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Less, by Marc Lesser

Who could resist reading a book called Less by an author called Lesser?

The book’s subtitle is “Accomplishing more by doing less”. The focus is to try and resolve what the author calls the “busyness” problem — having so much to do in life that we do none of it deeply enough or satisfyingly enough. We end up chasing to-do lists without acknowledging any meaning in our tasks. This can potentially leave you with a fragmented mind and a vague lack of direction.

Typically these issues are addressed using time management and/or prioritization techniques; like those described in the famous “Getting things done” book and method. This book is different in the sense that it leaves the solution rather open ended but describes a mental model to describe the problem and offers corresponding structural solutions. The model is described in five categories.

Fear is the first category; it is explained as the reason one can end up not attacking a challenge head-on — and hence end up being unproductive. Fear of failure, of looking foolish, of not having chosen the wisest path, of doing something new and so on.

The second category is assumptions. Our brains are great at learning and hence make a lot of potentially harmful associations automatically. For me, a classic example is meetings. I generally dislike meetings and am wired to assume they’re a waste of time the moment they’re set up. Yet there are productive meetings and unproductive ones; having a pre-conceived judgment that any meeting is a waste helps nobody.

Third is distractions. We live in a world constantly interrupted by e-mail, tweets, texts, which is bad enough, but because of that our minds have lost the habit of focus. Checking my RSS feed is no way to “take a break”, because it keeps my brain spinning and offers little in a the way of relaxation. Yet there’s just so much input these days, thanks to the Internet (more on this in an upcoming review of The Shallows by Nicholas Carr), that we think it’s a good idea to fill every waking moment with processing information; which in a long term disaster for our ability to concentrate.

Fourth, resistance. This could be a book in itself (and is, check out “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield). The tendency to let an inner critic add a set of limiting beliefs to one’s identity that prevents venturing out to unknown and unfamiliar territory — the place that spawns creativity.

Finally, the book talks about tackling “busyness”. I’ll describe this one with an example that Lesser quotes from “Extraordinary Golf”. Studies show that amateur golfers have a demonstrably better swing when they’re asked to swing without having to actually hit a golf ball. We limit our performance simply by being overly conscious about our performance. This, of course ties in all the themes from above and is meant to.

The strategies offered to deal with these are a combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle suggestions and spirituality. I feel that having this model in your head, however, is half the battle. And certainly the few strong suggestions that I try to do regularly in my life, like physical exercise and meditation certainly help exactly as suggested. Other suggestions include tactics for self-awareness, such as writing out or reflecting on our fears, assumptions and habits.

There’s a lot of food for thought in this surprisingly small book — around 150 pages. Of course, not everyone faces these problems in the first place; but I certainly found it very useful. Marc Lesser is also a business coach / consultant and I was fortunate enough to be in one of his classes, and I love how he makes his point with simplicity yet laser-like clarity.

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