Tuesday, March 28, 2006

lesson: avoid the biggering urge

The guys over at 37 Signals have made less is better into a mantra, and that's swell. It's awfully nice that a small company should feel good about its essential smallness in a world where eveyone else is hell-bent on biggering.

But for the rest of us who work in the "XL to XXL" world and not the "S to M" world, it's hard to embrace the "tao of less" all of the time. Lots of products, lots of customers, lots of colleagues, lots of everything. How can we get small in a big world?

  1. Smaller meetings - the near-irresistable pressure to put as many players in the room (or on the phone) as possible is OK when there are only three people total, but as the team gets big, meetings get big. Biggering your meetings is a little like packing all of your clothes for a two-day trip on the off-chance that it might hail and you'd really rather have your hard hat handy. Focus on what you need to accomplish, and who is absolutely required for that. People will accept your meeting invites more often when they know you're inviting them because you need them.
  2. Shorter meetings - let's assume you've managed to distill your attendee lists to the absolute minimum. Now do yourself a favor and avoid holding them hostage for an hour. There is a peculiar joy that registers on the face of a busy person when you "give 15 minutes of their life back". It's a little mitzvah, believe me. Yes, bring the agenda, start on time, stay focused on the topic at hand. You should already know that. Now try to do it faster. Which leads me to. . .
  3. Shorter sentences - my wife the editor constantly reminds me to speak without commas, semi-colons, ellipses or footnotes. She's right. While I can follow the exquisite internal logic of my polysyllabic compound sentences, no one else can, or wants to. Do you and your peers a favor and be concise in your speech.
  4. Fewer committments - there is only so much you can do. So don't sign up for everything. There is nothing wrong with saying no - but I've learned (painfully) that there is something wrong with saying yes then not delivering because you said yes too often, and too quickly.
  5. Less fluff - if you only need five items on your list, just list five. Nothing of value benefits from the hamburger-helper treatment.
After writing this, I'm left with the impression that while "less is better" is a fine statement, "less is best" is my personal take on getting things done. Focusing on the essential tasks at hand, in all endeavors, is a worthwhile pursuit.

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