Do Less to Get More
Decoding the “less-is-more” puzzle.
Billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett sticks to a few mantras in his life like ants flocking to candy. The 20-Slot Rule is one of them.
Here’s how he explained it in his lectures at business schools:
“I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches — representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.
“Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So you’d do so much better.”
To Buffett, it appeared obvious. The less he did, the more he could focus on what was important. This rule, along with others, helped him build a net-worth north of $79 billion.
But it wasn’t obvious to the rest, particularly during the ’70s and ‘80s when conventional wisdom stated that you get more by doing more.
Most of us adhere to conventional wisdom. It’s simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting. Much of it gets passed down to us from parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures in our lives. But it often limits us from embracing the truth.
The notion that productivity is about doing more things is one example of conventional wisdom.
We attend more meetings and send more emails to feel productive. We dip our toes in new exercise routines, business ideas, and career paths for a few weeks before jumping to the next shiny object. Doing more is synonymous with making progress.
But imagine yourself driving to a destination. When will you complete the trip if you take every turn you come across, even the ones that don’t lead to your destination? And how useful will changing your destination after every ten miles prove?
You get to your destination quicker and fresher, and by using less fuel, when you direct your all effort towards reaching it and avoid unnecessary detours and stopovers.
Your odds of success improve when you are forced to direct all of your energy and attention to fewer tasks. — James Clear
Doing less makes you think about what’s important and load up on it. This doesn’t apply to goals and activities. It applies to every aspect of your life.
When you own fewer possessions, you don’t just save money. You also get the most out of each of them. You become a master of your possessions instead of getting enslaved by them.
When you consume less information, you don’t just take care of your mental health. You also process what you consume in a meaningful way, reflect on new revelations, and form educated and balanced perspectives.
When you do fewer things in a relationship, how you make your partner feel gains priority over the number of things you do as a couple. Each action shows your partner how much they mean to you and strengthens the bond.
As people, we struggle to understand the power of compounding. We cannot gauge how tiny actions compound over the long term to produce massive results.
Doing more keeps you busy in the short term. But it makes you stray marginally from what’s important. Over the course of a thousand miles, this marginal deviance can land you in the path of an active volcano instead of the picturesque landscapes you originally set out to see.
Doing less makes you assign a higher value to each thought and decision. You stick to important tasks long enough to either witness positive results or learn from them and update your mental models.
The meaning of life is that it has to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems. — Bruce Lee
Your life is a punchcard. Your actions create punches on it. You have limited time on this planet, which means your punchcard has limited slots. Chasing unimportant experiences fills those limited slots with useless punches.
Do less to get more. Hack away at the inessential. Create space in your life to allow aspects of importance to bloom.
Make each punch count. That’s what living means.