How to Do Less and Get More

Less is More

I’m a big fan of Leo Babauta.

His book, The Power of Less, is required reading for anyone who wants a rewarding life.

But many of Leo’s followers think doing less means, well, settling for less.

I’m here to tell you it can mean achieving much more.

In the last 4 years, I’ve been living the power of less.

In fact, I started with that philosophy well before I knew it was one.

Do Less to Achieve More

I annoy many of my partners and friends with my approach.

But the reality is, engaging in busy work is not the secret to success.

Success comes from ignoring the busy and sticking with developing content and pursuing projects that matter to your goals.

That means you need time to think.

Enjoy the Stillness

Don’t get me wrong, I work hard and push the envelope.

But I choose the things I pursue very carefully.

And that means ignoring the immediate until I know the right thing to do.

Again, this often annoys people who want my immediate attention.

But when it’s right, I act . . . and everyone involved is a lot happier with the eventual outcome.

Don’t Do Things That Don’t Matter

The stereotype of the successful person is one who juggles multiple cats in the pursuit of maximum return.

I’m telling you to drop most of those cats, and lovingly embrace that special one.

Making clear decisions about content and projects that work requires clear vision, and you don’t achieve that in a frenzied, haphazard mode.

Right decisions require the right mindset, and a clear path to achieving the goal.

How clear is your mind right now?

P.S. No cats were harmed in the writing of this post.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and co-founder of DIY Themes, creator of the innovative Thesis Theme for WordPress. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. How to Do Less and Get More?

    Study how Brian Clark just wrote an entire blog post about “less” using one-sentence paragraphs.

    Well done.

  2. @Shane, good point. Didn’t notice that. :)
    I love streamlined, simple, less-is-more attitudes. I use this in my my work, and in my home… much to the dismay of my family.

  3. Good point Brian AND Mr. Shane. I’ve started to realize this myself. I’ve always been the busy person trying to do stuff to make more money or be more successful. It’s funny how I bump into more articles reflecting the change I am making now. Coincidences, coincidences…

  4. Absolutely true .Enough said.
    Thank you.

  5. I can never slip anything by you, can I Shane. ;)

  6. @Brian,
    After 4 years of reading copyblogger…NO!
    Copybloggerization Complete!

  7. Resistance is Futile. :)

    I’ve found it painfully true that the more time I spend juggling those cats, the less strategic I can be.

  8. Great stuff…thanks!

    I do have a question–does “less” necessarily mean “short”?

    I’m a new blogger, and I’ve been told that, while my content is great, my posts are too long.

  9. Cat juggling is my Achilles heel. The good news is, I’ve realized the error of my ways for a while. Bad news is, I splattered a lot of cats on the floor and have quite a bit to mop up before I can move on.

  10. Brian, great wisdom that came at exactly the right time. Thank you.

  11. “Success comes from ignoring the busy and sticking with developing content and pursuing projects that matter to your goals.”

    Absolutely… and well said. My own struggle is having too many widespread goals – too many bulls’ eyes to aim at… Any thoughts on how to counter this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  12. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for your wisdom in all its simplicity! Love this. My biggest learning as a business owner these past six years is that it is absolutely essential to be very, very discerning about where I spend my time and energy. Like you, I “choose the things I pursue very carefully” with intention and purpose; I have to decide where I will say “no” so that I can say a bigger “YES!” to what’s most important in my life. And I must say that (for me) it takes constant reminders as it often feels as though I’m going ‘against the grain’ of society when my clients, colleagues, and friends would prefer my immediate attention.

    Please know that your blog posts have helped me tremendously as I say a resounding “YES!” to my new blog, and your wisdom has helped me to stay focused. Looking forward to more. Thank you!

  13. “The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither” (Confucius)

  14. Here I don’t need to explain my goal: Be less and more. Thank you.

  15. I used to have the misconception that running around like a lab rat in a maze was the way to success, too. I tried to do everything. My revelation came when I ran across “Living The 80/20 Way” by Richard Koch a few months ago.

    I think the difficult part is stopping long enough to break old habits and discover how you best contribute.

  16. Brian – thanks so much for writing this. I think there’s been a lot of backlash against Leo (at least I’ve seen it). You know, with people saying it’s all fluff and really doesn’t provide much value. I strongly beg to differ. Simplifying can bring great change to your life….positive change. Being super productive 100% of the time is not always the best option As an example, look at how much time is spent on Twitter. It amazes me how many tweets I see from the same person in a given day. At some point all that time spent there has to have diminishing returns. I think the advice here is great and it shows that someone who has achieved tremendous success can still utilize the practices of simplifying to achieve success.

  17. This reminds me of Tim Ferris’ The Four Hour Work Week. Outsource the routine and busy tasks and do what’s best for you. I also like the philosophy of the word “no”. Oftentimes people just are too considerate. I’m not saying you have to be rude, but you have to prioritize.

  18. This is what I strive for. I don’t make it very well, mostly because my mind can’t settle down enough for me to be toasty-warm zen about what I should pursue. But I try. I do try.

    Well said, Brian.

  19. The most useful tips I learnt from this post was to do what that matters and ignore what that doesn’t matter. Is that right? :-)

  20. Brian,

    Everything is spawned out of stilless. Doing less will get you more as long as you are truly doing less, meaning not thinking or doing.

    I split my day 50-50 mental and physical activity. I lean towards mental. Thought causes all so it’s more important to have your thinking down before you move into action.

  21. I think you’re right – sometimes you have to clear the clutter off the desk and only focus on that which is going to reap rewards.

  22. I like what you said here: “But many of Leo’s followers think doing less means, well, settling for less.”

    Excellent point.

    The same goes for readers of Tim Ferriss. Ridding your daily routine of all the clutter doesn’t mean you spend all day maxin’ and relaxin’ – it means you get focused on what you really want to do AND what you really NEED to do!

    A book from what Sonia would call “the cool kids” crowd that addresses this better, I think, is CRUSH IT by Gary Vaynerchuk.

    Coach Donnelly

  23. “drop most of those cats” – Brian Clark

    I’m going to tattoo that backwards on my forehead! lol

  24. yeah, it’s the difference between running around a lot and being productive.

    successful people are super efficient and use their time wisely. ta.

  25. I just had an epiphany. Less. Less. Less. It would work out more. Wow. Got it. Have to use that as a mantra now. Thanks Brian.

    Shane, you got a hawk’s eye ;)

  26. Brian, clearly you’re all that plus a case of Meow Mix.

    But even though no cats were harmed, the word haphazard took a glancing blow.

    Or did I stumble into Eggcorns-R-Us by mistake?

  27. It is important to discern between what is important and what is urgent…

  28. Jennifer, good catch. That must be a bastardized Texas colloquialism that I didn’t even know I suffered from. But I do say it that way.

    I fixed it though. Strange how we get in the habit of saying things we don’t even realize.

  29. I used to think I was pretty efficient, until I started blogging.

    I used to think I was a pretty fair writer until I started reading Copyblogger. I’m expanding my horizons and enjoying every minute.

    I love dogs.

    Steve Benedict

  30. It’s the pareto principle in action again.

    20% of the average person’s actions yield 80% of their desired results and vice versa.

    The smart spend the time to figure out which 20% and have five times the results or five times as much free time to enjoy.

    Great post!

  31. Dear Brian:

    Great reminder. I have been a fan of simplicity for a long time. I always tried to make things more manageable.

    They key point is doing what matters to you and eliminating the noise. If you focus your time on what really matters then you will be actually doing more because your energy be focused on the select few things.

    The key point here is being selective and purposeful with what you do in life. If more people followed this rule they would see that they can eliminate so many things from their lives that are dragging them down!

    But it is all easier said than done! It requires knowing your purpose and your goals, your values, your strengths, your weakness and so on. However, just like any journey, it starts with the first step!

    Best,
    Tomas

  32. I love this. So many people submit themselves to the busy work of doing things that hardly matters to themselves. Usually, this is what “productivity” means, hence I look down on this word.

    In other words, my ultimate productivity rule is to do what matters to me. Is it some kind of synchronicity we posted the same kind of idea within 24 hour span :)

    Akemi

  33. Arigato

  34. Good stuff Brian. I’m starting a blog on real estate investment in the Pacific Northwest which is really focusing on “less.” I realize that when I work on less, and juggle less cats it still takes up just as much time. The only difference is you get more done and make progress.

  35. Great advice Brian.

    I try and employ the seven habits of highly effective people. Being proactive in setting my vision for the way forward and managing first things first. However there always seems to be truck loads of non-important (to me) things that are urgent that need doing every day. And it always seems that no one else can do them. Maybe I should say NO more often. But without that 80% I don’t know where I’d stand getting the important 20% done? :-)

    Can we really ignore the 80% indefinitely?

  36. Thanks for the reminder – your timing is impeccable.

  37. For the purpose of growth pushing the envelope is important but knowing which envelope to push is even more important

  38. I find that the more I try to juggle my cat, the more scratches I get on my face.

  39. Brian, I appreciate the reminder to keep it simple. It’s especially important in web content. With so many distractions and parties competing for your attention online, succinct messages will be the most powerful.

  40. Jodi: Awesome. : )

  41. The question is: if we’re not busy juggling multiple cats in the first place, how are we going to know which special soulmate cat to keep and focus on?

    We do need some experience in order to find out what we’re really intent on pursuing.

    Just some food for thought!

  42. It IS sad that most people don’t recognize ‘multi-tasking’ for what it is – a euphemism for unfocused or scattered. In advertising or news media it’s simple, either it’s done by deadline or it’s not – how and when you completed it is immaterial. By focusing on one task you can complete it quickly (or at least quicker), so there’s no need to be constantly working at it.

  43. We cannot multitask. We cannot focus on two things at once. We just think we can. That’s why there are so many bruised cats out there. (Did you know that, while cats *usually* land on their feet, the don’t *always* land on their feet?)

    @Brett: um, if you’ve only got one cat, perhaps that’s the one you should focus on; if not, finding your cat is a different subject from choosing among many.

    @Jennifer Weber: thank you :)

    @Jodi Kaplan: hi ! (for no apparent reason)

  44. Imagine a world where everyone was able to pull this off… There would be a whole lot more cats running around. I don’t know if that would be a good thing or not.

    I also love dogs.

  45. How to know which cat is the right cat?

  46. The cat you’d keep forever even if it peed on your carpet and scratched up all your furniture?

  47. @Tiana, that description does indeed describe many of the ventures & projects I’ve been involved with.

  48. Oh bother.

    While I was reading this, I dropped all my cats.

    Bother.

  49. such a good post… so many good comments… gosh…
    my touchstone question is: “what matters?”
    followed by, “really? am i doing anything about it?”
    of course “what matters?” is a question with changing answers.
    “What matters” to me right now is using my Thing to actively help (you know, the world).

  50. Less is more. Great concept. I need to apply that to my blog and maybe I can get things done! Thanks for sharing.

  51. Brian, you do something that some of us have lost in this cheetah fast world: think on it. Sleep on it.

    The power of less is an “inside job.” I have a “famous” saying I made up: Less is more. And the only time that more is more is when it’s more of less.

    The right cat is the one you VALUE most.

  52. YES! I knew my gut was telling me the right thing – at work I need time to think in order to make the right decisions. If I can’t get that, often due to “urgent” requests and too many emails, then I get into a reactive mode. This turns into a cycle of busy work. I want to be effective, not efficient.

    Thank you for validating this.

  53. love the……Don’t Do Things That Don’t Matter….don’t do something just so you can say you did….thanks for the great reminder Just had a thought … everything you do should be an investment with actual returns.

  54. Hi Brian – This is so true. I used to struggle, working through the night a lot, mostly on menial tasks.

    It was only when I began delegating the menial stuff to others, that I began to be more productive. It’s not like I didn’t work hard afterwards – I just had the time to get more important stuff done.

  55. Loved this blog. People can never understand me either when I don’t bother about the dust or mow the lawn or prune the laurels when they think I should. I use a combination of my grandmother’s advice, “It’ll all be the same in a hundred years”, and Critical Path Analysis (there’s my accountancy training showing through) to prioritise and select what I do when. Can you hear the miaows? That’s all those attention-demanding cats locked up in the spare room while I’m off for a contemplative walk through the woods with my dogs. As the French would say, “Je vais profiter du soleil”.

    Love your Teaching Sells course by the way.

  56. “Don’t Do Things That Don’t Matter” – I find this difficult to accept. Even the menial things matter. I would change that to read “Delegate the tasks that are making you unproductive.” This way I personally am doing less, but what I am doing are the things only I can do, the things that bring in more clients.

  57. But, one should not put his all eggs in one basket ?

  58. Wow – this sure generated a lot of comments, which goes to prove we all have the same challenge (and here I thought I was the only one!)

    While I think it’s impossible to focus on just ONE goal, I know in my heart and gut that narrowing my focus to a very short list of priorities makes life far less stressful, and rewarding by accomplishing meaningful goals. In my frenzied existence, I constantly have the feeling that whatever I’m doing, I should doing something else.

    However, we have three cats, Buddy, Carla and Les Nesman, all of whom require their own particular kind of attention, and would be quite indignant at being pushed aside in deference to another….!

  59. Great timing on this post for it’s something I have been personally working on. A clear mind no doubt produces better ideas and time for execution.

    I like Heather’s “Delegate the tasks that are making you unproductive.”

    I have been conditioning myself on a 20 second rule. If I can do this and complete in 20 seconds..go ahead and get it done, otherwise defer. Either defer to a later date or better yet, delegate it to someone that can get it done for you.

    Be careful though, having all this extra time to come up with great ideas can sometimes cause you to forget about what it takes on the operational side to complete projects. As you are adding “wood” to the campfire, you can quickly end up with a lot half burned logs and frustrated employees.

  60. Of course, that might mean for me at least, to stop reading your excellent articles….

  61. “Wow! This is good” I said to myself, half way through.

    And at the end I said, “No surprise, it’s by Brian Clark.”

  62. Brian, please tell me you were thinking of this scene from “The Jerk” when you wrote the bit about cat juggling:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyy50Penbvw&feature=related

    (Sorry, that’s the only clip I could find of it.)

  63. The simpler the better. Cut out the huge percentage of
    crap that fills your day and be smarter, sharper and able
    to grab those opportunities when they come a hummin’

  64. I’ve always liked this concept. My biggest issue is focusing my mind to find the one thing that is the most important and, also, the one that might create the best outcome.

    Your last few paragraphs refer to clarity in one way or another. It is that clarity that is difficult to achieve amid competing tasks. Some may call this “purpose”. Again, not something readily evident to me.

    It’s easy to say, “great post” and “you’re so right”. It’s a bit harder to ask, “How can I find that clarity?” (“clear mind”, “clear path”, “right mindset”)

    Sure. Simpler is better. I’ll agree with that. Finding that clear path amid the substantial number of options and choices is another story altogether.

  65. IMHO there is a fine line between juggling too many cats and using analysis as an excuse to be a couch-huger.

    Acting in reaction just encourages them.

    Too much thinking can result in analysis paralysis.

    The ideal is somewhere in-between.

    Planning and analysis commensurate with the risk followed by actions backed by a 100% commitment to achieving the outcome.

  66. Had to come back on this one. Napoleon Hill is a great read on this topic – decide what you desire, PLAN how you’re going to get it and, then, go for it. That’s the earnestness out of the way. Now for some balance — W.H. Davies’ poem gives us this: “What is life, if full of care, We have no time to stand and stare? … A poor life this, if full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.”

    We should use our talents as best we can but we should, also, do our utmost to experience joy every single day of our lives. Lucky is the person who can do both at once. Joy and contemplation feed the spirit and give us energy for the mechanics of life.

  67. RE: “Don’t Do Things That Don’t Matter”

    This is a big mistake i used to make to feel “busy” or as though I am working. Things like reading blogs excessively thinking that it is research really killed my time (and $)

  68. “The question is not are we busy but what are we busy about.” Thoreau.

    “Be always busy, never hurried.” The Barking Unicorn.

  69. I don’t know if he was, Brian, however, I did :) although I heard about cat juggling before he did it in the movie from one of his first standup routines. “I juggle cats in my mind. Oops, there goes one….”

  70. Good to know I’m not the only one… second only to Iron Balls McGinty and “HE HATES THESE CANS!”

  71. Gordan, thank you. You’re too kind.

    Johnny, “cat juggling” is indeed my subtle nod to The Jerk. Most Americans seem to prefer “cat herding,” but I go with our friends South of the border. ;)

    “The new phone books are in! The new phone books are in!”

  72. This post is an interesting concept.

    I always feel that i’m more productive if i’m busy working and doing side projects. Rather than spending all my time on a side project.

    I think this is because of what you are talking about. Because I have less time to faff and procrastinate, I have to be focused on just getting the important elements done first.

    I find that I do less but the outcome seems to be greater.

    Great article. thanks.

  73. Totally freakin’ agree Brian! I think one of the biggest problems is don’t do things that don’t matter. With all the massive distraction that’s going on at any given second in our daily lives, it requires a good amount of focus to re-evaluate the things that you’re doing to ensure it’s actually what you should be doing.

  74. Great article! Well said. I believe it was Andrew Carnegie who said, “Put all your eggs in one basket and then WATCH THAT BASKET!”

    You alluded to one of the biggest challenges (I believe) in this information age; focusing ONLY on things getting you closer to the achievement of your most cherished goals. There are more things than ever before taking aim at our thoughts and time.

    Thanks for the article!

  75. Cool article. Lots of people over do stuff.

  76. Every morning right after I put my kids on the bus, I try to go out and walk uphill for about an hour. I could go straight to my desk and start working…but by moving my body and thinking for an hour first, I get more done! Sometimes when I have a ton of deadlines I think “I don’t have time to walk,” and skip it. At the end of the day I always find I’ve gotten less done…

    Carol Tice
    http://www.caroltice.com
    http://Twitter.com/TiceWrites
    latest blog: 5 Good-Paying Writing Niches: http://caroltice.com/blog/32

  77. Very true Brian, it doesn’t matter your level of effort or perseverance if you are working on the wrong project.

    You need time to think and develop the initial plan then adopt it to arising situations accordingly.
    Cheers
    Kevin

  78. Hello Brian,

    Great post,

    Leo has got some good tips,

    and I agree with you,

    The best karma is NOT to harm animals!

  79. Great advice Brian, I think it’s definitley something worth noting to get things done to standard rather than as much done as possible.
    There is being constructive with what you do and then there is doing projects for the sake of it. Think you’ve got the balance just right.

  80. Very true. This reminds me a little of Dr. Stephen Covey’s book – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Rule three: ‘Always put first things first’ says that we get stressed because we treat everything people put on us – emails, phonecalls, impromptu meetings or ad hoc jobs – as urgent, but never leave time for what’s important, but not urgent. By prioritising the truly important stuff we can manage our lives better, there’s an interesting link here that goes into more detail: http://www.srds.co.uk/cedtraining/handouts/hand09.htm

  81. Great advice, Brian! I think that sometimes people feel like they are being lazy when they are not doing busy work. The only problem is that they could achieve so much more if they would have some focus.

  82. Spot on Brian!

    In a world where every book and every magazine article is all about how to squeeze more blood out of the proverbial tomato, I think it’s about time we all sit down and stop trying to do everything. That’s the reason it’s called busy work. There’s a reason experts are called experts, it’s because they only do ONE thing really good, not a million things mediocre-like.

  83. Hmmm…. I have been doing this for years, and you are right it annoys the heck out of everyone around you. Just being busy with no clear objective looks good, but is a total waste of time.

    I got this out of Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale- define six things you need to do, put them in order of importance do ONE at a time until you finished the list. I get so much stuff done this way it is crazy and I am not killing myself.

    People think I am very productive ( which I am) but I get more done in four hours than a lot of people get done all day because they do not focus!

  84. very applicable to the blogosphere. there is so much content out there people want to get maximum return on small investments of their time and attention.

  85. A great lesson with many applications. Marketers are well advised to keep things simple. I added my comments on The Content Factor Blog, http://bit.ly/4toh44

  86. Chinese scholar Lin Yutang argued in his book “The Importance of Living” (1937) that too many people cheat themselves of “many a good, idle, and beautiful afternoon,” and suggested that we should claim our “inalienable right of loafing” and learn to be idle.

    Thanks for the reminder, Brian!

  87. Taking on unimportant tasks drains energy necessary for accomplishing goals.

  88. Excellent post and thanks for the reminder. Did you see my project plan for 2010:-)

    As we start to plan for 2010, this post gives us great motivation to sharpen the pencil on the projects that will get us the best ROI.

    Thanks

  89. I totally agree Brian, in a world where having your audience’s attention means everything to get your message across; there is no need for us not to devote our attention to make a clear, focused message to send out. Great article and well said!

  90. What a short, sweet and to the point example of how “less really is more”. I found this article because I was looking for information regarding how to make a blog post more effective reading for your visitors.

    One thing I think is KEY to the success of a blog post is LESS. Granted, I’ve read some great (and long) articles, but the ones that are written like this are so much easier to read and digest.

    Thanks for the great tips Brian!

  91. this is great and to the point stuff on do less and get more…i really love this..thanks..

  92. Less you do, but effectively, More you get and also bigger than ever !!

  93. the hard part is actually making this concept work. doing less but getting more definitely takes some proper planning and strategizing to prioritize your tasks so you only do what you hope will pay off the most for the highest return on your time.

    thanks for the post helped me get rid of some busy work i was doing that just really wasn’t important enough for me to do.

  94. I think, there are two keys: have a simple system, and automate everything you can. In both cases, this allows for more time to do the work that matters to you.

  95. Don’t make yourself irreplaceable. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted. As an entrepreneur, this is still true in its own way. Let’s think of “being promoted” as earning more and working less. Until you can remove yourself from being directly involved in doing the work that generates the income, there’s always going to be a limit to how much you can earn, and it can only increase very slowly.