With every word you speak, every feature you build, and every post you publish- the following word, feature, or post has a little less impact. To give ourselves and our businesses a chance, we need to have the ability to decipher between important and irrelevant.
Do Less. Add more value.
When you think of a ‘minimalist’ you may conjure images of hippies with nothing but their guitar and their knapsack. In reality, minimalism is “…where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity…through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts.” Minimalism is about de-cluttering, or my preferred term, de-noising. For our purposes, it’s about de-noising our minds and businesses, so we can focus on where we’re adding value. Every day, with every action we commit, we’re forced to determine whether the task is important or irrelevant. To do so, we take in information about the task, weigh it against other potential activities, and then determine which one is more important.
The problem is that many of us have lost the ability to filter what’s actually important. More often, we’ve stopped trying to filter at all, and spend the majority of our time consuming. Making these frequent determinations of importance are paramount in whether or not you add value, and can ultimately determine your success or failure.
Is what you’re doing right now adding value? Specifically, how is it adding value?
Force yourself to answer these two questions, before each activity that you perform throughout the day. You may be surprised with the answers you come up with. If you’ve been working day-and-night for 8 days straight, going to happy hour with your friends tonight truly could be adding value by clearing your head.
If you force yourself to put thought into your answers to those two questions, you’ll find that you spend more and more time on truly productive activities.
Death by multi-task
You have to allow yourself enough time to really engage, before you can start creating solutions and solving problems. Habitual multi-tasking results in never allowing yourself to think beyond the surface of any problem or circumstance, because your brain has already moved onto the next thing. And if you attempt to move on and come back later, there’s a dramatic switching cost (some experts estimate -40%). But the switching cost doesn’t even account for never getting beyond the surface to begin with.
Leo Widrich recently wrote a great post for Lifehacker about what multi-tasking does to our brains. To sum it up, by committing to multi-tasking, we’re committing to doing a worse job at everything. I always thought that multi-taskers and single-taskers just had a different method, but ultimately arrived at the same place. This turned out to be false. In analyzing a study of multi-tasking, conducted by researcher Zhen Wang, Widrich says the following:
“Why do we multi-task in the first place: it makes us feel good.
Unfortunately… [those] who engaged heavily in multitasking activities felt great, but their results were much worse than that of people who didn’t multitask.”
Worse yet, “…multi-taskers seem very efficient from the outside, so we want to be like them. We see someone who can juggle emailing, doing phone calls and writing a blog post on the side and feel “wow”, that is incredible. I want to be able to do that too!
So very unknowingly we put a lot of pressure onto ourselves to juggle more and more tasks. When really, it only seemingly makes us more productive. The daily output as Wang found, only decreases though.”
Multi-tasking is the enemy of minimalism, the enemy of productivity, and the enemy of quality. Resisting the urge to multi-task is easier when you are being pulled in fewer direction. To be pulled in fewer directions, you need to find a way to filter what is and is not important. When in doubt, go back to those two questions.
Far worse, is the potential for feeling good all the way to failure, without even seeing it coming.
You may be asking yourself, why change something that makes me feel good and productive? The problem is that the feeling is fleeting. It’s only good until someone asks you “What do you do?”, “What are you interested in?” or “What have you contributed to the world?” Having hollow answers to those questions is deflating. Far worse, is the potential for feeling good all the way to failure, without even seeing it coming.
Ironically, get every detail perfect doesn’t mean to be a ‘perfectionist’ (see: loner, stewing and tinkering in a dark room). At its core, seeking perfection is a good thing. It can drive you to create great products, great writing, great marketing campaigns. To seek perfection at anything, we need to limit the information we consume and the tasks we undertake. Or, as Jack puts it, “limit the number of details.”
Ryan Clifford is the co-founder of Lingobox.tv. He personally battles with all of the issues discussed in this post. He continually resists the urge to sound ‘preachy’. Ryan also enjoys writing about himself in the 3rd-person. Check him out on Twitter.