pages, haiku are short and compact. As a result, haiku can be some of the most powerful poems in any language.

Limited but Productive

So how does this apply to productivity? Well, if you think this will allow you to accomplish twice as many tasks, you’re wrong. You’ll accomplish fewer tasks. But you will most likely be more effective, because you will have to choose only the essential tasks—the ones that will give you the most benefit for your limited time. It also forces you to limit the time you spend on things, which means you have more time for the things that are most important to you.

There is only one rule to Haiku Productivity: Put limits on everything you do. That’s it. What are the things you do? It’s different for everyone. Common items for an office worker might be: email, phone calls, reaching out to new contacts, social media, time wasters, organizational tasks. What limits should you set? Again, it’s different for everyone. Base yours on your own experience and experimentation. Here are the limits I’ve set for myself that seem to work—but remember that they will be different for you.

ONE goal: The number of goals I’m allowed to have at any one time. I can only really focus on one goal at a time…any more than that and I lose focus and energy.

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