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Weekly 3: When more = less

Summary: Beware of the "outwork myth." Don't overthink things. Write one idea at a time. (~5 min read

Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 15 · Issue #117 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Beware of the “outwork myth.” Don’t overthink things. Write one idea at a time. (~5 min read)
Note: Idea #2 is taken from a previous issue, and we’ve included it here because it fits well with the core theme: when more = less.
If you like this topic, you might also enjoy the related Weekly 3 issue When less > more.

#1. “Stop equating work ethic with excessive work hours”
Authors and entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in their book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work that: “Putting in 1,001 hours to someone else’s 1,000 isn’t going to tip the scale in your favor.”
What they call the “outwork myth” is made worse by management teams that celebrate people as having a great work ethic because they’re always around, always available, and always working.
As Fried and Heinemeier Hansson put it: “That’s a terrible example of work ethic and a great example of someone who’s overworked.”
For Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, a great work ethic isn’t about working whenever you’re called upon. Instead, it’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting coworkers, respecting customers, not wasting time, not creating unnecessary work for other people, and not being a bottleneck. 
Then how do people get ahead if it’s not about outworking everyone else?
As Fried and Heinemeier Hansson point out, people make it because they’re lucky, because they know which details matter and which don’t, because they can see both the big and small picture in every situation, because they know how to motivate people, because they know how to capitalize on an opportunity, and because they know how to tell a story. 
And for many other reasons. 
That’s why the outwork myth makes so little sense. 
Fried and Heinemeier Hansson’s advice is to get the outwork myth out of your head, and to stop equating work ethic with excessive hours. 
“Neither is going to get you ahead or help you find calm.”
#2. More thinking doesn't always lead to a better solution
In his book The Art of Thinking Clearly, author and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli tells the story of an “intelligent centipede” to illustrate the hazards overthinking: 
Sitting on the edge of a table, the clever centipede saw a tasty grain of sugar across the room. He then started to come up with options for his approach: Should he crawl down the left or right table leg? Which foot should take the first step, and which ones should follow? Because he was good at math, he could analyze all the variants and select the optimal path.
Finally, he took the first step. But with his head still clouded by calculations, he got tangled up and stopped to review his plan.
In the end, he went no further and starved.
Overthinking may not be as consequential for you, but it’s probably still worth avoiding: “if you think too much, you cut off your mind from the wisdom of your feelings.”
When should you go with your gut feeling, and when should you listen to your rational thought?
Dobelli recommends the below rules of thumb:
When to use your intuition
You can safely rely on your intuition in the following scenarios: when you’re facing situations that involve “practiced activities” such as motor skills (like the centipede); questions you’ve answered a thousand times; or decisions that our Stone Age ancestors dealt with, such as what is edible and who is trustworthy and would make a good friend.
In these cases, dwelling on every detail blunts your intuitive ability to solve problems.
When to use your rational thought
With complex matters, such as investment decisions, “sober reflection is indispensable” because evolution hasn’t equipped us for such considerations. Here, logic trumps intuition.
#3. “Readers can process only one idea at a time”
In his book On Writing Well, editor and journalist William Zinsser writes: “Much of the trouble that writers get into comes from trying to make one sentence do too much work.”
It’s important to remember that readers can process only one idea at a time, and they do it in a linear sequence. 
From Zinsser’s perspective, you should never be afraid to break a long sentence into two short ones, or even three.
He includes a passage from his article “The News From Timbuktu” to illustrate this point: 
“What struck me most powerfully when I got to Timbuktu was that the streets were of sand. I suddenly realized that sand is very different from dirt. Every town starts with dirt streets that eventually get paved as the inhabitants prosper and subdue their environment. But sand represents defeat. A city with streets of sand is a city at the edge.”
For Zinsser, what makes the above passage work is the five plain declarative sentences, not a comma in sight. 
As he puts it: “Each sentence contains one thought – and only one.”
Quote of the Week
“For the man who flies from and fears everything and does not stand his ground against anything becomes a coward, and the man who fears nothing at all but goes to meet every danger becomes rash; and similarly the man who indulges in every pleasure and abstains from none becomes self-indulgent, while the man who shuns every pleasure, as boors do, becomes in a way insensible; temperance and courage, then, are destroyed by excess and defect, and preserved by the mean.”
- Philosopher Aristotle in Book II of his work Nicomachean Ethics
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