Less is More – Why You Shouldn’t Try So Hard

Is good enough good enough?

If you are like me, when someone tells you that you should learn when good enough is good enough, and you don’t have to work so hard, you don’t find that piece of advice convincing at all.

You may even think the person talking to you is complacent or lazy and his or her opinion doesn’t matter to you. You take pride in having high standards and you have no interest in embracing mediocrity. You aim for outstanding. That’s who you are and that is not going to change.

I completely get that. But today I invite you to look at your choices from a different perspective. If you are truly committed to your high standards, you should also commit to stop wasting time trying to improve things when the extra effort won’t pay off.

Parkinson’s Law

Are you familiar with Parkinson's Law? It states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you have an unlimited amount of time to complete a project, you may never finish it. If you have a lot of time available, you will most likely stretch out the time you spend on it. Chances are you will perceive the work as more complex than it really is and make more effort than necessary. 

Instead, decide how much time you will allocate to each task and keep an eye on the clock to make sure you don’t go over. You’ll have to stay focused and complete your task within the time frame you have chosen. Imagine there is a hard deadline that you must meet. Don’t let a 20-minute task take an hour or more. It’s simply not worth it. There are other more important things you can do with your time.

Pareto’s Principle

Pareto’s Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. Pareto was an Italian economist whose research brought to light the unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. His 80/20 principle states that 20% of the invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. While the percentages may vary for different situations, the ratio is strikingly always close to 80/20.

In other words, 20% of what you do creates 80% of your accomplishments. It is essential for you to get clear on what makes you most productive and effective. Once you can identify what you do that doesn’t bring significant results, you can give yourself permission to stop doing it. By doing less, you don’t become lazy, you become available to do other things that are meaningful to you.

John’s Story

Let me give you an example. Imagine someone in charge of enrollment management. Let’s call him John. John is the kind of manager who is always on top of things. He knows his numbers and he has a strong and effective strategy to increase enrollment. John is asked to prepare a presentation to the Board of Trustees. As always, John wants his presentation to be flawless so he is ready to spend his entire weekend preparing his PowerPoint.

John already has reports providing all the data he could possibly need. He knows his job very well and is passionate about enrollment management. In less than an hour, his PowerPoint is done. But John feels that he should do more. He spends 2 more hours looking for photos to make his slides more visually appealing and making his charts and graphs prettier.

Suddenly, John remembers a conversation he had with someone at a conference a few months prior. That person was doing something very innovative and he starts wondering if he could learn something from that. He tries to remember this person’s name but can’t. John spends 30 minutes looking through his contacts on his computer and searching business cards from colleagues he collected over the years.

Finally, he finds the person’s card but can’t call him on a Saturday. John decides to google the college and look for information online. Soon, John comes across articles on new enrollment management best practices. He reads everything he can find. Hours pass. His wife calls him. Dinner is ready.

The next morning, he can’t help thinking about everything he has read and comes to the conclusion he can’t use any of it in the presentation. He is only getting 15 minutes to talk and can’t afford to spend one minute on anything not directly related to what he is accomplishing for his college. What came from the prior day’s research was the validation that he already knew what he needed to know.

John realizes he spent an entire a day on a PowerPoint that was ready in less than an hour. Only the first hour of work (input) created the outcome he needed. John starts beating himself up for sacrificing half of his weekend for no good reason. Luckily, a friend sends him a link to an article similar to this one. He reads it, takes a deep breath, implements the principles, and lives happily ever after.

Become outcome-driven instead of process-driven

What about you? Have you ever spent hours on something that created nothing? I bet you have. I surely did when I worked in higher ed administration. We were often more process-driven than outcome-driven. We would allocate time to efforts that didn’t bring results and somehow, we thought that was normal. It was common but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it normal. To me, it is wasteful.

You probably already have some ideas about what you do that doesn’t bring results. You may even be experiencing some frustration with processes you feel obligated to continue, even if they don’t make much sense. But the good news is that it is never too late, or too soon, to make improvements. 

I highly encourage you to evaluate your actions to identify which ones create the outcomes you seek and which ones generally don’t. And please always allocate a specific amount of time to each task and don’t allow yourself to go over. Taking longer to complete something doesn’t necessarily make it better.

If old beliefs are stopping you from making changes or if you need help with organization and time optimization, simply click here to schedule a call with me. I can help you make some powerful changes to accomplish more in less time. You can do exceptional work without having to sacrifice yourself. I’d love the opportunity to show you how.

About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.