Consume Less, Create More

That was my mantra in 2015 and beyond. As we start a new year, I revisited this mantra and a few additional thoughts came to the fore.

Consume Less

Consumption is a critical element in one’s ability to create anything. So, consumption, by itself, is not all that bad. The problem of our times is  consumption by default. We first consume and then think if we really needed it. This is true for almost everything – from stuff we buy to the content we read, from events we attend to conversations we engage in. Unfortunately, technology has made consumption all the more easier which only adds to the problem. Have we not seen people who are constantly busy on their phones consuming stuff without moving a needle for anyone? We need to jump off the consumption treadmill.

The goal, then, is to consume mindfully and there seem to be two ways to do it:

1) Consume mindfully by having right set of filters that help you decide if something will *really* add value and increase your ability to create. When you consume mindfully, less is actually more. When you have better filters, you gain that which is relevant. Consuming mindfully also means being in the moment while you consume and not rush through the process.

2) Practice the fine art of subtraction – we don’t need more and more. We need less that is more (useful/helpful/enriching etc.) Sometimes, the only way to find if something is useful is to “try” it. But often, once we try something, it stays with us because we are not so good at subtracting stuff – at eliminating that which we don’t really need.

“Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus” – Source

Create more

Most of us, I assume, long to create stuff that changes us and others for better – whether it is a radical new product or a one-on-one conversation with a colleague. Mindful consumption increases our capacity to create.

“Create what?” – you may ask.

When we exercise mindfully, we create health. When we consume food mindfully, we create wellness. When we travel mindfully, we create enriching experiences. When we converse mindfully, we create relationships. When we create what we truly love, we create joy and meaning. When we share generously, we create connections and conversations. When we connect mindfully, we create learning. When we work mindfully, we create remarkable results. When we prioritize mindfully, we create focus. When we serve mindfully, we create contentment. When we meditate, we create wellness. And we make a positive difference to ourselves and others through our creations.

To be mindful is to be present in the moment, immersed in doing whatever you choose to do. The fact that individually, we can only do so much, we have to choose our battles carefully and subtract the rest!

The time saved through mindful consumption is the time spared for engaging in creative pursuits.

So my mantra for 2016 (and beyond) is the same as it was in 2015 – Consume Less, Create More. I look forward to doing better and raising the bar for myself.

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Also read at QAspire:

A Steve Jobs Story on Simplicity and Focus

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is on my reading list and I was curious to have some initial reviews about the book. Matthew E. May recently reviewed the book on his blog.

In a post titled “The Zen Master of Subtraction: Steve Jobs”, Matt shares some very interesting stories/snippets about how Steve Jobs generated extreme focus by virtue of elimination.

I borrow the following story from his blog:

Once a year Jobs took his most valuable employees on a retreat, which he called “The Top 100.” They were picked based on a simple guideline: the people you would bring with you if you could only take a hundred people with you on a lifeboat to your next company. At the end of the retreat, Jobs would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the ten things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down, and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”

With all the clutter around us, thinking about simplicity is hard. As individuals and organizations, we can do so many things with our abilities that we end up running in different directions to attempt all of them, spreading ourselves thin.

Most people (and organizations) do more on more. More work on more number of priorities. The key is to do more on less – more focus and better execution on a fewer set of priorities. That is what “being lean” is all about – focus on being effective, eliminate clutter, clarify your priorities and then execute like hell.

Check out Matt’s review. I now look forward to reading the book and peek into the life of Jobs.

Productivity Reminders…

… For Managers

  1. In knowledge world, productivity is hard to quantify. If you try to adopt old “command and control” style of management to drive knowledge workers, they get even less productive. Don’t command, empower. Don’t control, but lead them instead.
  2. Understand that knowledge workers cannot always be productive between 9 to 5. They have their creative zones and routines when they are most productive. Give them a mental space, when they can concentrate.
  3. Equate productivity, not with how much work is done, but how well.
  4. Give them autonomy and challenge them through work. Clarify what is expected out of them and set them free. Facilitate and support, but don’t spoon feed and micro-manage. Enrich their job by allowing them to focus on the core aspect of their work. Eliminate waste from their routines. Define what performance means.
  5. Provide them constant feedback. Feedback is the compass they use to drive their performance. Recognize their efforts.

… For Individuals

  1. “Busy-ness” is not equal to progress. Passing/pushing papers, constantly responding to emails, constantly checking social media and attending endless meetings is NOT productivity.
  2. Understand the context. You can work better when the bigger picture is clear to you. Understand clearly what needs to be done, why it needs to be done and then figure out how it needs to be done.
  3. It also means identifying what should *not* be done. Eliminate busy work and additional activities that add no or little value. E.g. A sales person should focus on sales/customer service more than she focuses on filling out reports and doing logistical activities involved in sales.
  4. When working, be ‘with’ work. Social media can wait. That new email notification screaming for your attention can wait. Other low priority items can wait. Multi-tasking kills concentration – one of the key elements of personal productivity.
  5. Learn continuously – the more you learn, the more you know, the more productive you get. Seek training, read blogs (better yet, write one), read at least one book in your area of work in a month, meet people, attend conferences/webinars. Learn.

In his book “Managing For The Future (1992)”, Peter Drucker said that raising productivity of knowledge and service workers must be an economic and social priority in twenty first century. Almost twenty years after that was written, it is a truth that we cannot afford to ignore.

Being productive at work is not just an organizational, economic or social priority, but a personal one too.

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Related Post at QAspire: Getting Work Done: Flow and Distractions

More with less v/s More on less.

Multiple priorities and too many task on your task list throws you off the gear at times. I am passing through one such time where there is too much on my plate and focus keeps shifting between macro and micro level tasks. While all gets done, the key point here is – “Is it effective?” – and the answer is a resounding “No”.

In this context, I recently enjoyed Lisa Haneberg’s Fireside Chat with Michael Kanazawa where they talk about doing more with less v/s. doing more on less to bring about organizational break throughs. While you can listen to the podcast here, the essence is that in troubled times, companies attempt to do more with less number of resources and optimize. In most cases, this is counter-productive. Doing more with less is a bad idea. Focus instead should be doing more on less – more efforts, more focus and more resources on less number of critical priorities that make a big difference.

On the same lines, Robin Sharma over at his blog says “Less is More” – where the central idea is the same. The person who does too much accomplishes little. The most effective people in business (and life) have the discipline (and brilliance) to focus on doing just a few things spectacularly well.

There are times when business needs us to do more – and thats perfectly fine as long as it is not a routine thing. For me, doing more is only the need of this hour – but I will remember the fact that on a longer haul, success largely depends on taking up a few key initiatives and then committing your 200% to those few things. More on less, as they say!