On doing less but better

Sometimes, we need to do less for doing more. We should stop being everything to everyone and instead focus on our core strengths in both business and life to improve our work life and sanity.
By focussing on a few things, we could do productive things instead of merely keep ourselves busy.
Most organizations, from tiny to huge, operate from the same perspective. As you add employees, there’s pressure to keep everyone occupied, to be busy. Of course, once you’re busy, there’s a tremendous need to hire even more people, which continues the cycle.
When your overhead plummets, the pressure to take on the wrong jobs with the wrong staff disappears. Youʼre free to pick the projects that make you happy.
During the placement season in my undergrad, I hardly gave any thought as to what kind of work and what kind of firm I wanted to work in. Instead, I just gave in to the very first job offer I received. It did pay me well and kept me busy but, I hardly did any productive work. It was partly because my firm was a large-sized one and also, because of my lack of clarity of goals.
How many newly-minted college grads take the first job thatʼs “good enough?” A good enough job gets you busy right away, but it also puts you on a path to a lifetime of good enough jobs. Investing (not spending, investing) a month or a year in high-profile internships could change your career forever.
Consider the architect who designs just a few major buildings a year. Obviously, he has to dig deep to do work of a high enough quality to earn these commissions. But by not cluttering his life and his reputation with a string of low-budget boring projects, he actually increases his chances of getting great projects in the future.
We canʼt have everything. Weʼve tried and it doesnʼt work. What weʼve discovered, though, is that leaving off that last business project not only makes our profits go up, it also can dramatically improve the rest of our life.
The opposite of “more” is not “less.” If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.
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The law of averages

Things catch up eventually. That’s why habits are so powerful. It applies to almost everything in life including weight loss, weight gain, relationships, trust, and our body of work.

Therefore, it certainly matters how we spend our time and energy on a daily basis.

Designing your dream career and life

I am a big fan of Debbie Millman’s podcasts. They are not only thought-provoking but are also, therapeutic.

In this article, Debbie Millman emphasizes an important point on careers and vocations. She says that,

Any time you are doing work that fulfills your soul, it has the opportunity to become much more universal—because chances are there are other people out in the world who it will fulfill, as well.

This paradox is also, validated by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings (as she has been writing for an audience of one) and several other writers of literature.

I think that word “should” in our internal narratives is very toxic—this notion of, “what should I be doing?” and it’s always pegged to some sort of expectation, whether it’s self-imposed or external or a combination of the two. It’s hard to balance those expectations of what you should be doing with what you want to be doing. I feel very fortunate in that to a large extent what I do is exactly what I want to be doing for myself, and I still write for an audience of one. I read things that stimulate me and inspire me and help me figure out how to live and then I write about them. The fact that there are other people who enjoy it is nice, but it’s just a byproduct.

Debbie also recommends visualizing an ideal day for creating an ideal life.

“Write an essay about the life you’d like to have five or 10 years from now,” she says. “Write it with as much detail as you can muster. What does your day look like? Where do you go? How do you get there? What does one perfect day in that life look like? Write it down, savor it, save it, reread it every year, and I will guarantee that the life you envision is one that you’ll get closer to.”

Psychological traits of work

Our work life goes way beyond mere livelihood. It can impact our identities for good and for worse. I wish I had known this earlier when I was in college but, it’s better late than never.

When we meet new people, we’re tempted to ask: ‘what do you do?’ We’re picking up on the idea that our identity is very linked to our daily tasks. But the way the question is answered tends to lock on to the practical externals of our jobs.

However, what’s more revealing, but more elusive, are the psychological requirements and consequences of jobs – what mindsets a job breeds, what doing the job requires of your inner life, how it expands us and (crucially) limits us.

Once we are aware of this fact, we can acknowledge it and process it properly to decide the actions we need to take to become a person we are proud of becoming.

Being in a particular psychological environment every day for years has a pretty significant impact on our habits of mind. It influences what we assume other people are like, it forms our view of life and gradually shapes who we are. The psychology inculcated by the work we do doesn’t stay at work. We carry it with us into the rest of our lives.

We find it much harder to notice what has happened in our case, because – of course – our outlook feels natural to us, though it is anything but. It may take an encounter with an alien (in the shape of someone from a very different field) to get us to notice.

Identifying the psychological traits of your work and personal life will guide you to take necessary actions to make yourself a more rounded individual.

We’re broadly aware that the way people learn to think at work can be traced in their domestic and social character.

Work can be very useful for people. The mentality fostered at work might be making up for aspects of the self that didn’t get properly developed before.

But work can narrow our characters too. When a particular range of issues and ways of thinking become entrenched, it means that others start to feel awkward and even threatening.

There’s a fundamental question we might ask ourselves: in what ways might my character has been shaped (for better or worse) by my work (just as it is important to grasp how one has been shaped by childhood)? There’s a poignant autobiographical question: if I’d done a different job, would I have been a different person? And the answer must be yes. Contained within other career paths are other plausible versions of oneself – which, if contemplated, reveal significant, but currently undeveloped, elements of one’s character. It gives rise to the most tricky of questions: where are those other bits of me?

Personally, I can say that I have become a much better person after I have taken up a pro bono project in a nonprofit organization. It has made me more generous and helped me focus on work for work’s sake and not for any extrinsic benefits such as pay, or popularity.
Being aware of the psychological traits of our jobs will make us more empathetic to people for who they are.

Keeping in mind how work shapes a person means we should be slower to blame other people for the way they are. Perhaps it is their job, not ‘them’ that has made them as they are – that has made them so nervous, angry, or boring. It’s the employment environment we should blame, not them. They might have been other people. Our identities are vulnerable to our jobs.

The common thread

The common thread that ties most of Seth Godin’s, Simon Sinek’s, and Ryan Holidays’ works is: be less and do more. Here are some recurring themes that we can find in their body of work.

1. Choose to play the infinite game where you outsmart yourself every single day.
2. There’s no difference between your personal and professional life. The reason your friends like you is the same reason your colleagues like you.
3. Be less, do more. Shed your ego.
4. Be totally present.
5. Seek out the difficult, unglamorous work that nobody wants to do. They are rare and hence, valuable and puts you in the infinite game automatically where there’s no competition. Finite games have time and player limits. Cal Newport also, emphasizes the same when he mentions people who have fulfilling careers have one thing in common – their work by nature is rare and valuable.

Understanding your shoulds & musts

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The book is a collection of the most effective questions the author encountered along the way in finding her passion and purpose. Think of these pages as a series of doorways designed so that you can choose which way your journey will go.
Firstly, we must understand the differences among what a job, career, and a calling are. The job is something typically done from 9 to 5 for pay. Career is a system of advancements and promotions over time where rewards are used to optimize behavior. Calling is something that we feel compelled to do regardless of fame or fortune; the work is the reward.
However, Seth Godin in one of his interviews offers an alternate point of view on calling saying it is stupid to believe in calling and passion, and ultimately, we must seek out for emotions we want to experience more of, and they can be experienced through seemingly unrelated activities.
The paradox of differentiating job, career, and calling is to seamlessly integrate both our work life and personal life.
What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we cannot parse the product from the person? In this place, job descriptions and titles no longer make sense; we no longer go to work, we are the work.
The author describes how Picasso balanced work and life, saying: “The more I discovered about his life and the more I delved into his art, the more the two converged”.
“It is not what an artist does that counts, but what he is.” –  Picasso
However, his art was so thoroughly autobiographical that what he did was what he was. Yes, Picasso had incredible talent, but the secret to his genius was this—Picasso’s life blended seamlessly with his work. It was impossible to tell where his life ended and his paintings began.
When we sense that our work life and personal life is neither balanced nor sustainable, we have reached the crossroads of should and must. To have what Picasso had, we must be able to distinguish between the shoulds and the musts of our life.
Should is how other people want us to live our lives. It is all of the expectations that others layer upon us. Sometimes, Shoulds are small, seemingly innocuous, and easily accommodated. “You should listen to that song,” for example. At other times, Shoulds are highly influential systems of thought that pressure and, at their most destructive, coerce us to live our lives differently. When we choose Should, we are choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful.
A must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It is that which calls to us most deeply. It is our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges, and desires—unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must does not accept compromises. Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own—and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals.
To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.
If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it is not your path. Your path you make with every step you take. That is why it is your path. – Joseph Campbell
When you choose Must, what you create is yourself. It is a body of work. As you change, so too does the work. The source of Must connects us all. Must is both the journey and the destination, the upward journey of our lives that guides us toward that higher place, the oneness of all things, the ultimate source of Must.
How to find our must?
To find our must, the author recommends a few strategies.
Every month, choose one new thing to do. Your activities might appear to be unrelated, but over time, your interests will integrate and cross-pollinate because they have one common element—you. As the designer, Charles Eames was fond of saying, “Eventually everything connects.” As you try new activities, take notes in a dedicated place—a notebook, notecards, or on your computer.
Hang up all of your pieces of paper—notes, lists, and skills acquired. Put them in a place where the collection can grow, and you can see everything all at once. Look for patterns, connections, and recurring themes. Prefer to work in pairs? Hate sitting all day? Find sensory stimulation important for your process? Take note when connections begin to happen between seemingly disparate activities. As new ideas pop up, add them. As hypotheses emerge, grab them. Then go out and experiment and play with what you are learning. Share your insights with trusted peers. Integrate their feedback and repeat until you start to home in on your Must.
Nowhere is the essence of Must more purely exhibited than in childhood. What were you like as a child? What did you enjoy doing? Were you solitary or did you prefer a crowd? Independent or collaborative? Day optimizer or daydreamer?
Hindrances to the thought process of finding our must
You have to grow up under someone else’s wing. It is a normal, healthy process for parents to give Shoulds and for children to receive them. Because you—the child—must learn how to navigate the world. In addition to what you receive from your parents, you inherit a worldview from the community, culture, and specific time into which you are born. As you grow up, you get to decide how you feel about that worldview. It is a natural process to become your person, to find your voice, convictions, and opinions, and to challenge and shed the Shoulds that no longer serve your evolving beliefs. However, sometimes, we linger in Should a little longer than expected. Moreover, we might even find ourselves as adults still living in a world of Shoulds from childhood that we have not consciously examined.
The word, ‘prison’ comes from the Latin praehendere, meaning to seize, grasp, capture. A prison does not have to be a physical place; it can be anything your mind creates. What has taken ahold of you? The natural process of socialization requires that the individual be influenced by Shoulds to function as a part of society.
If you want to know Must, get to know Should. This is hard work. We unconsciously imprison ourselves to avoid our most primal fears. We choose Should because choosing Must is terrifying, incomprehensible. Our prison is constructed from a lifetime of Shoulds, the world of choices we have unwittingly agreed to, the walls that alienate us from our truest, most authentic selves. Should is the doorkeeper to Must. Moreover, just as you create your prison, you can set yourself free.
We need to know each Should’s origins, how it got there, and when we began to integrate it into our decision-making. Look for recurring patterns, and choices—both little and big—that are affected.
Must feels inherently selfish at first. However, when you choose Must, you inspire others to choose it, too.
A must is always with you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing. A must is you. Sometimes, Must can feel far away, but it will never leave you. You just might not see it yet. In its purest sense, Must is why we are here, to begin with, and choosing it is the journey of our lives.
When you know why you are here—what you were put on this earth to do—it is challenging to go back to life as you knew it and be satisfied. Moreover, this is why Must is elusive. This is why we avoid admitting what we want. This is why our deepest desires sit in hiding for months, years, a lifetime. Moreover, this is why this journey is fascinating, intoxicating, and downright intimidating.
When we discover our Must, the brain’s most primal, protective center gets alarmed. The riot gear is called forth. Defense mechanisms go up. Because choosing Must raises very real and scary questions.
Following are some of the common hindrances that prevent us from finding and choosing our must.
1. Money
The key is to be able to pay your bills can create the temporal and mental space to find your calling. There are many options to choose from, and there is dignity in all work. So long as you keep your eye on your Must and optimize your time and energy to sustain it as best you can, you can continue to adjust and experiment with how you make money.
However, what you do not want is to take a job that was intended to pay the bills and suddenly, you do not have time to explore your passion, you are too tired to step into that which you were put on this earth to do. Moreover, if for some awful reason, you forget that money is a game, a make-believe concept that some people invented, you could be led back into the complex, layered world of Should. Moreover, here, the loss is not a financial one. You are the cost. Is it worth it?
There are two types of money—Must-Have and Nice-to-Have. Must-Have money is a solid, fixed number that we do not want to risk not having. We will not be able to focus on our Must if we are worried about not being able to eat. This number is often smaller than you might assume. At its most basic, it includes food and shelter. Nice-to-Have Money is extra, above-and-beyond money. Too often, we confuse Nice-to-Have money with Must-Have. Just because something is valuable doesn’t mean that we need it. It will always be nicer to have more Nice-to-Have money. Beyond the absolutes, money is a game, and you can play it any way you want.
2. Time
Time is the second perceived stumbling block to Must. You make time for what you want. The more intimate we are with what we want, the more self-aware we will be about how we spend our time. (insert Manage your day-to-day)
Getting to know what we want requires heightened sensitivity, and it starts by staying alert to our urges and wants—little and big. This heightens our intuition and connects us to that little voice in our head that wants things—crazy things, silly things, dirty things, quiet things. The more we feed it, the louder it speaks.
When she was 81, Ginette Bedard ran her twelfth consecutive New York City Marathon. She started running at the age of 69. Of running marathons, she has said, “I am going to do this until destiny takes me away.”
3. Space
You need a physical space—private, safe, and just for you. When you are in this space, you are not available. I repeat, you are not available. This is your sacred space to be by and with yourself. We all need safe containers to explore parts of our mind that have become hard to reach over time.
Integrating solitude into our lives must be done in sustainable, everyday ways. Personally speaking, I would focus on deep breathing while doing chores such as washing dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, and folding clothes. This eliminates the little thought in my head that keeps saying ‘I could have done something better in this time.’ What else could be better than simply focusing on your breathing? It is a meditative exercise in itself.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao-Tau
4. Self-sabotage
How often do we place blame on the person, job, or situation when the real problem, the real pain, is within us? However, so long as we leave Should unexamined, the pattern repeats.
Our cultural lack of encouragement for psychological health is one of the primary sources of our unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and deepest inner suffering. Working with a therapist in your day-to-day life is like having a trainer at the gym, except rather than work your muscles, the therapist works the organ that thinks it is running the show—your brain—and the source that’s running the show—your spirit. By better understanding yourself, you awaken to the patterns that you unconsciously repeat in your life.
It is not easy to examine Should. It is painful; it takes time, and during the process, you might become vulnerable and irritable. You might even be able to notice when others are experiencing growing pains in life because they might close up, turn inward, and withdraw. This is normal because the process of transformation is exhausting.
The snake is the ancient sacred symbol for transformation. To grow, it must shed its skin. This process is painful, dangerous, and necessary for growth. The snake’s insides are outgrowing its outsides, and it must remove its restrictive, outermost layer. If, for some reason, the snake cannot shed its skin, over time it will become malnourished, possibly even blind, and it will die from its inability to grow. However, when it completes the process, the snake emerges stronger and healthier—a new incarnation. This shape-shifting life cycle represents rebirth and renewal, the enigmatic power of life to thwart death. It is a metaphor for the experience that you, as an extraordinary human being capable of miraculous growth and transformation, have the opportunity to experience in your life.
Now let’s get realistic about these fears. Because often, fears in our mind can be like sap—sticky and very difficult to remove. However, fears on paper? Tangible. Visible. Cross-out-able. The most sustainable Musts happen slowly, thoughtfully, and quietly. They do not happen impulsively but are built with a sober, calm intention.
To choose Must is the greatest thing you can do with your life because this congruent, rooted way of living shines through everything that you do. Your sacred space and daily efforts will become even more sacred. You will build a beautiful world for your Must. Moreover, over time, it will be tempting to stay forever in this magical place that you’ve created, never to return to the everyday world again. However, the complete and ultimate journey requires that you return, share your Must, and in so doing, lift the lives of others.
“Don’t just go through life,” he urged, “. . . make it a point, instead, to acknowledge mystery and welcome rich questions—questions that nudge you towards a greater understanding of this world and your place in it.”
Conclusion
Vincent van Gogh chose Must when he continued to paint, canvas after canvas, even as the world rejected his art. His work went largely unrecognized while he was alive. It can be challenging to understand, in our hyperconnected world of likes and comments and follows, what being true, utterly unseen might have felt like. A must is why, even as editors rejected his book again and again, the lawyer/author kept going and eventually received a yes, and it is why John Grisham is a household name today.

Planning weekends strategically

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I stumbled upon this gem of a book called ‘What the most successful people do on the weekend’ by Laura Vanderkam that had some profound thoughts on why we should spend time on weekends in a more responsible manner.

The futurists didn’t necessarily predict this. Back in 1959, amid the rise of labor-saving technology and massive productivity gains, the Harvard Business Review fretted that “boredom, which used to bother only aristocrats” had “become a common curse.” “Why has leisure been such a conspicuous casualty of prosperity?” Being busy has become the explanation of choice for all sorts of things.

In a world of constant connectivity, even loafing time must be consciously chosen, because time will be filled with something whether it’s consciously chosen or not—and not choosing means that the something that fills our hours will be less fulfilling than the something our remembering selves will likely wish we’d elected to do. While “nothing” in Keats’ day meant watching the clouds float by, nothing now means weekend hours parked on the sofa watching television we didn’t mean to watch, surfing Web sites we didn’t plan to surf, and checking e-mail in an inefficient manner.

What all this means is that giving a structure to our weekends is worth a thought. It leads to two decisions that together create weekends that leave you rejuvenated and ready to go: choosing labors of a different sort and embracing the benefits of anticipation.

The experiencing self seldom encounters pure bliss, but the anticipating self never has to go to the bathroom in the middle of a favorite band’s concert and is never cold from too much air conditioning in that theater showing the sequel to a favorite flick. Planning a few anchor events for a weekend guarantees you pleasure because—even if all goes wrong at the moment—you still will have derived some pleasure from the anticipation.

“The greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real,” he writes. “The frontal lobe—the last part of the human brain to evolve, the slowest to mature, and the first to deteriorate in old age—is a time machine that allows each of us to vacate the present and experience the future before it happens.” This time travel into the future—otherwise known as anticipation—accounts for a big chunk of the happiness gleaned from any event. As you look forward to something good that is about to happen, you experience some of the same joy you would at the moment. The major difference is that the joy can last much longer.

Success in a competitive world requires hitting Monday refreshed and ready to go. The only way to do that is to create weekends that rejuvenate you rather than exhaust or disappoint you.

A good weekend needs a plan. Not a minute-by-minute plan, not a spreadsheet full of details, but just a few fun anchor events sketched in ahead of time.

So, what are some of the things we should consider doing on our weekends?

1. MINIMIZE THE HAVE-TO-DO’S

Obviously, grocery shopping has to happen at some point, but a late-weekday-evening visit can make for an efficient trip. Or, if you live near a big city, you can order groceries online during a boring conference call. Then it’s done without sacrificing weekend time.
If you use weekdays for chores, rather than weekends, you may just spend less time on chores—because you have less time. The time you don’t spend on chores can be freed up for more meaningful things. One way to do this? Designate a small chore time. Perhaps it’s Saturday evening while you’re waiting for a babysitter, or Friday evening right after dinner and before watching a movie.

The big reason is that many chores expand to fill the available time. The key thing with chores and weekends is not to focus so much on easily seen and measured goals, such as scratching everything off that grocery list, that you divert energy from your highest value projects: nurturing your relationships, nurturing your career, nurturing yourself. Down to the activities they and you enjoy most. When it comes to making the most of the leisure time, depth and focus tend to bring more happiness than a scattershot approach where you never get a chance to go all-in toward mastery.

2. Schedule downtime – This is the paradox of weekends: “You have to set an appointment to go off the grid as surely as to go on it.” You have to realize that this rest time is too precious to be totally leisurely about leisure. “Don’t enter into it with such a lack of structure that you don’t do anything because you spend all day thinking about what you want to do. As Anatole France once wrote, “Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another.”

3. Never sit and watch TV – It consumes a lot of time and energy unnecessarily. Instead, we could put out cognitive surplus to good use.

4. Passion projects or side hustles – What would you like to say you’ve done by the end of the year in the major categories of life? What would you like to accomplish in your career, in your relationships, and for yourself? Then break down these goals into smaller steps, and try to incorporate at least one of these steps into your weekly plan.

It’s the same with weekends, which are miniature versions of the holidays we struggle to optimize. It is always easier to do “nothing” (meaningless somethings) and do only the things we have to do. Cast loose from the schedule of work and school, we list around. We don’t think about what we’d like to do with our time, and so we live a constrained version of life.

5. End Sunday night on a high note – Other kinds of work—be it exercise, a creative hobby, hands-on parenting, or volunteering—will do more to preserve your zest for Monday’s challenges than complete vegetation or working through the weekend. Aliza Rosen, a reality TV producer who’s dreamed up series like Farm Kings and Curvy Girls, does Vinyasa (“hot”) yoga at 6 p.m. on Sundays. One equally great way to end the weekend is to volunteer. Nothing will take your mind off any problems associated with your decent-paying and steady job like serving people who aren’t so fortunate.

6. A spiritual approach to weekends – Spiritual edification is more important than cooking and cleaning, a point Jesus made to Mary and Martha in the Gospels. Comforting a teen after a rough high school dance is more important than finishing the dishes in the sink.

I keep the Jewish Sabbath, which is not something I did when I was eighteen. For twenty-five hours each week, everything gets turned off. No e-mail. No phone. I don’t make anything. I don’t destroy anything. No matter how much stress I have in my life, it all evaporates on Friday night.

My pianos are my only big indulgence, but they’re a necessity,” he said. “When I’m playing the piano is literally the only time I can be completely abstract and disconnected from the regular world and yet be connected—to my music.

This different approach to thinking is why Dominique Schurman, CEO of the stationery company Papyrus, calls exercise “almost a job requirement. It allows me to kind of release the tension and clears my head. I get a lot of ideas when I’m exercising,” she told me. She goes on long runs and swims, and also gardens—a physical activity that she calls “a creative outlet. I just like to work on what goes well together.” As she moves her pots around, she studies different ways to combine color and texture, not unlike what she asks her card designers to do during the week. “Since I do that in my job, I kind of enjoy a tactile dimension,” she says. “I find that relaxing.”

7. Make time to explore – Someday, perhaps, you will be staring at the snow from the too simple room of a hospital or nursing home, dreaming of the days when making snowmen with your children was an option. This realization leads to a different question than that suggested by all these tips on simplifying the holidays. Namely, what are you saving your energy for? This is all there is. Anything could happen, and you are not guaranteed another snowman. So make a fuss. Make a show. Spend your energy now.

8. Use your mornings – Especially, for your passion projects.

9. Create traditions – These habits are what become memories—and comforting rituals boost happiness.

To conclude, there are sixty hours between the moment you crack open a beer at 6 p.m. Friday and the time the alarm goes off at 6 a.m. Monday. Sixty hours is a decently high percentage of a 168-hour week. Even if you’re asleep for twenty-four of those hours, that still leaves thirty-six hours for waking rejuvenation. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job—and this is a helpful mindset to have. You would not take a thirty-six-hour per week job without asking what you intended to do with it and what you expect the outcome to be.

“What do you want to do more of with your time?”