The wisdom of doing just enough

There is real wisdom in doing Just Enough, provided you don’t see it as a Way to Being Lazy. Doing just enough is powerful, used in the right way.
Essay

There is real wisdom in just doing enough.

In the startup community, it’s known as “80 per cent good”, with the remaining 20% eating up the same amount of time as the first 80%.

In universities, it’s getting 84% that results in a High Distinction, for the same reason.

Flip it around and in business or goal-setting you might know it as the Pareto Principle:

… this rule suggests that 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results.

Brian Tracy

I’m sitting in the armchair in my reading nook after having decided to finish work early today. I completed the three tasks that I was satisfied with: One was a proposal to someone; one was a QA and finalisation of a project ready for client review (and delivery to said client); one was getting back to Inbox Zero, after having actioned what was necessary.

I made the decision to stop working because my instinct told me that I wouldn’t have the same focus if I attempted the Next Job, and that it would be a waste of time. Thus, I ended on a high note.

Then, visitors arrived. I was able to sit down and give them my full attention, rather than be distracted by the idea that I have to go do… something.

The notion of being satisfied with having done only a few things is a concept introduced to me by Intelligent Change.

A few years ago, I used their 5 Minute Journal and Productivity Journal religiously. The Productivity Journal plugged a gap in my own project management education, and enabled me to evolve my own practices. The 5 Minute Journal shifted my attention to appreciation and gratitude. I don’t use either of them any more, but I do still use the practices and disciplines I learned with their guidance and help.

This has emerged as understanding what would make me satisfied today.

Every morning, one of the things I write down is the answer to this question:

What would I be satisfied having done today?

Sometimes, like today, it’s a simple matter of whatever work is in front of me. Other times, it’s a state of mind, an acceptance of flow, or whatever comes out of me that morning.

Knowing what will make me satisfied in a given day enables me to understand when enough is enough.

I don’t know about you, but without this goalpost I can find myself spinning my wheels. Instead of being focused on what matters, I faff about and do pointless busy work, and then wonder why I feel like I’ve gotten nothing completed.

In a sense, having that marker—knowing what will satisfy me today—gives me some kind of permission to focus on what counts. By doing those things first in the day, I can be satisfied with myself early.

And then, on days like today, I can choose how I handle the remainder of the day. In cases like today, it has resulted in time to study, think, write, spend time with family, eat, keep house, and generally live rather than pretend to work.

Because, make no mistake darling reader, pretending to work is pernicious.

The wisdom in doing just enough isn’t, as this one reviewer wrote, ignoring success and just being a step up from a slug. Though, having not read that book, just others’ comments about it, it seems that some people view doing ‘just enough’ as being ‘just passably alive’.

No, the wisdom in doing just enough is in knowing what the minimum that you must achieve today in order to feel that you’ve got a handle on things.

For some, that means keeping the sink shiny. For others, it means smashing out 2,000 words on his or her latest book. For yet others, it means doing just one more thing than they did yesterday.

Doing ‘just enough’ requires you to know the feeling of being satisfied. It asks you to be mindful about what you’re doing and to be clear that you can do more, if you wish. But if you do, that it’s cream on the cake.

Doing ‘just enough’ isn’t about finding satisfaction in laziness, dropping your ambitions, or not continually striving.

It’s about being happy with what you get done.

Of course, if the things you get done are Brian Tracy’s disgusting frog, then that’s really the way to success. It isn’t in doing the easy things. It’s in knowing (a) what key things will move you forward further and more quickly than other things; (b) which things are busy work and not particularly useful to you; (c) which things will contribute more effectively to your peace of mind.

Doing ‘just enough’ helps you to know when to be satisfied.

So often, people do one more thing at work, especially when they work for themselves. They will buy one more thing to feel happy. They feel like they have to do everything, all the time, from getting up before dawn, to working a 10-hour day, to finding ‘me time’ in amongst the kerfuffle of life, before they are allowed to be happy. They want wealth, and riches, and notoriety, and space, and assets, and, and, and, and, and…

Without realising that happiness requires boundaries.

Without realising that you can decide when you will be satisfied for today.

Without realising that you can go to bed tonight feeling fulfilled and excited about tomorrow, because you didn’t burn out your energy while feeling pointless.

That’s what ‘doing just enough’ really means.

It takes courage, self-knowledge, wisdom, and attention. But it is possible to set your goal post every day. When you do, you suddenly find yourself feeling satisfied with life, because every day is a satisfying day.

So now it’s time for you to decide on something. You’ve just read a long blog, me waxing lyrical about satisfaction, happiness, goal-setting, and life. But before you surf away and spool your attention out into some other dense and dark corner of the internet, grab a pen and write down one thing:

What small thing will make you satisfied tomorrow?

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