Disclaimer: If you are type A, then don’t bother reading this. It will only make you anxious.

If you’ve ever stressed yourself out about things that you really don’t need to, then this is for you.

Path of Least Resistance

When tackling a project or task, personal or professional, you may want to leave a little something on the table. I’m not saying you should do shoddy work, but rather keep in mind the law of diminishing returns. What’s the task, what’s the minimum, what’s acceptable, what’s good, and what’s best? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can shoot for a goal that won’t drain your energy.

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Here’s an example most people can relate to. If I need to remodel something, I’m going to ask what level of outcome I’m willing to accept, and then I match that up with my ability, time, and effort required. If I need something done better than I could do it, I’ll hire someone. If I feel confident I can do a good job, and a good job (not best) is what I’m shooting for, I’ll go ahead and do it myself.

What people don’t often do is apply this to each and every task they take on. I try to. I call it PLR, or the path of least resistance. That resistance can come in the form of energy, time, effort, and money. It can also come in the form of future evaluations, both by myself and others. I might be able to live with acceptable, but my wife might want good, and now that’s something I need to consider.

I don’t set the bar low, I just set the bar as low as it can reasonably go given my goals and resources.

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I’ve applied this to my finances and have found that my savings have gone dramatically up because I’ve adjusted my acceptable lifestyle.

Here are a few ways to think about it in your life:

  • Done is usually better than perfect.
  • A car that moves what you need it to move safely and effectively saves money over bells and whistles.
  • Will anyone notice, and will anyone care?
  • What is the real significance of this?

PLR at Work

Professionally this has greatly reduced my stress levels. I spend the least amount of energy required to get the job done and this frees up energy to do high impact tasks very well. You can’t deliver innovation or go above and beyond when it’s important if you’re stressing about your TPS reports. I work directly for executive level people, and I can’t tell you how often they appreciate an attitude of, “yup, I can do that, no problem”, and then it isn’t actually a problem, you sit down, get it done as fast as possible and check it off the list. Let them think it was a mound of work, or this overly complicated thing that they don’t get.

Some of the common shortcuts I take include:

  • NEVER FREAKIN’ FILE ANYTHING! I can’t tell you how much time and energy those organized type A’s spend looking at a document and figuring out where it belongs in their organization system just so that they might reference it later. If your workplace is like mine, everyone has a copy of everything via e-mail and official document recording is for those who have a legal obligation to keep things, like HR or Finance. With e-mail quotas a thing of the past, I just leave everything in my inbox and I search for it when I need it. Moving e-mails from folder to folder, or putting a piece of paper in a folder is for chumps.
  • E-mail submissions. When your task is to send along a document, send it electronically. Then you have it somewhere on a corporate server and you don’t have to file it.
  • Master your own processes. Just because someone does something one way doesn’t mean you have to. Almost every task I do is a bureaucratic one. I break each task in a process down to figure out it’s relevance and if it’s not relevant, I skip it. For example, if a form doesn’t say something is required, don’t fill out that field. When I pay someone some money, I don’t need to write down their office number or phone number even though it’s on the form. I’m giving you the employee, their ID, the amount, the period, and the account to use and the appropriate approvals.
  • Anticipate re-work. Don’t ever let work come back to your desk that left it. If there’s someone over in purchasing who is a stickler for rules, follow them with that person. Otherwise, just follow the law.
  • Kill 10 birds with one stone. If someone comes to you for the same thing over and over, and it’s something you can get them to do for themselves, offer to train them and then expect that they do it themselves. You don’t want to be “that guy” in the office where if something happens you are the only one people turn to even though it’s not really in your job description. That colleague who can never get the conference room AV equipment on properly and asks you for help every time because they know you never struggle with it is a waste of your time. Tell them so and that they need to learn it for themselves. It’s one thing to be helpful, it’s one thing to be that guy who people go to over and over again.
  • When you see room for process improvement, speak up. When you tell your money people that time is wasted doing task x this way when it could be done a simpler way, people will often listen if you’ve done your homework and understand the ins and outs of that process. You’ll get to design the new process. Hell, maybe you simply decide a new process for everyone else.

Enjoy Your Free Time, Use it, Or Both

Just about every job I’ve had I was able to cut down on work time but maintain productivity from my predecessor. Now there is a choice, do I take on more because I’ve created capacity, or do I relax a little bit. Take a longer lunch, leave a little early? Why not both. Taking on the extra, and then process improving that will increase your value at work, but make sure it makes sense and that it’s something you want to do. Maybe instead of showing your capacity to your supervisor, you hide it for a bit until an opportunity comes along for you to get paid more for growing in your job. For example, a teacher could be taking on a coaching job. They’ve streamlined your coursework, lesson plans, and grading to free up their evenings. They could go home, or they could get paid to be outside and have an even greater positive impact on the kids.

What areas would you like to apply PLR to? Let me know in the comments. With family and friends they often see me as being productively lazy and I always like to show them how they can do it too.