Why You Need To Do Less to Succeed

I didn’t run at all last week. Well, that’s not exactly true: I ran an ultra-marathon; 36 miles along the magnificent coast of Ireland.

But the week leading up to the race: I didn’t run. (It’s what runners call the taper.)

It made me pretty crazy.

Not running screws with my mind: Who am I if I am not running? Will I get fat, weak, out of shape? Will I fall down the slippery slope into some roiling vat of Crisco or Krispy Kreme?

Runners run.

Doers do.

But maybe that’s not exactly true either.

Because success – real success, sustainable success – requires both doing and not doing.

And often, it’s the not doing that actually empowers us to do.

It’s incontrovertible that rest and recovery are essential components of peak performance in athletics… Not doing is critically important in the repair of muscle; in the recovery of tendons, ligaments and bones; in the re-balancing of hormones and body chemistry; in the recovery of our nervous system and mental state.

But rarely do we apply these principles to our businesses and our careers. (Or our lives for that matter!) We like to think (pretend) that they don’t apply to us; that we’re different; that we’re macho; that we can muscle through.

We keep going like hamsters on a wheel; 24/7/365. Always on; always connected.

We don’t stop; we don’t rest and recover. We never taper.

And then, of course,

  • Productivity drops
  • Stress soars
  • Decision fatigue creeps in
  • Mistakes multiply
  • Morale plummets

(Oh, and relationships get damaged and marriages unravel and our children grow distant and our health deteriorates and we forget why we were on the wheel to start with.)

But just a few tweaks can change up the entire game for you:

  • Sleep more. There is no more powerful tool for rest, recovery and peak performance than sleep; and most of us aren’t getting nearly enough.
  • Create some white space in your calendar; time between obligations and commitments that you can use to get a breath of fresh air, take a short walk, drink some water, listen to a bit of relaxing music, read a chapter in a book.
  • Hydrate. Drink water. Often. Throughout the day.
  • Take a mental health day (or half) day on a regular basis; step away from the work; and get off the grid.
  • Take your vacations. All of them. And make them real vacations. (A working vacation is not a vacation.)     ToSucceedDoLess

When you embrace the science; when you take the time to nurture yourself; when you allow yourself to rest and recover; when you give yourself permission not to do; when you can see – and believe – that not doing is doing; then… then you re-create yourself; you come back stronger; you get to perform and serve at an even higher level; and make an even greater impact in the world.

I showed up at the staring line of my race (battling my demons of depravity); and ran the 36 miles; and crushed my previous times.

Sure, I trained. But training (and living) means doing… and not doing.

The Power of the Pause

We get to stop from time to time. In fact, we need to stop.

Our technology, meant to free us, actually enslaves us. We’re ‘on’ 24/7/365.

There’s no space; no respite.

We’re expected to be at the net ready to volley. We’re expected to react: Immediately.

Forget about consideration; forget about reflection.

Everything is urgent. Everything is now.

Except that it’s not.

We’re not trauma surgeons. And even if we were, we wouldn’t make ourselves quite as crazy as we do.

Many of the lawyers I work with exist in a near-constant state of anxiety and stress. Everything appears to be an emergency; everything seems dire. Every day, they feel as if they are fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun.

No doubt, they have some pretty important deadlines to keep in mind. We all do. But for the most part, no one dies if we slow down the pace for ourselves. No one dies if we take the time to give a considered response.

No one dies if we take the time to pause. Pause

But endeavoring to slow down in our culture of overwhelm can be one of our most daunting challenges.

It’s not really in vogue.

In fact, if you’re not ‘busy,’ if you’re not ‘flat out,’ if you don’t have your calendar jammed, if you don’t have stuff scheduled back to back for yourself (and your kids), something’s wrong with you!

But that’s not sustainable.  (Would you run your high performance car that way?)

You cannot thrive without a pause. So pause you must.

Create time and space for yourself to think, reflect, create;  take the time to decide how you want to impact, who you want to serve, and what you want your legacy to be!

Take the time to consider the beauty and the grandeur of the here and now.

Take the time to nurture and care for yourself.

Take the time to me mindful.

Take the time to be; to just be.

You will enjoy the rewards of a peaceful, grounded, joy-filled life that is productive, resourceful and resilient.

Your life is your masterpiece.

Artur Rubenstein once said, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.”

That’s the power of the pause.


Why You Need To Stop Thinking

I’m a big fan of thinking and reflection. In fact, carving out dedicated blocks of time for thinking and reflection is a practice essential for creativity, innovation, and long-term success. And sadly, it ‘s become a lost art; a casualty of our culture of overwhelm.

But ‘thinking’ can become a roadblock; and excuse for not taking deliberate action.

Perseveration the poor cousin of resistance.

(After all, who can really fault you if you’re ‘thinking’ about a challenge, ‘working’ on it, ‘trying’ to figure it out? Read this: sitting around, wringing your hands.)

At some point in time, you need to take action.

Races get run, mountains get climbed, art gets made, books get written, businesses are built, masterpieces are created… only when you act.

I have one client who tells me that he has been spending a lot of time thinking about how to discover his passion. Another has been thinking (a long time!) about how to position herself in the market for her job search.

It sounds rational to be doing this thinking. But it’s so easy to get stuck in a place of uncertainty; fearful that we will err; afraid that we might get it wrong.

My advice: Act. First Step

“Feel the fear,” as Susan Jeffers says, “and do it anyway.”

Action is the antidote for uncertainty; action is the antidote for lack of clarity; and action is the antidote for fear.

It is in taking action that we put our thoughts and ideas to the test. We see what works; and what doesn’t. We revise, adjust, modify, pivot; and act again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Martin Luther King said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t need to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”

The next step will appear. It most certainly will.

Action creates momentum; action eviscerates resistance; action precipitates ideas.

Small steps over time lead to magnificent outcomes.

So just do it, as the Nike ad once said.

Get going. Take action. Today.

Cruel To Be Kind

It was a pretty hefty litany of challenges.

“If one of your team came to you with this long, sad story,” I asked, “what would you say?”

“I’d say to her… take the rest of the day off. In fact, take a long weekend. Do what you need to do to take care of you; and feel better.”

I paused to let it seep in. “So can you do that for yourself?” I asked.

My colleague, a c-level exec, had come to me for some coaching. She was struggling with illnesses in her family, and challenges in her business. She had been “on” for a long time. She hadn’t been getting enough sleep. She had been doing little to nurture herself. She was worn down, stressed out and spread thin. There was nothing left.

“Yes,” she said. “I can do that. I don’t know why I couldn’t see that that’s exactly what I need to do.”

It’s because, as entrepreneurs and professionals, we are often harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. We hold ourselves to incredibly high standards; even higher than those we hold for our people. We demand of ourselves sustained, uninterrupted peak performance. We are highly intolerant of our own weaknesses; and unforgiving of our shortcomings. We drive ourselves longer, harder and faster than we would ever reasonably expect of others.

And then we wonder why we’re flagging; why we’re flailing; why we’re not making progress; why we can’t get traction; why we’re stuck; why we’re not meeting our goals.

We can’t seem figure out what’s gone wrong.

Because we’re in our own way.

Taking care of ourselves, nurturing ourselves, being kind to ourselves… these are core success principles! The basic fuel. Screenshot 2014-12-02 19.00.11

For me this means adhering to my basic daily practices: my running, my journaling, my sitting meditation. It means eating well; and getting lots of sleep. It means going off the grid on a regular basis because, as an introvert, that’s how I recharge. And it means taking lots of time off to re-ground and re-create.

You already know what you need to do for you. The trick is to acknowledge that doing so is not wasteful but, rather essential to the work you do in the world.

Of course, like everyone, I drive too hard, and fall off the cart from time to time. (We teach what we most need to know!).

But I’ve learned that we can be cruel to ourselves… or be kind.

And kind works out so much better. For everyone.


Why do so many of us have a love affair with the iPod™, the iPhone™, the iPad™?

Because Steve Jobs believed so passionately in elegant simplicity.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Jobs said.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Simple is powerful. Simple is good.

And yet, for so many folks, complex is their place of default.

We see it frequently among our coaching clients when they confront business challenges. They immediately want to:

Add personnel
Build out infrastructure
Supplement their technology
Create more layers

Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with leverage or growth. The problem is the potential for the complexity they cause.

Small businesses and solopreneurs often have great advantage over larger enterprises because they are more efficient, fleeter of foot; more able to bob and weave and adapt to change.

They’re clearer about their visions, their missions, and the problems they solve.

They can craft their cultures and engage their teams more mindfully.

They’re more deft at nurturing passion and focus, which brings with it clarity of outcome.

Larger organizations, because of structural constraints like committees and policies and procedures, have the propensity to be less creative, more cumbersome, and rote.

And with layers and structure come fixed cost and overhead.

With big, the business model can become complicated. You need to be able to describe your business to your 8th grade daughter or your nephew in a way that he or she can understand it. Because, if they can’t understand it, how will your customer?

Big, too, can become confusing in terms of mission and purpose. As a business grows, it becomes harder to convey and sustain the founding vision, the original passion, and the fundamental cultural values.

Effecting change in a large complex enterprise, especially in times of crisis, can be like turning a supertanker from the crashing waves of a reef: laborious and slow and fraught with danger.

Big can also take on a life of its own, which may be good if you’re planning successive generations of management; or are creating a model for passive income; or are growing your business to sell it But if you envision wanting to escape someday, big may not be so good. One surgeon that I know would love to retire; but he has no clue how to disentangle himself from the equipment leases, the machinery, the phone systems, the layers of personnel and the crushing burden of malpractice insurance. He is a prisoner in his business, a hostage to the hungry “monster” he has built.

Often one of the fundamental reasons that business fail, according to Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, is because of “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” Greg McKeown, author of the recent best seller Essentialism, suggests that, in the alternative, success comes from “the disciplined pursuit of less.” Screenshot 2014-07-23 06.36.31

So next time you hit a speed bump, instead of automatically seeking to add something to the mix, why not ask instead,

• What should I be doing less of?
• What should I eliminate?
• What should I make simpler and easier?

Simple became an obsession for Jobs. It’s not a bad one to have.