Less But Better: Becoming An Essentialist In A Distracted World
“Less but better” is the first philosophy I came across with when I started learning essentialism. It’s one of the very first essentialism concepts I applied in my life, yet it’s becoming more elegant as time goes by. In this article, I’ll share with you the meaning of less but better and how you might apply it in your life.
Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer popularized the concept of “Weniger, aber besser” or “less but better.” His central focus when designing a product is to answer this question: “Is my design a good design?”
Because of that, he developed the 10 principles of good design. To him, a good design is:
- Makes a product useful;
- Makes a product understandable;
- Thorough down to the last detail;
- Environmentally friendly; and
These principles are applicable now more than ever. Especially since we’re living in a world that’s getting more and more distracted. It’s not only applicable in designing better products; but in designing a better life.
Less But Better: Meaning
This philosophy is not only applicable to essentialism. But essentialism is deeply rooted in it. As I shared earlier, it’s one of the few “guidelines” that will stand the test of time.
You see, the meaning of less but better is awareness of what’s essential. It means proactively pruning away distractions in life so you can focus on what’s important to you.
You and I are living in a distracted world. And with more sophisticated technology, it’s only going to be more distracting. Observe, if you will, how people around you are behaving. Distracted is the default setting of people right now.
People are walking with their heads down, looking at their phone, and scrolling. In social gatherings, people are sitting together. Yet hardly anyone’s communicating. People either have their earphones on, are texting, or looking for ways to distract themselves.
Adapting a “less but better” philosophy not only makes you stand out. It makes you live a more connected life. Imagine: choosing less but better social interactions, buying less but better stuff, doing less but more productive things. Wouldn’t that be better than ‘more for the sake of more’?
In this next section, I’ll share with you some practical examples on how you can apply this concept in your life. Whether it’s on your career, relationships, or personal life, focusing on the critical few will allow you to live life with less friction and distraction.
Do Less But Better
Have you ever felt like you’re working harder and harder, yet it feels like nothing’s happening? Like you’re just putting in more time or effort, but you’re not seeing the fruits in your career or business?
The reason might be because you’re spreading yourself too thin. You might have bitten more than you can chew. Meaning, you’ve accepted more tasks or projects than you can handle. Because of that, it divides your focus and attention. As a result, you’re not being effective.
As you already know, just because you’re in constant activity, doesn’t mean you’re being productive. But what you may not know is this: just because you’re productive, doesn’t mean you’re effective.
Think about it, you can be productive doing important things for the short term. But when you look at the big picture, it doesn’t really move the needle. It doesn’t move you forward to your goals. Worse, it’s taking your attention away from what you should be working on that has a long-term impact.
I see this with my clients all the time. You see, I work with experts in growing their business. Yet, one of the things I notice is that most experts spend more time making their website fancy, than actually look for clients.
Sometimes, they would also spend more time going to free webinars and waste their time watching YouTube videos of gurus. But they don’t take action.
Sure, it feels good in the meantime. It’s making them feel “productive” – like they’re doing something. But the essential thing that they need to focus on to grow their business becomes neglected.
Let me ask you: how is this true with your life right now? How about in your business or career?
Productivity Systems Aren’t The Answer
Sure, you can study different sophisticated productivity systems. But unless you identify the few essentials that will move you closer to a more fulfilling and meaningful life, it won’t even matter.
To be fair, these productivity systems work. They will help you accomplish more. They will help you squeeze in more tasks so you can finish more of them. But who wants to add more work to their already tight schedule?
The best and most effective people I know don’t use any productivity systems or tools. They keep it simple: a notepad and a pen. Heck, you can even use the notepad you have on your phone or computer.
What’s important is that you set your priority (not priorities) and focus on it. List down all the things you must get done. Then ask yourself this question: “If you will have to choose one thing and you can’t do anything other than that, what will be the best and highest use of your time?”
Put that at the top of your list and work on that. Put everything you have in you to accomplish that one single task. It’s also important for you to remember that you must stop thinking about what you’ll do next. Be mindful about what you’re thinking of while you’re doing that task.
Multitasking Is Killing Your Brain
Studies show that when you’re multitasking, it’s costing your brain too much. In fact, regularly switching from one task to another lowers your effective IQ score by at least 10 points (15 for men).
Yet, multitasking is prevalent. In fact, most people wear it as a badge of honor. They wave it with their head held high – proud that they can juggle between multiple tasks. But the truth is, multitasking is nothing but addiction.
When you accomplish something, no matter how small, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. It’s the same chemical that’s responsible for feeling pleasure including feeling high from drugs. So when you switch from one task to the next, you get dopamine hits.
Because of that, you feel like you’re doing a lot of things. But the truth is, you don’t. Your brain tricks you into feeling that way. Yes, it feels good; yet in hindsight, it doesn’t take you anywhere.
Single-tasking is the way to go. Identify your priority and focus on accomplishing that. Then move on to the next one.
A Less But Better Digital Lifestyle
We live in a digital age where almost everyone and everything is accessible with just a click of a button. It’s the time where people look more on screens than the eyes of the people they’re conversing with. It’s sad, but true.
The internet is a gift to us. Like what many people are saying, it’s the greatest invention in the history of mankind. It brings people together who are thousands of kilometers apart. All within a few seconds.
But once we start abusing its power, it’s taking us away from what really matters most.
Spending time to binge watch movies and series on Netflix instead of investing time with your spouse, friends, or family. Watching that YouTube video or giving heart reacts on that instagram photo instead of eating dinner together. Or playing that video game instead of making memories with your parents.
I’m not saying that those things are bad. If it makes you happy, go ahead and do that. What I’m saying is when too much becomes an abuse, it takes us away from what’s really important in our life.
If you want to know more about how to have a better digital lifestyle, check this article out. It’s a separate article I created where I share on how you can start applying essentialism to have a better digital lifestyle.
Buy Less But Better Quality
Another application of the “less but better” philosophy is on buying stuff. Essentialism isn’t about saving money by NOT buying stuff. That isn’t the point. It’s about evaluating your purchases and understanding if what you’re buying would really add value to your life. Not just in the short term, but in the long run.
You see, a lot of people buy stuff because they feel like it adds to their social status. They believe it will make them more famous, loved, or accepted. But the truth is, the pleasure of buying stuff disappears as quickly as it came. It never lasts.
You’ll enjoy your purchase better if you think about it longer and understand it deeper. Think about when you were a kid and you did something good. When you are given a toy as a reward, you tend to play more with it, right?
That’s the same feelings you’ll enjoy when you think long and hard about what you’re going to buy. Once you know why you’re buying it and how it adds value to your life, you’ll cherish it more.
To a life of essence,
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