Do Less, Little By Little

Sam wants to gain weight this year. He also wants to cook nine meals per week, so he can support that goal. He’s locked down in the pandemic, so he also needs to find a new gym or arrangement to workout. Sam’s also in a relationship and wants to be more present in that than he was last year. Career-wise, Sam’s happy, but he’s looking for either a promotion or a new full-time job, and interested in potentially consulting or angel investing. Sam also wants to keep reading, and to write more at his blog this year. His heroes are all polymaths—Donald Glover, Jamie Foxx, and Tina Fey.

One day, Sam sees someone commiting to the brilliant resolution: “I want to do less, but better.” “That’s awesome,” Sam thinks. “Dieter Rams makes it the title of his book.” 

The advice itself is a powerful rallying call to focus. The only problem with it is: 

It’s completely useless for people like Sam, who need to hear it.

Sam’s main problem is an emotional one: the idea of doing less sucks. Deciding that you will never be productive enough is one thing, living life in that way is entirely another. 

It takes just a light shock for Sam to appreciate his reality. Sam’s plate is already too full, and he manages to fit most of it into his calendar by blocking off almost every minute of the day. Every meal, workout, work meeting, social occasion, and chore is logged meticulously into his calendar.

Until one day, when Sam can only eat half a hamburger for lunch. 

This wasn’t supposed to happen—not only does it not fit Sam’s calendar, it’s completely opposed to Sam’s goal to gain weight. This was entirely unplanned, and Sam didn’t account for the time he’d need to figure out what was happening and, hopefully, recover.

So Sam goes to the doctor, who tells him that it’s gastritis onset by stress. Sam has no choice but to watch what he eats, take some time off work, and relax. The first step is the most obvious: do less. Sam realizes he can’t do anything without a healthy stomach, so he starts there—researching the foods he can eat, and hopefully try to maintain his calorie count with his app. 

For weeks, Sam watches his diet and recovers. He takes some days off work and returns without overthinking about the promotion. He works out to maintain his stress, without pushing himself too hard. He puts his job hunt and writing on pause so he can spend more time with his partner. He completely forgets about his ambition to do consulting and angel investing. He writes at his blog when he feels like it’s fun, but it’s not in his calendar anymore. In fact, nothing much is in his calendar, except to keep looking into his diet.

One day, Sam feels like he can eat a hamburger again. With his last bite of it, he almost cries. It was the most delicious burger he’s had in years.

Sam is an imaginary character, of course, though he resembles a lot of incredibly successful people that I know. And of course, I’ve been there before too. Doing less sounds smart, feels impossible, and is often forced upon us.

Don’t wait for pain like Sam did. Like many of us do.

Doing less the entire year is a huge commitment, and one probably too painful to start with. Do less each week—slowly by deciding what’s important or not. 

Do less, little by little. 

You’ll start to notice the people, projects, and tasks that give you energy or take it away. You’ll recognize how you’re spending your time. 

The best way to do more, better, is to focus more on finishing the most important thing at that moment, and then to pull the next thing. Don’t start something new if you’re doing a certain number of things already. Keep multi-tasking to a minimum. Increase the limit of simultaneous tasks when you’re feeling good, and decrease the limit when you’re not. Juggle five projects in the week you experience strength and inspiration, and focus on one project when you experience strain.

The more overwhelmed or unmotivated you feel, the less you should be doing. It’s in doing less that you can finish even just one thing that day or week, and gain a bit more momentum.

Less and better is the counterintuitive start to more freedom, more peace of mind, and more clarity. All by starting to do less, a little bit each day.
Inspired by Personal Kanban.

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