For a whole lotta years now (7 for sure, though I think it goes back even farther than that) I’ve been preaching a simple mantra. Originally it started as a part of working in web development, marketing, and strategy:
Do Less Better.
I issued this command out of concern for the amount of things I was watching my peers being asked to do – particularly without resources – which was compromising the quality of the most important work they were doing in the interests of serving FOMO (fear of missing out). Build this thing. Get on this social media site. Deploy this tool. Do the next “ooh, shiny” thing.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started applying and suggesting the idea of doing less better to everything in life. Any time an opportunity comes up, or needs arise, I try to stop and ask myself if the value of doing the thing in front of me is higher than passing on it and committing more to what I already care about. Our hours a day are limited. Technology scales, but people don’t. The more we take on, the more we take away from what’s already there.
But I’ve been bad at following my own advice. I had a habit of using the words “Do less better,” but in a way that was more like “do what I say, not what I do.” I’ve done that for far too long, and I’m finally stopping long enough to commit to my advice, because it’s important and it matters. I don’t say “do less better” because I want to throw out hollow platitudes – I say it because I believe it’s how you do your best work.
The word “no” is a very powerful thing. No, you don’t have to do everything you’re asked to. And it’s okay to say no. You’re not letting people down by putting yourself first, and trying to make sure that you’re not short changing the things that matter to you. Sometimes we need someone to tell us that. Other times we need to give ourselves permission to believe it.
Doing less better is about making it okay to do your best work without compromise. It’s also about letting yourself acknowledge that it’s okay to prioritize your needs. You don’t owe everyone and everything that comes up a piece of you. I decided in the last week to say no to three different opportunities that had come my way, I even withdrew on something I’d agreed to, and that’s incredibly relieving. The sky didn’t fall. No one looked down on me. Everything moved on. The pressure I was under was pressure I was creating for myself. And I can take it away.
Because it’s okay to do less better. It’s okay to say no to opportunities, because it all means you’re focused on success and committed to what matters for you.