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What do we lose by continually cramming more data into our brains? Most of us are doing that these days, and perhaps Gen Y/Millennials most of all since it is a hallmark of their education.

Let’s look at the contrarian view: How we gain by subtracting.

Matthew E. May, author of “The Law of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything,” quoted the teaching of 2,500 year old Chinese philosophy Lao Tsu. “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day. Profit comes from what is there, usefulness from what is not there.”

In support Mays quoted management guru and author Jim Collins: “It is in the discipline to discard what does not fit – to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort – that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.”

Mays’ advice as given in the New York Times Preoccupations column (1/20/13) in a nutshell is to:

  1. Create a prioritized list of your goals and your projects and tasks.
  2. Create a “to do” list referring to the first list and eliminate the bottom 20% of the items entirely – he says forwever.
  3. Ask all the stakeholders in your life that matter to you what they would like you to stop doing.

Mays says when you remove the right things in the right way “good things happen.”

To really simplify and achieve this you need the stakeholders’ perspective. It’s best not to rely only on your own assumptions. It’s hard for us to let go of ideas, “bright shiny objects” that distract us ,and no longer useful to us activities and involvements. I confess to being guilty of that hardship.

Does this approach feel like a relief or threat to you?  Please comment and also share your experiences with trying to subtract from your work and life.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com


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