You and I have been led to believe that hard work produces great results. If you keep you head down, work hard the results will follow. The only problem is if you look around there there seems to be more and more people with high levels of activity but make little progress.
There are limits to what can be achieved through hard work and sheer determination. You quickly reach a point where more work fails to produce better results.
The reason is that in most situations it’s only a vital few activities actually yield better results.
There Are Limits to Hard Work
The belief that more work leads to better results is creating a culture of busyness. It’s this culture of busyness that’s killing our ability to lead. Leaders are spending their time running from meeting to meeting, working late at night and over week-ends, responding to emails at all hours, busy, busy, busy.
Now all of this hard work would make sense, if it produced greater and better results. The reality is most of the work we do makes very little impact.
Whilst hard work does not naturally lead to better results. A focus on doing less, more focused work does make a significant difference.
Less is a Lot More
The belief that more work leads to greater results is widely held. Effort and results are not always closely related. The hard truth is that much of what we do is worthless.
You many have hear of the pareto principle which states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The principle is named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who in 1906 observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. The law that underpins the pareto principles is that 20% of our effort produces 80% of our results. This law can be found at work in many areas of our lives. For example, it’s not unusual for organisation to find that 20% of their customers contribute to 80% of an their revenue. Additional examples of this law can be found everywhere.
The pareto principle requires that we rethink the our beliefs concerning the relationship between effort and results. IT requires that we accept that there is a point where more effort begins to limit our progress. That there are hard limits to hard work.
We need to embrace an alternative belief, a belief that less is more. That the path to success requires a focus on the few activities that make the biggest difference. Ignoring the rest.
“Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first – and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.” – Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive
Making the Shift Towards “Less is More”
What really matters is the relationship between effort and results. Getting past the thinking that more is better is a real challenge for many of us. Making the shift towards a less is more mindset takes courage and conviction. The sooner we accept that less is more, the sooner we can and begin working on the vital few activities that contribute to improved results. And stop working on those that don’t.
“If there is any one ‘secret’ to effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first – and they do one thing at a time.” —Peter Drucker
To help you get started in adopting a less is more approach here are some recommendations:
- Learn to Say “Yes” more Slowly. Learn to say yes more slowly to requests and projects that come your way. This will require you to step back and take some time to gain clarity as to why each request matters. Learn to say “no” to the many projects so you can say “ye”s to the ones that matter.
- Stay Focused on What’s Most Important Before you start each day ask yourself, “what really matters today?” Each day ask yourself, “what are todays three most important tasks? Remove or delegate the rest!
- Effort for Results Mindset Be vigilant in tracking the effort – time, money and talent – that you’re investing in activities and their end results. Not all effort and energy yields equal results. Take care and ensure that you’re investing in those activities and projects that will yield the biggest results. As Peter Drucker advocated place your best people on you biggest opportunities.
What’s your approach to less is more? Your thoughts?