Back to all posts

Video: Most of the time, "Less" is "More"

advance the ladder video May 16, 2017

Confession: I’m a busy body… sometimes. No, make that a lot of the time. 

When my spirit is quiet and my soul is at rest and I’m really tapped into to who I am, I’m not. But, most of the time, it’s easy to confuse being busy with being productive. It’s easy to confuse a “full schedule” with a full and meaningful life

A lot of us are like that, I think... 

I bump into people all the time at the coffee shop, the park, the restaurant. The exchange goes something like this:

“How are you?”

“Busy. I'm really busy…”

Others say it; I say it. Sometimes we don’t even think about it. It just rolls of our tongues. It's become cliché. We wear the "busy" label as if it’s a badge of honor, as if being busy is to personal importance what net worth is to finance. 

Somehow, we think MORE tasks, more action, more ___________ (fill in the blank) is always better than less. Maybe you can relate. 


Reality check- a few things get the biggest bang

Personal health and the care of the soul aside, the truth is that 80% of the results you get come from about 20% of the things you do... 

(You may wan to review the domino post, if you haven't already seen it.)

The first time I heard about this concept was in college. A business professor introduced the class to the “Pareto Principle.” In the 19th Century, a man named Pareto created a math model that explained income distribution in Italy: 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. (I know, sounds a lot like today in America- maybe some things never change, right?)

Anyway, several decades later, Joseph Juran (a German engineer in the 1930s) built on Pareto’s work. Pareto never called his theory a principle with his own name- Juran references the Italian’s work in his Quality Control Handbook and cites Pareto, crediting him for this 80/20 theory.

Juran said the same theory Pareto used to describe land ownership (and, subsequently, wealth distribution) could be applied to management salaries as well as most other issues. He studied industrial processes, as well, and he noted what he referred to as “the vital few and the trivial many.” 

In just about every area of life, there are a few things that generate the greatest results... and there are, equally, a few things that cause the most headaches. He said, quite simply, some things matter more than others. That is, all efforts aren’t created equal. 

(Side note: we discussed this from a practical standpoint- and I showed you how to label which items are more or less important- in the post on The Four Quadrants.)


Let me provide you example of the “trivial many and vital few" in action. A few years ago I read Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Workweek. Now, Tim works more than four hours- that’s not his point. His point IS, however, eliminating “the fluff" (the extra tasks that create negative energy- or even benefit our lives only incrementally) SO THAT we can focus on the things that matter the most. 

In the book, he writes about his experience of feeling overworked in a business he owned. If you ran into him in a coffee shop in those days, he would have had the customary answer to the “How are you doing?” question… 

“Busy. I’m too busy…”

So, he took action. He reviewed his portfolio and noticed that he had 120 clients. He began analyzing each of them, simply looking at the data for information and underlying patterns.  

He noticed the following trends (see pp72-73 of the book):

  • 5  customers were responsible for 95% of his revenue
  • 98 % of his time was spent chasing the other 115 clients
  • 2 clients were clearly causing most of his anxiety and customer service issues

Here are two of his takeaways from his “extreme Pareto” moment:

First, “Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.” That is, no matter how great of a job you're doing at a particular task, if the task doesn't matter to the "bigger picture" of where you want your life to be, your success at that task is irrelevant. 

Second, Tim noticed that “Requiring a lot of time (or energy) does not make a task important.” We often believe the myth that if something requires focus and effort then it must be important. Turns out, that's not necessarily the case. Now, this doesn't mean that everything great is actually easy... it just means there's not always a correlation between the difficulty of a task and it's relative importance. 

To say it another way- putting a Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 item before a Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 item does not make it more valuable. It just means you "traded down” for something less important (if that sentence doesn’t make sense, review the post here).

Tim suggests that you get rid of the "dinosaur legacy” of the results-by-volume approach. It's old; it's extinct.  More activity is not always better.  More is simply more.  Better is better.



The Breakup Cookie 

Last week Cristy and I  had a cookout with a few friends at our house. Cal and Heather, who own a local coffee shop, were there with their two boys and girl. About halfway through dinner, we started talking about their shop.

Cal’s career path has been something like- 

  • Local coffee shop employee (where I first met him about 17 years ago, when I began studying + writing in coffee shops as my "office" away from home)
  • Local coffee shop manager
  • Starbucks manager
  • Coffee shop owner

Let me tell you about when he became the fourth, the owner... 

About six or seven years ago, Starbucks occupied the location where he and Heather currently run their business. During the season of “scaling back” (after Howard Shultz departed, and profits became more important than the product), Starbucks decided not to renew the lease on that particular property (among hundreds of others around the world). 

Turns out, Cal- who’s more likely to be barefoot, wearing comfy jeans and a t-shirt even in the winter- wasn’t corporate material (though he and his wife, Heather, both have brilliant business minds). Though he’d been with Starbucks for several years at that point, in his words, “It was just time…”

The company was closing that location forever, and he wasn’t a “fit.” Whereas other employees were being reassigned, an honest conversation with his supervisor suggested now would be a good off-ramp. Both were in agreement. 

So, Cal acquired a lease on the newly vacant property which Starbucks had built out, the property where they’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars training him to lead well… 

It was the perfect location for a neighborhood coffee shop: 

  • All the equipment was there
  • He knew the area
  • The neighborhood is in one of the top ten wealthiest zip codes in America

Oh, and there was already a steady stream of customers who made daily visits for their coffee :-)

And, yes, since he’d been managing that location, the customers all adored him. 

Remember, too, Starbucks spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building out that location- and they’d spent as much training Cal how to do things the right way. With his skill set + their training + his location + his history there it was a set up for the long road of success (no, most success doesn’t happen overnight).

“What’s been the biggest surprise of the journey?” I asked Cal that night, sitting on our back deck. 

The store has been open six years. They've made it beyond the critical first few years... 

He looked at Heather. They grinned. Then, together, “The Breakup Cookie.”

“The what?”

Heather explained that they experimented with dozens of recipes when they were first opening. None seemed to work exactly like she wanted them to. Then, one morning one of their employees worked with her for a few hours to make a batch of cookies that the particular employee was taking to her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. 

“It was kinda one of those It’s-not-you-it’s-me things…” Heather explained.

“And she didn’t want the boyfriend to feel bad," Cal added, "so she took him about a dozen cookies.”

“The Breakup Cookie,” Heather laughed. 

We all chuckled. The irony. 

“That cookie,” Cal said, "is the best selling item we have in the store. I mean, I could probably stop selling coffee altogether and just sell the cookies… but I love coffee.”

He told me that last year, a ritzy national magazine ran a story with a famous five star restaurant chef (in our city), pitting his chocolate chip cookie and The Breakup Cookie side-by-side….

“The Breakup Cookie won. Hands down…”

“Hands down?!” I asked. Surely, he couldn’t be serious. If you knew the local chef, you'd swear that Cal had to be over-stating the case. 

“Yes. That little magic cookie accounts for over 1/3 of our revenue. It outsells everything else in the store probably 5:1 and has the highest profit margin of anything we carry…”

Yes. He described the cookie as magic.

I visited the shop one day. Customer after customer ordered a drink… and The Breakup Cookie. 

One gal walked in and said, “I’ll take a coffee and a Breakup Cookie.” Then, she paused a moment, looked at her wallet, and continued, “No, I’ll take just two Breakup Cookies instead. No coffee. Just water…”

That day, one guy spent $180 in shipping to overnight them to a family member in California. 

Two other customers walked in and ordered them by the dozen.

The phone rang two or three times with others wanting to have boxes of the cookies waiting for them when they arrived to pick them up. 

There were tubs and tubs of fresh dough- and eight large, stainless steel pans of Breakup Cookie dough awaiting their turn to go into the oven.

I was there experimenting with essential oils in the lattes and mochas. One of Cal’s barista’s gave me four of those magical gems to take home to Cristy. I tasted it and rationalized that no one at home actually knew how many I got, so I could just hold a few back, right…? LOL! 

No, I took them all home ;-)

All four of them!

One taste, and you see the Pareto Principle it in action. More isn’t better. More is just more. When you find a winner like The Breakup Cookie, you promote it, sell it, and focus four employees on doing almost nothing except churning out that one thing… 


Cal seems certain, too, that The Breakup Cookie is something that he not only wants to do, but that it’s something they’re destined to do at his coffee shop. It’s profitable, it’s part of the culture, and it simply makes people happy. He’ll never breakup with The Breakup Cookie.


What's your Breakup Cookie?

Trouble is… well… a lot of us have no idea what we want to do. We don’t know where to focus. So, rather than finding our sweet spot (like Tim Ferris did, or Cal & Heather did), we do everything…

And that leads to the busy life. 

My guess is that if you asked yourself, “What do I NOT want out of life…? What are things I would like to AVOID…?” that you could quickly create a list. Probably a long one. 

I don't want...

  • I don’t want stress.
  • I don’t want to have fragile relationships marked by thinking about other things while I’m with those people.
  • I don’t want to be short & snippy with my spouse or my kids- for seemingly no reason.
  • I don’t want to wish the week away simply so I can get to the weekend for two days….
  • I don’t want to dread the weekend being over, because now I have to begin another week.

And, of course, you could fill in more details for everything I’ve listed above.

Here’s the issue with this exercise: we often know what we DO NOT want, but we don’t know what we DO want. We know what 80% we want to AVOID, but we don’t know the 20% where we want to INVEST, where we want to go ALL IN. And, remember, that 20% is what is going to create 80% of the gain. In other words, there’s a Breakup Cookie somewhere for you, something that makes everything else in life “work.”


Who are you?

We all have the same amount of hours in every day, in every week. I often wondered why some people simply get more done in their allotment of hours. Let’s be honest, some people are workaholics and others are purely lazy. I’m not talking about either of those groups; I’m referring to all of us “in the middle.” All of us who want to win at work and succeed even more in our personal lives.

When you don’t know where to focus, you end up going “all in” on everything. You wind up being busy. 

How are you doing? Just plain busy...

Again, I’ve got a great track record of this. Like I mentioned several paragraphs back- I’m a busy body. I am, at least, when I’m not walking in “who I really am.”

In fact, I think that’s probably the root of this all… not understanding who we are. You see, if we don’t know who we are…

Or, let me just make it personal and allow you to listen in…

If I don’t know WHO I AM… well… then I tend to search for meaning in external things. Unfortunately, that most often becomes the “things I do.” And, when this is the case, the more the better.

The other day I was listening to the radio. I’m not even sure who was speaking, but it was good. The guy said something like this: “Write down everything you do this week. Everything. If you read a book, write it down. If you spend a few hours watching Netflix, log it. If you enjoy a nice, long dinner with your friends… that, too. Write it all down.”

His point was this: There’s probably a few huge places where we’re all wasting time. And there are probably a few things we wish we actually did more of...

There are probably several places- if we’re honest- that are pushing us exactly to who we are and where we want to be. And, there are probably a few other things actively pulling us away from who we are (and who we really want to be)…

  • I don’t want to spend 10 hours per week mindlessly scrolling Facebook or surfing the Internet. I want that my time online to be productive and connect with people in meaningful ways.
  • I don’t want to toss and turn in bed in the morning, wondering if and when I’ll get up… I want to hit the road and go for a run… or “press play” on the streaming video and knock out a workout downstairs before everyone starts waking for the day…
  • I don’t want to shuffle through video games and haphazardly move from app to app on the iPhone when I have a free moment… I want to connect with my Heavenly Father and have my Spirit filled so that I have something to impart to others…
  • I don’t want to veg in front of the TV for five hours, simply numbing out… I’d rather rest when I’m tired so that I’m fully charged to face the next day.

Here’s what I’m learning: If you don’t tell the time HOW it will be invested, the clock still ticks. The secondhand still rolls. The hours still pass. Time is like money. If you don’t budget your money and tell it precisely where to go, it just kinda disappears from your wallet, right? That means sometimes you get it right; other times you get it wrong...

And, if you don’t manage the activities out of who you are… and lean into the few things that have the greatest output… well… rather than having something to show for the time, you and I blunder our way through life. 

We find ourselves busy with no quantifiable results. The results we get don’t match the energy expended…


You see? Sometimes- no, most of the time, "less" is "more."



The video clip above comes from The Ladder, as do the blog posts referenced throughout this post. Learn more at

Never miss a new post + podcast!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.