“What is the greatest challenge facing your team?” I asked Matt.  Matt was the national team leader for the regional finance mangers of a very large multi-national corporation.  He first described the reduction in resources that hit his department from the corporate office, and the corporate office simultaneously increased their performance expectations of him and his team.  As we pondered our program preparation notes, Matt looked up in desperation and asked “can you help us to do more with less?”

I wasn’t sure I could, but I could try. My strategy was to scan the research literature for empirically sound practices for achieving more with reduced resources.  After two weeks of review, the conclusion was clear: You can’t do more with less–at least not in any sustainable fashion. While simply giving someone resources does not guarantee their success, taking resources away and expecting greater results is a recipe that will most likely end in disaster.

But that answer would not serve Matt, his team, or his organization. So I took a different spin on the problem: How do high achievers accomplish more, reserving resources and still gain better results?  Here I found a different answer. Research on the practices of high achievers finds four actions that help them be successful with minimum resource expenditure.

1.  Goals & Priorities.  This might sound like old news, but it works. Knowing what you want to achieve makes it easier to understand how and what you need to do. A good question to ask at the start of the day is “At the end of this day, what do I want to have accomplished?”  The answer to that question should form the priorities and subsequent tasks for the day.  In other words, knowing what needs your attention today, and equally important–what does not need your attention today–represents your priorities. To do more with less requires a greater focus on what really needs to be achieved, and what needs to be let go. Consequently, you will not waste precious resources on things that do not matter.

2.  Routines.  This is simple, yet often overlooked.  Creating routines that minimize time devoted to mundane, repetitive, everyday tasks pays enormous dividends in terms of reacquiring your most precious resource: time. Having routines for simple, repetitive tasks like getting a workday started, setting and monitoring daily goals, responding to email, reviewing documents, and the like can drastically reduce the time devoted to these tasks. Good routines allow you to handle these mundane tasks efficiently, giving you more time and energy for the really important things you do. Unfortunately, we also tend to develop routines that result in unproductive outcomes—gossiping, mindlessly surfing the internet, dwelling on events and circumstances beyond our control.  Those kinds of routines need to go. Aim to develop routines that efficiently and effectively get things done while saving time and energy.

3.  Organization.  The third key to doing more with less is organization. That is, develop a plan for your time and other resources, and be committed to executing your plan. To get more accomplished with fewer resources means that you must extract maximum use from the resources available.  For some, a “To Do” list is helpful, while others are equally successful keeping the plan for the day in their head. Maximize the use of your resources by wisely and judiciously organizing them to achieve your goals.

4.  Get in the Zone.  Everyone has a period, or periods of time, during the day when they get maximum productivity with minimum energy.  Mornings are when a majority of people feel most rested and ready for tough challenges.  Others seem to get a charge late in the day or in the evening.  It is important, therefore, that you identify your most productive time, and insure you don’t waste your peak performance time checking email or returning phone calls.  The same task tackled in your ‘productive’ zone may take half the time it would if done in ‘unproductive’ times—and the results will be superior.  The key here is to align your most important and challenging tasks with those periods in the day when you have the greatest resources to take them on.