Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Principle of Subtraction

Often times I find myself committing to more and more in all areas of my life - more at work, more with the family, more around the house and more with my friends. The weeks come and go and the weekends come and go and life becomes a blur. In a 24/7 world where information and activity can be a never ending occurrence - how can I keep my life under control?

One of the topics I enjoy reading about is personal effectiveness and how I can get more done with the same or less energy. In reading on this topic, I came across the principle of subtraction and how it is often more important to focus on what I say "no" to as well as what I say "yes" to in my life. There is no shortage of activities in our world to say "yes" to and no shortage of information overload to invite in to our lives - so at some point we have to be able to say "no".

Recently I was reading an article about this entitled The Art of Adding by Taking Away by Matthew May. Matthew also wrote a book entitled The Law of Subtraction. So he must have some knowledge on the subject. In the NYT article Matthew focuses on subtraction and how that improves our output and outcome. He begins with a personal story of how he improved his performance by using this concept and then he looks at some examples of how businesses used this principle. Below is part of what he had to say:

The principle of subtraction carries over to the corporate world. Here are some examples: W. L. Gore, recognized as one of the world’s most innovative companies, eliminated job titles in order to release employees’ creativity. When it started out, Scion, the youth-oriented unit of Toyota, decided not to advertise, and it reduced the number of standard features on its vehicles to allow buyers to customize their cars. The British bank First Direct operates successfully without branches, relying instead on Internet, telephone and mobile transactions. Steve Jobs revolutionized the world’s concept of a cellphone by removing the physical keyboard from the iPhone. Instagram, acquired last year by Facebook, grew quickly once its first version, called Burbn, was stripped of many of its features and reworked to focus on one thing: photos. 
THINK about what you could do — or rather not do — in your own life that would put these principles into play. There are two easy ways to begin subtracting things every day: 
First, create a “not to do” list to accompany your to-do list. Give careful thought to prioritizing your goals, projects and tasks, then eliminate the bottom 20 percent of the list — forever. 
Second, ask those who matter to you most — clients, colleagues, family members and friends — what they would like you to stop doing. Warning: you may be surprised at just how long the list is. 
The lesson I’ve learned from my pursuit of less is powerful in its simplicity: when you remove just the right things in just the right way, something good happens.
I have found in my job and in my life that when I remove the actions that don't bring value and I focus more closely on what brings value, I can get more done with less energy and time. It's a principle worth considering.

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