By Leo Babauta
Mark Twain once famously apologized for not having having time to write a shorter letter, “so I wrote a long one instead.”
Twain knew that it takes work to edit, to whittle a letter or a story down to its essentials.
And that applies to much more than just writing: take the time to pare whatever you do down to the essentials, and you’ll be left with something so much more amazing.
Designers know that you should remove extraneous elements to leave only those that are necessary. Steve Jobs knows this and has used it to sell a one-button iPod. The best bloggers focus on high-impact posts, rather than flooding readers with too much information.
How can you use the concept of “paring it down” to make yourself more effective?
A few things to consider when paring it down:
- Spend a few minutes thinking about what is really essential. What is it that you really want above all else? What is it about your product or service that the customer really wants? What is it you are really trying to communicate? If you had to pick one thing about whatever you’re doing, what would it be?
- Be bold. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out. You can always add stuff back in later — remember that less is better as long as you’re leaving in the essentials.
- What is blocking the essentials? Sometimes the awesome in something is being blocked by other things — can you remove those things to show the awesome and let it shine? Remove the noise to let the music be heard.
- Come back to it. Sometimes you can’t see the extraneous the first time you start paring down. So do your best, and then come back later and try again. You might be able to pare down even more this time. Keep coming back as long as you can — the more you pare, the better in most cases.
It’s possible to pare down too much — you might be left with too little — but I think in most cases this never happens. People usually pare down too little.
What are some ways that “paring it down” can be used in your life? Just some examples:
- If you’re a blogger, pare down a post until you’re left with just an amazing message, and none of the noise. Also consider posting less (if you post a lot) and only posting the amazing stuff that your readers love.
- If you’re a marketer, consider your single most important selling point. Then pare down your marketing efforts to focus on that, and let it shine.
- When writing emails, before pressing “send”, think about whether you can pare the message down to less.
- When looking at your schedule, see if you can pare it down to just a few essential things a day.
- If you manage an office, consider whether all the activities of an office are necessary. Are your employees made to do things that get in the way of their important tasks? Is there unnecessary paperwork or bureaucratic steps that can be reduced?
- If you make software, can you offer fewer features to keep the software lean? Can you pare down the interface to make it simpler and more appealing and easier to use?
- If you sell stuff, can you make it easier for your customer to buy things? Pare down the steps they need to take to buy something from your website. (Related rant: I hate having to go through a large amount of screens to buy something! Why does it have to be so hard?)
- Can you pare down the stuff in your home to have a more minimalist look?
- Can you pare down the distractions in your work environment so you can focus more?
- If you’re a photographer, can you pare down the things in the photo so you’re left with a cleaner image?
You get the idea. “Paring it down” can be applied to anything you do.