The Art of Less Doing - Chapter 1

This week, we’re going to do something special.

Rather than post our regular blog, we’re going to give you access to Chapter 1 of my new book, The Art of Less Doing.

The book is an in-depth exploration of my revolutionary Optimize, Automate, Outsource methodology, and valuable lessons derived from the 80/20 rule, the 3 D's, and multi-platform repurposing. In Chapter 1, I talk at length about:

  • The Value of Knowing Yourself
  • Multitasking Myths
  • The 80/20 Rule
  • Tracking for Awareness




Chapter 1: Know Thyself

The Multitasking Myth

As a productivity consultant, I can say with confidence most people do not self-identify as unproductive. In fact, highly functioning people tend to think they could always do more, and some even think the work they do produce could be better. On the flip side, there are also people who delude themselves that they are highly functioning multitaskers, when in fact they spread themselves so thin, nothing ever really gets done, and certainly not done very well. These misconceptions regarding personal productivity boil down to a complete lack of self-awareness.

Humans have not evolved biologically as quickly as they have technologically. It's unrealistic to think we should be neurologically able to manage the constant barrage of information and never-ending stimuli that comes at us in a given day. Our brains can’t process all of the stuff coming in, so they shut down in response.

For example, think about your email inbox. Does the mere thought of it cause you a feeling of panic or a sense of dread? If you’re like most people, your blood pressure has already shot up a few notches, you’ve stopped reading this book and you’re checking your email. I’ve worked with people who have literally thousands of unopened emails taunting them on any regular day. It’s so overwhelming; they don’t even want to look at their inbox.

Email has become the ultimate paradigm shift. When used properly, it is one of the greatest productivity tools ever invented. There’s no other communication resource available that is completely free, enables you to be in touch with people around the globe, share images and documents and file it all.  And yet, look at how it is viewed by the average businessperson!

Most of the incredible communication tools we have at our disposal – cell phones, instant messaging, social media platforms – have become leashes and obligations, rather than the productivity tools they are intended to be. The tools lead to overwhelm, but most people don’t know what is causing them to feel overwhelmed, and around and around the circle goes. People get caught up in the cycle and it’s hard for them to recognize when they are actually producing good work. The overall feeling is one of dissatisfaction, which causes an inability to take advantage of the resources that could make their lives easier. People have lost touch with what technology can do for us and instead have developed a very unhealthy relationship with it. If you have good habits, technology can make them better. If you have bad habits, it will intensify those habits.

We are scientifically designed to focus on one thing at a time. Therefor, multitasking is not an activity the human brain is capable of handling. The neurological term for multitasking is “context switching.” When we attempt to multitask we switch back and forth between tasks so quickly, we physically exhaust our brains.

People have tried to “game the system” by combining low focus activities with high focus activities to train the brain to be better at context switching. Interestingly, women are marginally (2-3%) better at context switching than men, but generally speaking, switching back and forth between tasks is completely mentally exhausting. Most people cannot focus on a single task for longer than five minutes without getting distracted.

In exercise, the multitasking phenomenon is called the Central Governor Theory. It proposes that the brain is self-regulating and will literally shut down before the body can over exert. The theory supports why running on a treadmill tends to be more exhausting than running outside. A treadmill has more stimuli to keep track of: calories burned, time, heart rate, incline and a variety of other information blinking and beeping at you. It’s a lot to take in when you’re trying to blow off some steam!

The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, promotes the concept of identifying the things in your life that give you the most bang for your buck.  Pareto was an Italian economist and an avid gardener. He was surveying his plants one day and noticed that 20% of his pea plants produced 80% of the peas. He was enchanted by this concept and scratched a little further to discover a similar phenomenon occurred within the economy: 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. He surveyed other countries as well and found the same ratio applied. The overall observation is that most things in life are not distributed evenly.

What are the things that require the least amount of effort but have the greatest return on investment? In business, this rule means that 20% of your clients are responsible for 80% of your income. The other 80% of your clients are essentially gobbling up your time and energy with no return. Pareto (and Tim Ferriss) would argue that you should cease paying attention to that 80% and concentrate solely on the 20% that is making you money.

For example, say you have five clients who are paying you $10,000/month. They’re loyal and they’ll be with you well into the future. Additionally, you have 100 clients whom you work with sporadically. They spend about $50/month and they always complain. Those low paying clients suck up a lot of energy and time, and they’re simply not worth the limited income. Focus on the lucrative few.

If this principle is applied to your email inbox, you could easily eliminate close to 60-75% of the volume. Set a filter to file every email that has the word “unsubscribe” in it to an optional folder. That way, all of those emails will immediately bypass your inbox, thereby greatly reducing the feeling of overwhelm. The lower number of unopened emails taunting you allows you to focus on the messages that are of the highest importance.

This practice differs from using SaneBox or an app that creates folders, because the filter creates two different buckets in which you operate differently. Your inbox is a place for work, for productivity and for getting things done. The optional folder is the opposite; it holds emails that do not require your immediate attention. The beauty of this system is that just knowing all of the emails in your optional folder are optional, you can fly through them much faster when you’re ready to give them your attention.

The 80/20 Rule fits into my concept of Less Doing, More Living because I believe that 20% of your effort and resources should be devoted to work, while the other 80% should be allocated toward rest, relaxation and personal development. In that vein, I spend 80% of my time with my family, exercising, eating, reading, sleeping or learning. Because I’ve made the choice to spend my time this way, I’m forced to figure out ways to be ultra productive when I am working.

I’ve optimized all of the activities in my home and work life so that I am spending the maximum amount of my energy doing what gives me the highest reward in the moment. I run my whole business from my phone, which means I am 100% mobile. I’ve reorganized my time so I can focus on my wife and kids, because family is what matters the most to me.

My work schedule revolves around my kids’ nap and school schedules. When my twin boys are napping, I’ll crank out an hour of work. After my wife and I have dinner together and put the kids to bed, I’ll sit down for another hour and half of work. I’ve identified pockets of time in the day when I can focus uninterrupted and am able to be the most productive. I would never be able to work this way if I didn’t have systems that allow me to work in the most time efficient and concentrated manner. Honestly, I would love to work forty hours a week because I love what I do with Less Doing, but I'm a huge believer in setting restrictions that force us to be more effective.

Look at John Paul DeJoria, the founder of Paul Mitchell hair products and the premium tequila brand, Patron, among other ventures. He’s worth four billion dollars and the man has never had an email address or owned a computer. He says he would be so inundated; he would never get any work done! DeJoria does all of his business in person or on the phone, and his philosophy is to “pay attention to the vital few and ignore the trivial many.” Words to live by!

Awareness Through Tracking

The best way to start optimizing your time, energy and resources is to start tracking things at work and at home. You need to be able to identify metrics and patterns before you can start to adjust or eliminate activities or behaviors. Start by tracking what you’re working on, how long it takes, how many things you are doing at once, how much money you spend on food, how many times you ate at your desk, and any other habitual activities or behaviors that you’re interested in changing or getting rid of. Once you begin to track and attach numbers to your day-to-day routine, not only are you affording yourself the opportunity to improve, but psychologically, you will have an increased sense of control in an otherwise overwhelming environment.

The data collection timeframe will vary according to the individual and the activity being tracked. I was working with a client who wanted me to help him with his nutrition recently. Initially, we thought we’d need a month, or at least a week of data, but after just two days of looking at his food log, the problem revealed itself. He was texting photos of his meals and caloric intake at the end of each day, and I noticed a Starbucks Frappuccino bottle in the background of one of his pictures. There are 32 grams of sugar in just one of those tiny bottles, and he was drinking those things all day. He hadn’t even realized how much sugar he was taking in, so in his case, just two days was long enough to start making changes. One small adjustment can have a massive impact. In this case, it was a single beverage.

Let’s look at personal finance. Money is something that a lot of people would like to have better control over. There never seems to be enough to fill all of the buckets that need filling. The app, Mint, is a fantastic way to track where you are spending all of those precious dollars. It syncs to your bank account, and in just a week’s time, you’ll have enough data to analyze your spending behaviors. You may not even be aware that you’re eating out four nights a week or spending $300/week on groceries. The morning double dirty chai tea soy latte probably adds up to way more than you think. If you’re someone who has a hard time finding $1,000 for your savings account, take a close look at your daily spending habits to determine what can be minimized or eliminated altogether.

How you spend your time is also valuable information. Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it." Many people need a sense of urgency to get things done. If you’re a procrastinator, you’ll use up all of the time you have allotted for a project and then likely finish it at the eleventh hour. This behavior is largely based on personality, but generally speaking, if you have a task to do and a half an hour to do it, you will probably get it done. If you have an hour to do the same task, you'll probably take the whole hour to do it. I'm guilty of this myself, which is one of the reasons I live and die by my Google calendar. I put every activity, meeting and phone call in my calendar to set a parameter for myself.

Once you start tracking how you spend your time, you’ll find that you’re wasting hours on unproductive behaviors. Many times, wasted time doesn’t even relate to stress; it’s simply due to the fact that you have time to waste. Be aware that just because you’re tracking something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will find an immediate correlation. For example, tracking weight and losing weight do not go hand in hand, unfortunately.

Sleep is another often-overlooked area that is easy to track. The results generally have a large impact. You don’t need to assess the reasons why you have a bad sleep necessarily; all you need to track is whether you had a good sleep or a bad sleep. College students are notoriously the most sleep deprived demographic.

Brown University conducted a famous sleep research study in 2001. The twist was they told the students who had slept poorly, that they had in fact slept very well and vice verse. Then, the students completed a series of cognitive tests. Their performance was based directly on how they were told they had slept. This is not the Placebo effect, but the power of suggestion. Even those who had slept poorly, trusted the data over how they actually felt, which just goes to show the power of information and the control it has over performance. Naïve realism is a philosophy rooted in the theory of perception. It claims that the senses provide us with direct awareness of the external world, and we should take objects at face value.

As human beings, we tend to be very sure of ourselves and have strong opinions, but we can also be very weak when it comes to defending those opinions. We have a tendency to convince ourselves that however we go about a certain task is exactly the correct way of going about it. For example, if I am driving down the road at 75 miles per hour, and someone passes me going 80, I’ll think that guy is a lunatic. And if I’m stuck behind someone else who is driving 70, I’ll honk my horn at him and think he is the world’s worst slow poke.

Basically, we tend to think that whatever we’re doing is the baseline for appropriate action and we form very strong opinions about others’ behaviors. In the driving example, I think, “That guy going 80 is a completely nut! He’s breaking the law! Even though technically, I also was breaking the law, that other guy was breaking the law more. And that slow poke back there! Has he never heard you pass on the left and travel in the right? Where do these people learn to drive?” Being aware of your behaviors and attitudes, so that you can employ some sort of helping mechanism to adjust, is the solution.

The first step of optimizing is identification. If you are averse to technology, you can simply start to track behaviors and time in a journal or a notebook. Start with any area of your life that you want to improve and start small. If you want to lose weight, track what foods you are eating. If you feel strapped for time, track how you’re spending it. You can’t optimize a behavior or an activity until you first identify it and then understand your current patterns.

Tracking time and behaviors is also a fantastic way to regain a sense of control over your life. Knowledge is power and that applies to overwhelm as well. When you can identify the areas in your day or life that are causing your stress, gobbling up your time or devouring your resources, you can develop action steps toward change. For most people, it adds a quantitative element to an otherwise qualitative measurement.

3 Steps to Less:

  1. Collect data by tracking your time, energy and resources to identify patterns.
  2. Focus on one thing at a time. Eliminate multitasking and other unproductive behaviors.

Implement the Pareto Principle (The 80/20 Rule). Focus on the things in your life that give you the highest return on investment.