Jul 27, 2023 - Economy & Business

Axios Finish Line: Do more by doing less

Illustration of a hand taking a slice out of a clock face

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios executives who report directly to me are offering some very direct feedback of me in our midyear reviews.

  • A common theme: "Jim should get the hell out of the weeds and focus on what he does best."

Why it matters: They're right. I am susceptible to one of the biggest problems in the modern workplace: wasting time on things better handled by someone else — or not done at all.

Truth is, I should — and do — know better since I have total visibility into what matters most in growing Axios successfully. I'm also typically ruthless with my time and attention. So it shows the powerful pull of time-sucking distractions.

  • But most people are foggier about what's most important to the company or cause. This leads them to do things out of habit or confusion. They end up working harder to do less.

So when they hear "work smarter" or "do more with less," they want to punch you in the nose. They feel they're working to exhaustion already. So digging deeper sounds like a mean and unrealistic taunt.

  • I constantly push myself and the Axios staff to do a work inventory to see how they, in fact, can do more with less. How can they put that same energy into the things that move the needle more powerfully?

It's striking how often I find people doing things we once cared about but no longer do: "Wait, this was a Jim obsession four years ago!" Or spending lots of time on unimportant tasks: "I thought this was mission-critical!"

  • This, in turn, keeps them from doing the things that make them shine — and feel better about their performance and their company.

Qian Gao, our chief people officer, has three questions she puts to staff to help focus them on working smarter:

  1. What are the things in your job that you least like to do?
  2. What would you do if you had one more hour in the week?
  3. What do you do that you don't think you need to do?

You might take it one step deeper and think about your typical week — at work and home — and how you allocate your time to work and live optimally.

  1. Are you allocating time outside of work for exercising or other activities that help you think clearer and more confidently at work?
  2. At work, are you allocating most of your energy to things you are authentically very good or great at? This is what drives the most fulfillment for most people.

The big picture: You should do this wildly clarifying exercise yourself. I bet you'll be shocked by how easily you can reorient to spending more time on things you are uniquely good at and jazzed by.

  • And, yes: I will get out of the weeds (mostly).

This article appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

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