“Do fewer things, better” This has made my life — and my work, dramatically better.
Here’s how I execute on my strategic plan
Decide on what matters the most.
Say no to everything else.
When something falls in the gray area, re-read #2.
Tips for you!
- When making your list, start with a low-level of abstraction. Resist the temptation to make your list really “high-level”. As an extreme example, one of the things on your priority list shouldn’t be “Be successful”. That’s so broad, that you’d be able to rationalize almost every activity under the sun. Try to be specific enough that the number of things that “fit” is a manageable number. If you find yourself taking on too much (which you probably do), refine your filters and move to a lower-level of abstraction.
- Learn to say “no” to things not on your “fewer things” list. Years ago, I learn the art of saying NO which had the most positive impact on my life. Read why “Why ‘No’ is the Most Important Word You’ll Ever Say” here
Remember that every time you say “no” to something you might have said “yes” to, it frees up time to focus on the things that matter. And the more time you spend on the things that matter, the better you get at them. Let me give you an example: Let’s say you say “no” to some project/request/idea that would have “only” taken a few hours a month, because it didn’t make the “few things that matter” list. And, let’s say that one of the things that matter to you is being able to better communicate your message to the world — via public speaking. Those few hours you “saved” can be spent on getting your message out. More speaking gigs, more people influenced. But wait! That’s not all! Not only are you able to do some more public speaking, because you’re going to spend more time on it, you’re going to get better at it. And, because you get better at it, you’re going to get more frequent speaking invites. With larger audiences. And have more influence once you’re on stage. You’re building leverage by getting better and better at the thing that matters. And, it’s amazing how much better you will get, once you decide on only a few things to get better at.
By the way, the reverse of this is true to: Every time you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. Often, you’re saying “no” to something more important.
Fight the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) emotion. It’s a killer. We all have it to varying degrees. This fear that if we don’t say “yes” to something, we’re going to miss out on some big opportunity, small joy or new connection. Yes, sometimes you will miss out, but that’s OK. Life goes on. On average, you will be better off skipping some things, instead of trying to do too much.
More people fail from a gluttony of good activities than from being starved of them.
Be super-careful with recurring commitments. If you are going to occasionally say “yes” to things that are not on your “things that matter most” list, be super-careful that they’re not a recurring commitment. A one-time commitment of 4 hours is much less dangerous than a monthly hourly commitment. The way I think about this: When I say “yes” to a recurring commitment, I’m effectively saying “yes’ multiple times (for as long as I think I’m going to be in that commitment). Which brings me to the next point…
As painful as it is, prune your prior commitments. If you’ve said yes to a few things that you now sort of regret. Get yourself out of those. Be respectful, be, understanding and be fair — but be disciplined and true to yourself. And just because you committed to something last year with no real “expiration date” doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it forever. Things change. On a related note: For things that don’t have an expiration date, remember that it’s going to be just as painful to prune later as it is now — why not give yourself the gift of some time back sooner?
Try to solve for outcome, not activity. Figure out what you want to happen (whether it be a commercial interest or a philanthropic one), and figure out how to best create impact. Usually, optimal outcomes are not achieved by saying “yes” to a bunch of “good” activities (however well-intentioned).
On the point of philanthropy, you might be wondering: “What about doing good, and giving back?”
Warning: My opinion here may be controversial for some and feel benighted and self-serving to others. Sorry.
First off, if you have the ability to give back, you should do so. No doubt. But the question is, how do you optimimize for outcome?
Let me explain with a personal example. I’m an entrepreneur. I LOVE HELPING STARTUPS. THEY BRING ME GREAT JOY. But a few months ago, I decided to dramatically limit the time I spend directly helping entrepreneurs.
Why would I do this? Isn’t that selfish? Yes, I guess it is.
I’m a big, big believer in leverage and scale. I like to spend my calories in ways that deliver the greatest impact and the best outcomes.
The reason I made this decision was that I felt the best way for me to help the startup ecosystem — was to use my time to help make OBRI Tanzania a super-successful company. The by-product of that success will be much greater than what I’d get if I were just directly jumping to support a handful of startups or companies.
Don’t favor what feels the most good. Favor what does the most good.
Thankfully, blogging is a high-leverage activity; I can rationalize this into my “fewer things” list.
Cheers and best wishes with your “fewer things”.