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Do less, get more done at work

Tuesday - 4/29/2014, 6:12am  ET

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To get more done, do less. (Thinkstock)

Omama Altaleb, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- Busy doesn't mean productive for management experts who uphold the less-is-more philosophy.

This new management strategy trains leaders and executives in how to get more done by doing less.

According to J. Keith Murnighan, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, executives do too much.

Author of "Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader," Murnighan advises executives to get rid of interruptions when not at work -- no email, no cellphone.

University researchers found that similar interruptions caused people stress due to the constant need to shift their attention, The Wall Street Journal reports.

For example, a 2008 study found that when people are constantly interrupted, their work rhythms change and so do their strategies and mental states.

In his book, Murnighan challenges executives to go on vacations without a cellphone or laptop, and instead trust their team to get the work done.

"The executives are the ones at fault because they're not willing to take the risk, and therefore their team members don't develop the skills of independence and mini-leadership that you want in every team," Murnighan says.

Executives are hesitant to trust their team members because of fear, Murnighan says.

"We remember the relatively few instances where things went wrong."

For Murnighan, the key to doing less as an executive is to delegate responsibilities and trust that the team members will do the job. He says that delegating allows the executive to focus on other tasks, such as planning for the future, thinking strategically and worrying about a succession plan.

"You might look like you're lazy, but in fact, you're doing the things that a leader should be doing," he says.

Effectiveness is accomplished through trust, Murnighan says. Everybody gains when leaders step back and give their team members an opportunity to show their skills.

Few executives practice this philosophy, though. Murnighan says it is because people are programmed to be active and find it difficult to do less.

"It should be simple, and unfortunately it's not. Our natural tendencies get in the way," Murnighan says.

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