The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

While this global pandemic has left many things unclear, one thing is for certain, COVID-19 has made its mark on the world and in the history books. Every government, business, and individual has been forced to alter their normal way of life and operations. For the industries deemed essential, nearly every company has had to make adjustments on how they operate. We’ve heard it said countless times in every article, advertisement and news station over these past couple months, these are unprecedented times… But where do we go from here?

Nations around the world are beginning to open back up, businesses that were previously closed are opening their doors again, and employees who had been working remotely are now headed back into the office. Yet, to say life will be “business as usual” in the near future is, dare I say, wishful thinking. The world is different now, and we’re not just talking hand sanitizer and face masks, but the world of business and the economy has changed as a result of the global pandemic. In a way, companies around the nation were forced to determine what is most important to their business. With limited travel and employees working remotely, most companies had to discover what internal practices were deemed necessary to continue operating amongst the ever changing climate. In short, what was essential.

Before a COVID-19 world, determining what was essential was often difficult for most. We lived in a culture fueled by busy-ness and noise. For some, busy-ness was a reflection of success. We didn't just believe that we were capable of accomplishing every task or opportunity presented to us, we felt a requirement to accomplish it. Geoff McKeown, author of Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less, describes the antidote to this busy-ness as the disciplined pursuit of less and the systematic approach of determining where the highest point of contribution lies. 

Now, I know what you're thinking, and bear with me, this isn’t some radical, sell every asset you own, minimalist lifestyle. Essentialism is a model of thinking for businesses and employees who seek to make the wisest possible investment with their time and energy. McKeown portrays it as the deliberate distinction of the vital few from the trivial many. It’s not about getting more work done, but getting the right work done; he sums it up as “less but better”. Every decision we make has a tradeoff. Saying “yes” to one thing is ultimately saying “no” to another. Undisciplined determination of what we say “yes” to could result in a drastic waste of a company's time and effort. In this busy-ness culture we often believe we are capable of saying “yes” to everything if we simply put in more effort, but effort and results are not always directly correlated. More effort does not guarantee more results; effort toward the right things does. McKeown emphasizes the Pareto’s Principle in his book. This is the idea that twenty percent of our efforts produce eighty percent of our results; thus, the vast majority of our efforts are resulting in the very disproportionate twenty percent of results. This is what happens when a company, or an individual, is unfocused; when they say yes to every task or opportunity without determining its importance to the company’s goals for success. Shouldn’t we determine what the vital tasks are and which of the the essentials in our business produce the most results?

Now let’s bring this back to businesses after the pandemic-shutdown. Should we go right back into the old routine after so much has changed? Should we resort to the old ways of business and busy-ness for the sake of being busy; because that’s how we’ve always done it in the past? It would seem a great wasted opportunity to return to business as if the last few months had never occurred; never adapting or learning from the three months of a completely new way of operation. 

What happened to your business policies and practices during the pandemic? Were you forced to adapt and increase your tech tools for business? By discovering what was non-essential, more time has become available for employees to spend on tasks and interactions that produce more results. These concepts were just the tip of the iceberg. For a lot of companies these unprecedented times were an opportunity to highlight what was truly essential to their operations.

As we approach a future after a national shutdown, it seems safe to say the way companies and employees view work has been transformed. When your company becomes “business as usual” again, will you be saying “yes” to all the old systems; or will you use this time to evaluate what practices lead to the best results?

About the Author
Justin Webb is a consultant with Morrison, working primarily in our Business & Accounting Advisory practice. To get in touch with Justin, please find contact information for Morrison here.



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