simple living

How to Have Less To Do

We all know the feeling—the feeling of swimming inside your brain because you’ve got so much to do you can barely keep track of it all.

I don’t think anyone likes it, but short of quitting your responsibilities and moving to an undiscovered island, how do you really have less to do?

When It’s Too Much

When I was in high school, I was so busy studying for AP exams, practicing my backhand, and trying to get into a good college that sometimes the “swimming” just became too much.

I’d ask my mom if I could take the day off of school, and amazingly, she’d say yes.

I used those occasional days to study without distraction, have lunch in blissful, utter silence, and just generally pull myself back together. Afterward, I always returned to school with a little less stress and a lot more clarity.

For a short while, I could better see which friendships I wanted to invest in, which extracurriculars were too much commitment, and which items on my to-do list weren’t really important.

Gradually, though, I’d slide back into spreading myself too thin, until I needed another day to totally disconnect and decompress.

Doing It Differently

I should say that I have nothing against a good personal day. I love them! But now if I’m going to take one, I’d rather do it because I want to, not because I need to in order to function.

I don’t want to spend my time careening between overextended and altogether detached and then back again. I want to have enough to do that my life feels filled with good things but not so much that I constantly need a break from all those good things.

Plus, since becoming a parent I’ve become exponentially more aware of how valuable time is and how much a frenzied pace robs us of the moments that matter.

That said, having less to do takes some investment up front. You have to do the little things that make your life more simple, more efficient—but even more than that, you have to have a clear picture of what really matters to you.

I hope that with some initial effort, you’ll find over time that your to-do lists have become more manageable and your pace of life more comfortable. Once you get there, I think you’ll like it.

14 Inventive Ways to Have LESS To Do

1. Meditate or practice mindfulness

While this may look like something to add to your to-do list, it can actually help us better discern what needs to be done… and what really doesn’t.

2. When you run out of a product, see how long you can go without it.

If you don’t really miss it, that’s one less thing to shop for.

3. Organize your things by category—not user flow.

While many of us organize our things by how we use them, Marie Kondo argues that it’s actually the placement of our things that determines how we use them (not the other way around). Further, she says it’s easier for other members of the household to keep things in order when everything of a certain category is in the same place. Just because you use an object one way doesn’t mean someone else will. Thus, organize by category so everyone knows where things go.

4. Practice the one-minute rule:

Anything you can do in one minute, DO. Pick up the stray toy you keep passing on the stairs, quickly sort the mail when you bring it in, carry the trash out the moment you notice it piling up. Getting the little things done immediately saves time and brain space later.

5. Automate when possible.

Automate some bill payments, use the subscribe & save feature on Amazon for items you regularly purchase, get a printer that wirelessly monitors your ink level and sends you replenishment when needed, schedule automatic backups of your hard drive, etc.

6. Sign up for a digest news service, like the Skimm.

If staying informed is a priority to you, this will help you stay abreast of current events while keeping you from spending significant time on it.

7. Delete time-wasting apps from your phone, or block yourself from social media when using your computer.

I use a Chrome extension called StayFocused to block myself from Facebook for several hours a day, so I can get quality writing and editing done.

8. When taking photos, be more purposeful about the shots you take.

Every picture you take now is something you’ll have to make a decision about later. A Less-Is-More Approach to Family Photography

9. Synch your online calendar with your spouse’s to streamline your communication.

This is huge!

10. Do less managing.

When I first read this point by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, I was struck. I won’t say it’s easy for me, as a mom with a deeply-rooted nurturing streak 😉 … but there’s definitely truth here:

“If you are in a position of authority over others, whether it’s as a manager, executive, or parent … the less you do the better. Many people over-manage, or over-parent. This gives their employees, or children, very little freedom, room for creativity, room to learn on their own, to succeed and fail. The less you do, the more others will figure out how to do things. Do little things to guide and teach, but for the most part, back off and let them be.”

11. Focus on forming habits.

One of the best things I learned in 2016 was how I form and keep habits. Having a handful of habits that work for you is like putting some of your to-do’s on autopilot. (Learn about your personality in regards to habits in the book Better Than Before.)

12. Force less, flow more.

This is something I’m experimenting with right now. Instead of always paddling upstream, try following the flow. The voice in our heads that often speaks the loudest tells us to work harder and DO MORE, but a lot of times the quieter voice in there can take us some pretty great places—and with a lot more ease.

Try this with your project workflow, the structure of your days, or your weekend family adventures!

13. Don’t take every opportunity that comes your way.

Whether it’s a social invitation or professional project, weigh the benefits against the magnitude of the costs and listen to your gut.

14. Know your values and live them.

You might have noticed that this list started with the granular and moved to the more conceptual.

The little things make a difference in my day-to-day sanity, for sure. But nothing has affected my happiness like identifying and living by my values—my why. When you know the strengths of your personality, as well as the people, activities, and causes that deeply matter to you, it’s so much easier to let the rest fall to the side. Which leaves you with…

Less to do. 🙂

“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.” Francine Jay

What has your pace been like lately? Too fast, too slow—just right?

I write a lot about slowing down and living simply because it’s something I’m always working on, not because it’s something I’ve figured out. How’s it going in your neck of the woods?


  • Reply
    Colleen Lewis
    February 23, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you for this article. Not only is well-written, but the “advice” is wise and timeless. I will certainly refer back to these suggestions often.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      February 23, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Thanks so much for reading, Colleen!

  • Reply
    Angela @ Setting My Intention
    February 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

    I’m finding several of these tips helpful as I pursue a more purposeful life – especially meditation and habit formation. I’m struggling with #10 with my teenagers who are prone to only want to be on electronics if not “managed”. Still finding my way in that area…

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      February 25, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      I get that, Angela! I don’t even have teenagers yet but we’re already running into this one. Tough stuff! I’m glad you enjoyed this list, and thanks so much for reading! Off to check out *your* site now!

  • Reply
    February 26, 2017 at 6:43 am

    Love this practical list. I already use some of these techniques, and some are works in progress like #10 and #12. I talk about #14–Knowing your values–on my blog so I am glad to see it on your list too. Thanks for taking the time to write a great article! Off to share it on FB…

  • Reply
    March 30, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    I love this list too. I’m in a season of transition, first year without kids at home after 15 ys of homeschooling but building a PT business. Getting used to a level of “full” that feels joyful and nourishing (and satisfies my need for a learning curve) nut
    not unhealthy or depleting.

    • Reply
      Erica Layne
      March 30, 2017 at 9:56 pm

      15 years of homeschooling?! Just—WOW. And that level of full (“joyful and nourishing not unhealthy or depleting”) is such a beautiful goal.

  • Reply
    Serenity Tip: Which Currencies Do You Value? | Pauline Wiles
    July 21, 2017 at 6:37 am

    […] If time is an important currency for you, here are 14 ways to have less to do. […]

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