Do Less, Then Obsess

We all have a finite amount of attention to devote to our responsibilities. There are too many tasks competing for our time and many projects waiting to be attended to. Whether it is following up on your latest quote or reconnecting with a dormant account, or perhaps focusing on your long-term business strategy, there is always too much to do. Nearly everyone overcommits and then struggles to find the time to fulfill all their commitments. What is worse, most of the commitments aren’t fulfilled to their potential. 

When projects aren’t completed or aren’t successful, it results in feelings of disappointment. The simple solution is to “Do Less, Then Obsess.” Committing to do less and obsessing over what you commit to will solve all three problems—fulfilling commitments, fulfilling them well and feeling fulfilled.  

In my 30-plus years of leading teams, and now as PPAI chair, I consistently find that people operate best when their performance is elevated and their happiness is high. We must not allow ourselves to operate under circumstances where we neither feel happy nor deliver our best performance. We must do less, then obsess.

Most people fall into the productivity trap of thinking if they take on more, they can be more productive. Instead, focus on having a greater impact on fewer commitments. It’s important to be productive, but overcommitting and then trying to be successful on every project will sap your personal happiness and lessen your impact. 

Select just a few items to obsess over and focus on what’s needed to excel. You don’t have to say no to everything else, but having just a few goals to concentrate on will allow you to reach your personal best. Performing at a high level will also result in a continual state of personal satisfaction. 

How do you decide what’s worth obsessing over? Perhaps it’s a project for your best client or a project with high potential. Handle the other projects as needed (we all need the revenue) but obsess only over the truly valuable ones. Here are a few more ideas: Consider dropping a few less profitable clients, stop browsing Facebook and stop checking email every few minutes. Eliminating distractions may be the simplest way to allow yourself to be more effective, and it can be the most significant step toward doing less. 

Once you eliminate distractions, you may not have to drop clients or projects, but most of us are going to need to decline a few unprofitable projects and requests from others when we already have too much on our plates. 

Determining which projects, clients or tasks to drop is relatively simple. Focus on those that add the most significant value to your customers and/or your business. For example, is a specific customer adding limited revenue to your bottom line but taking up a lot of time? If so, find a way to reduce the time spent with that customer (encourage ordering from your website or correspond with them less frequently). To evaluate a project, ask yourself this simple question: “Is what I’m doing adding significant value?” If not, make the appropriate adjustments to focus on what truly matters to your business. It’s better to do fewer things that result in excellence than multiple things that get mediocre results. 

Starting today, instead of trying to figure out how to pack more into your work day, determine which tasks you can give up, allowing you to excel. As the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

Being busy is not an accomplishment. Do less, then obsess. 

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Comments (1)
Alan Tabasky
June 6, 2018
Nice article Dale. If I showed you the 4' x 6' whiteboard on my wall with all the projects I have taken on, you'd laugh and shake your head. Me too. Thanks again. Good advice!
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