Want to achieve more in life? Of course, you do. The fact that you read this publication basically tells me just that. Yet for most of us, the idea of achieving more comes with the corollary notion that we are going to have to do a lot more, put in more hours, work harder and generally take on more and more tasks and responsibilities.
Yet what if doing less could allow you to achieve more? Now, when I say, “doing less,” I am not talking about slacking off and just letting fate’s wind sail you across life’s lake. What I am referring to here is taking on fewer overall tasks and really concentrating on getting the critical things in life right.
Another way to describe this principle in action is to hone your focus on the most important tasks at hand, and thereby become a “master of selectivity.” You see, it is by concentrating your efforts on the most important priorities needed to achieve your goals, and letting go of extraneous and often distracting tasks, that you can enhance your performance in business and in life.
This idea of mastering selectivity and prioritizing tasks was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article titled, “How to Succeed in Business? Do Less,” by Morten Hansen, former management consultant and now professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley.
In the article, Hansen explained how his strategy for success at his “dream job” at Boston Consulting Group was to work exorbitant hours, a practice which he said often resulted in 90-hour workweeks. Yet despite all his time and hard work, there was one colleague he had that put in far fewer hours, yet always had better solutions to problems than he did. Moreover, this co-worker put in a normal 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. day, never stayed late and never worked nights or weekends.
So, was this outperforming co-worker just that much smarter and talented than Hansen (as well as the rest of his colleagues)?
What Hansen discovered later in his academic research is it’s not a case of “talent” or “natural ability” or the willingness to “work hard” that can result in successful outcomes. Rather, researchers have found that what is even more important to success is the ability to master selectivity.
“Whenever they [top performers] could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go,” wrote Hansen. “They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel.”
Hansen’s research also found that just a select few critical work practices accounted for as much as two-thirds of the variation in performance among the subjects in a 2011 research study. “Talent, effort and luck undoubtedly mattered as well, but not nearly as much,” wrote Hansen.
So, how did the best performers in his study do this?
According to Hansen, “Rather than simply piling on more hours, tasks or assignments, they cut back.” Hansen then likened this ability to cut back and focus on what really makes the most difference to the philosophical principle known as Occam’s Razor. Named after the philosopher and theologian William of Ockham, this principle stipulates that the best explanation in matters of philosophy, science and other areas is usually the simplest.
“At work, this principle means that we should seek the simplest solutions — that is, the fewest steps in a process, fewest meetings, fewest metrics, fewest goals and so on, while retaining what is truly necessary to do a great job,” wrote Hansen. “I usually put it this way: As few as you can, as many as you must.”
I like to apply this principle to my own life via something called the “minimum effective dose.” What this means is you want to concentrate on doing the things that have the most impact on your results, and that have the fewest extraneous elements and/or time commitments.
For example, in the realm of fitness, I engage in what’s known as high-intensity training, or HIT, to get the best strength and conditioning results in the briefest period of time, and in the safest, most efficient manner.
When investing and selecting top-performing companies for my Successful Investing, Intelligence Report and Bullseye Stock Trader newsletter advisory services, I concentrate on finding stocks with the strongest earnings, strongest relative share-price performance and stocks that are in the strongest industry groups. By focusing on these key components and filtering out much of the “noise” of extraneous data, I am better able to make good investment choices.
Finally, the principle of focusing more on less, i.e. focusing your effort on the most critical elements of a task or objective rather than becoming sidetracked by the superfluous, is something we can all apply to nearly every part of our lives.
So, if you want to achieve success in any walk of life, focus on the critical elements — and then get them right. Once you do that, you’ll often find the rest tends to fall into place.