Seek the Minimum Level | Find Invisible Pockets of Time and Energy

by: Andrea J. Lee

You wouldn’t use a power tool to put in a tack, right? So don’t send your ‘big guns’ out to do the little things in your business.

Which is why it’s the perfect time for this excerpt from the “Money, Meaning & Beyond” book that emphasizes the opposite…

Chapter 18: Seeking the Minimum Level

Would you use a power tool to put in a tack? Time and energy are your precious resources. Use them wisely by seeking the minimal level.

The idea of seeking the minimum level in business owes origins to the work of the Frugal Zealot* who wrote about ‘the minimum level’ from the perspective of thrift as an alternative lifestyle in 1992.

‘People are creatures of habit.’**

When it comes to business owners, there’s never been a truer statement. It’s probably for that reason that the unexpected ways we approach business in this book are so well received.

After hearing the same lessons about business for so long, we can tend to accept them without questioning. After doing things for the same way for so long, it can take a little shock treatment for us to stop.

But it’s important that we do, because far too many business owners are chronically tired and overworked, yet are still trying harder to do more with their energy and time.

Old ways of thinking and old habits can be very costly – to both the success of your business, and your overall happiness.

Case Study:

Andrea: I was working with a client in the summer of 2002. I remember it clear as day. She was a really earnest, really serious-about-getting-to-success type of client. And she was talking about doing some door-to-door canvassing of the business owners in her building to see if there was interest in doing a building-wide flyer.

(This was part of our work together on collaboration – see Chapter 12: No Great Thing is Accomplished Alone)

Now you need to know that her business was doing alright. She had earned close to six-figures each year for the last year and a half and had an assistant and a nice little office. But whatever reason – you might relate – she was extremely stressed about getting over six figures. It was a prize for her, something symbolic, I think.

When she started talking about going from door-to-door herself, later in the day, and how it would take her several days to get around to all the offices, I interrupted.

“I think that’s a waste of your time and energy. You’re already tired out as it is. Is this something YOU have to do?”

I don’t know why, but some clients just like to argue with their coach, and that’s what she did. Finally, I said –

“Why would you use a power tool to put in a tack?”

And she got it.

Do you invest too much energy into tasks that aren’t worth it? Are you using a lot of time on a project that could be done with much less?

If you have a tack in front of you, you wouldn’t use a power tool to put it in. It would be a massive, disproportionately powerful tool to get the result you want.

This can be a difficult one, but try to develop an awareness of how to apply just the right amount of energy and resources to the appropriate tasks.

If you’re used to providing a full-fledged proposal for a client, would a two-page summary work just as well? Do you send over five possible ideas for how to ‘redo the living room’ when 3 would be equally delightful to your client? How about paperwork – are you overdoing your paperwork and losing time and resources?

When you write emails, do you always proofread and double-check before you send out? If you’re doing a series of follow-up calls that are administrative in nature, could an assistant could do the trick? Do you always stay open an extra three hours on Thursday night when only a few customers ever come in? See if closing up shop on Thursday nights will work. Or, take appointments for people who absolutely can’t get to your store during regular hours.

You get the picture. Experiment with the minimum level.

Wisdom nugget:

Based on experience, we estimate business owners waste an average of 20-30% on tasks that would be just as good, just as complete, if they’d leave well enough alone.

The Frugal Zealot puts it really well:

“When you wash dishes, do you always fill the sink to the top? If you’re doing a small number of dishes a sink half full of water may suffice just as well. Do you always put a two-second squirt of dishwashing liquid in the water? See if a one-second squirt will work. ”

“Do you use an inch of toothpaste because a brush has inch-long rows of bristles and every toothpaste advertisement you’ve ever seen portrays a neat, full, bristle-length swath? Experiment to see if a ½ inch of toothpaste works as well.”

Seeking the minimum level definitely goes against the grain at first, because business owners are used to working hard, and racing to keep up.

Take a moment now to think of just one thing that you could work a lot less hard at to complete, or better yet, one thing you can take off your ‘To Do’ list entirely.

* The Frugal Zealot is pen name for author Amy Dzcyczyn, founder of “The Tightwad Gazette.”

** Amy’s article on ‘Seeking the Minimum Level’ in volume I of her book ‘The Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle” was the inspiration for this chapter which takes the idea of the minimum level and applies it to the business world.

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