There is a saying that says to “do less better”. The premise is to simply do less of something, but do it very well. Why is that? No matter what we do, we only have 24 hours in a day (1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds if you were wondering). Limiting our efforts to a few things focuses our time and energy into fewer things, becoming better at them as a result.
This is similar to Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” rule. Of course, it really depends on the domain and the individual – some require less time while others require more. While it may not take 10,000 hours to become a master at certain subjects, the premise of investing deliberate time holds true. For example, if I wanted to learn to play the piano, I would learn faster (fewer days) by practicing for 3 hours each day than for 30 minutes each day. I will still need to practice about the same number of hours in total, but over a condensed period of time. Being deliberate requires focused attention on the endeavor, whatever it is.
In a business context, this means limiting the number or variety of products or service offerings, and focus on a few key elements that will make the business stand out. By doing so, the business is able (or more likely) to become a market force in a particular niche. By offering fewer products or services, businesses are able to focus their energy on market research, improving the product or service, or engaging with their customer.
This doesn’t mean businesses cannot diversify their offerings. Take Amazon for example. If it is for sale (legally), you can pretty much buy it on Amazon. What does Amazon sell though – logistics. Amazon offers millions of products online, but sells its logistics genius – arguably one significant service applied to millions of products. Most people can order a product and have it delivered in just a few days. Depending on where you live, some major metropolitan cities deliver within an hour – an hour! – after purchasing the product online. Amazon focused its efforts on delivering superiority.
It really takes leadership support to operate in this way. Too often leaders see “doing less” as a weakness. The reality is, doing less allows the organization (or individual) to become an expert –the best – and provide superior products and service. I have seen and been on both sides of the spectrum – some organizations embrace this concept and others say they do but really do not. The only way to truly experience the benefits of the “do less better” mentality, is to spend time and energy on less, but do them very well.
What about the rest of your life? Do you have kids, are you in school, do you have a hobby you just have to participate in? Where you spend your time, dictates where your priorities are. Make sure you intentionally spend your time right.
How will you implement this moving forward? Let us know by sending us an email or contacting us here.
What do you do when your supervisor insists on doing more (better) but does not give you enough time or resources (money, people, etc.) to accomplish the task? Selective disobedience is the answer and will be discussed next week.
I draw upon my experiences from four worlds that I continually move between. As a college professor, I am privileged to study and teach leadership issues as part of my responsibilities in the Department of Psychology at Palo Alto University. As a husband and father, I work to provide personal example and leadership for my family. My wife and kids give me ample feedback on my effectiveness. As a Colonel in the Army National Guard, I am able to test my academic leadership against real life scenarios. As a glider pilot, I am always pushed to think clearly and precisely about my actions in order to surf the cumulus clouds of the Sierras before bringing my ship and soul back to earth safely. With engineless flight there are no second chances.
Each of the worlds I participate in has taught me something about focus. My doctoral advisor gave me sage advice in writing my dissertation. He told me to write my chosen topic on a piece of paper and paste it on the wall in front of my desk. He told me to look at it every half hour as I write to ensure I was working on the right task. It worked.
Aircraft pilots are taught to focus their efforts with three simple words, "aviate, navigate and communicate". Even pilots need reminding at times to fly the plane, keep it going in the right direction and tell the tower and other aircraft where you are going. So far so good.
In my earlier infantry years, I was told to "move, shoot and communicate". My former platoon leader instructed me to maneuver towards the enemy, put fire on the target and make sure your higher headquarters knows what you are up to.
In my personal religious devotions, I am reminded that maintaining healthy personal relationships is more important than personal. The golden rule of treating others as you wish you were treated is a simple principle many live by.
"Stay focused" is easy to say but hard to do. Threats to our focus are many. Our generation is the most distracted in history. We receive letters, emails, faxes, pages, phone and cell phone calls. Rather than developing paperless offices, we produce letters and reports faster than ever. We live such a fast paced life it is easy to keep busy while never accomplishing the important missions of life.
In reading student papers, it is easy to spot "mission drift". Students will often state what they want to write about in their topic sentence in the first paragraph and often by the end of the paper they seem to have forgotten what their topic sentence was all about and are writing about something totally different.
A glider pilot told me a story about a situation in which he got distracted. He got "rattled" in the landing pattern and missed a critical part of his checklist. While flying the downwind, base and final legs of his landing approach he began hearing a strangely familiar sound. Upon landing his glider made a long white streak on the runway from the fiberglass scraping off the bottom hull of the fuselage. He had forgotten to lower his landing gear and the sound he had been hearing was the "gear up" warning bell.
In a logistical exercise I worked on after only 24 hour hours of continued operations myself and the other staff found themselves working frantically, becoming distracted by secondary issues and at times beginning to drift from the intended focus of the operation. The Higher H Q Commander wisely took pause to re-read the published mission statement and ensure his staff and subordinate commander were again properly focused.
Years ago as a father I realized that I only had eighteen years with each of my kids and that I better stay focused on that responsibility. I had to remind myself to not just do things "for my kids" but also make sure that I was doing things "with my kids". Eighteen years goes by fast.
Everyone, especially leaders require focus to ensure that the distractions spawned by the tyranny of the urgent do not obscure the long term important. Here are a couple of suggestions:
1. Write down your mission, goals and objectives.
2. Check constantly to see you are going in the right direction.
3. Communicate to your team to ensure that they understand where you and they are headed.
The above advice works for glider pilots, parents, military commanders, students, educators and corporate leaders. Everyone tends to drift but a simple checklist can prevent getting too far off track.
William H. Snow, Ph.D