What LESS can you do?

“The hardest thing is to take less when you can get more.” – Kin Hubbard

One of my favorite authors, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, used to say that “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away“. Designers seem to be the ones that find this quote most useful. Interior designers therefore apply this principle by adhering to the minimalist trend. Web designers tend to focus more on website usability than on useless colorful design.

Unfortunately, business people seem to be more stubborn. They keep ignoring this saying. They seem to be immune to it.

Do you suffer from too-many-ideas-and-projects fatigue syndrome?

If you read the above title and asked yourself “WTF is that?” I might disappoint you. I’m not sure the disease actually exists. But I know what its symptoms are. People think that what they lack in order to achieve something great is creativity or knowledge. Most of us are out there searching for the big idea or trying to learn the miraculous know-how that other successful people seem to possess. We think the solution is learning more, knowing more, doing more. So we keep ourselves busy.

Nevertheless we all agree that our scarcest resources are time and attention. So actually what we are doing is quite the opposite to what we should be doing. What we lack is then not info, nor know-how, not skills, nor time.

What we lack is focus.

What we should ask ourselves is what is it that we do or read or invest in or learn now that we should stop doing, reading, investing in or learning.

If you listened to successful entrepreneurs worldwide you will always hear that they owe their success to their determination in pursuing their most important dream, their main passion, the big idea they believe in. What I have asked myself many times was which one of my dreams is that big one, which one of my passions is the main one, which idea do I most believe in? Because this guy seems to have only one and he got to be famous. But I have a hundred and I don’t seem to have the time to pursue all of them.

What I realized then was that this is the exact question I was supposed to ask myself. What is my most important dream or passion? What should I stop doing/reading/learning/investing in so that I finally worked on my single most important and most beloved project or dream?

Effectiveness above efficiency, focus above ideas

One of the basic things you learn in management courses is that that doing the right things is much more important than doing things right. It’s called the Pareto principle and it is also the difference between effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing things right). Pareto suggests that what we should focus on is the 20% of our projects that generate 80% of our outcomes.

Peter Drucker resumes the main idea by stating “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.

Less is more

And this doesn’t only apply to fashion.

The question you should ask yourself according to the Pareto principle is “what are the 20% of the things I am doing that produce 80% of my positive results?”. If you realize that most of what you are currently doing is not actually leading you closer to your objectives, maybe you should start thinking about dumping those projects.

Focus on the things that are relevant to you and your objectives. Erase all the others from your priority list. And feel good about yourself for not doing them. What you need to learn is how to say no to irrelevant opportunities that come up your way. You need to pick the relevant opportunities and do your best for these.

2 Comments
  • Ionut
    November 4, 2009

    “What we should ask ourselves is what is it that we do or read or invest in or learn now that we should stop doing, reading, investing in or learning.”
    – totally agree with you, but I think that one must do this after an initial formation. At first he or she must read, investigate, learn, experiment to see what he wants and also to acquire some general culture. I think the best time for this is during school.

  • Crip
    March 2, 2010

    “focus above ideas” is a good way to keep digging the hole you’re currently in. It might be a good hole or it might not. How do you know?

    Wilfried Pareto is probably spinning in his grave at 17 000 RPM right now ’cause of all the ways his ideas are being twisted. Serves him right for being a fascist asshole.

    As for Drucker, do yourself a favour and read this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Witch-Doctors-John-Micklethwait/dp/0812928334

    If you have your wits about you, it’ll probably be the next-to-last book on management you’ll ever read.

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