The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: LinkedIn Speaker Series with Gregory McKeown

May 22, 2014

Editor’s note: This was originally published on LinkedIn by Brian Rumao.

Are you struggling to find enough time in the day? Wondering how to prioritize among several competing priorities?

At LinkedIn, one of our mantras is “focus”. In fact, our CEO Jeff Weiner has even made it an acronym, shortened to FCS: Fewer things done better, Communicating the right information at the right time to the right person, and Speed and quality of decision-making. So we were honored to recently welcome an expert on the very subject of focus as part of our LinkedIn Speaker Series. Gregory McKeown, LinkedIn Influencer and author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, spoke to our employees about how to think about what really matters.

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During Greg’s talk, he shared some fascinating insights about the one thing that holds back capable people, teams, and organizations. Counterintuitively, it is success. The very success that brought on the new opportunities, would be the cause for people to lose concentration and attention on what truly mattered. As Greg put it, “success can become a catalyst for failure.”

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Greg talked about how our culture celebrates the “undisciplined pursuit of more.” I even find myself contributing to this, saying how busy I am and trying to take on more activities, to please more people, to get just one more project on my plate. Being an engineer who appeals to logic, Greg’s basic arithmetic strongly resonated:

You can either do many things averagely well. Or you can do a couple things very well.

After reflecting on this, I devised my own corollary: Most progress depends not on people doing extraordinary things, but rather people doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. And the only way to do things extraordinarily well is to focus.

One of my favorite parts from Greg’s talk was his recommendation to spend 20 minutes a week to ask what’s essential right now. He encouraged us to think about the two to three goals we want to achieve in the next three to six months, and then write down the top six essential items we would commit to doing this week. After prioritizing the list in order of importance, he said, “now cross off the bottom five...and only do the one thing well.” That mental image has stuck in my mind.

Since Greg’s talk (which you can stream above), in my personal effort to join the “disciplined pursuit of less”, I've managed to cut down on a few non-essential activities. I’ve also caught myself every time someone asks me how I'm doing. Instead of my typical, breathless response of “staying busy”, I now calmly reply with a smile: “Focused and doing well.” I'm curious to hear how you think about doing "less, but better", in the comments below.