The Case for Building Less Stuff

I love building stuff. Don’t we all? In the tech world, we’re constantly building. Designing, redesigning, coding, refactoring — the cycle goes on. That’s what we’re here to do, right? Building things. Startups, apps, platforms, solutions, brands. It’s an endless loop of building. Always pushing forward for more, better things we can build. That’s where most of us — designers, developers, entrepreneurs—feel like we’re making things happen. Design fast, build fast, fail fast.

Now, take a step back. Look at the whole heap of things you’ve built in your career. How many of them still exist? How many of them you’re actually proud of, even now? If you’re anything like me — not many. We work on ephemeral things that disappear almost as fast as they’re being built. This dawned on me recently after years in the business, I often feel like I have nothing to show that still exists, except a heap of old mockups, wireframes and unused prototypes. Most of the companies and products I worked with don’t even exist anymore — they disappeared, got acquired or simply went out of business. Some might say it’s a cycle of life — things appear, things die, just like people are born and people die. Get on with it and let’s go build more stuff!

Sprinting off a cliff

A while ago, I got really deep into being mindful about everything I do. I try to eat better, I meditate, I try to single task when I work. I take my time with things. I take my time to make sure everything is right. I go back and fix things that are broken but I never felt like I have time to go and fix them because of pushing forward.

My problem with building stuff isn’t the act of building stuff. Building itself is inherently a good thing. The problem is that building stuff is where we are comfortable, so I feel like we often overlook everything else just to get to the building. Most value I ever got from my design work for Lifetramp was when I actually spent a couple of days just talking to people using it and taking careful notes. That’s not where I feel most comfortable, but that’s where I got most value. What you enjoy doing and what is actually good for you usually doesn’t overlap, and it’s a good thing. In the startup world, we often get so caught up in building, we forget who we build for. If mindfulness is a thing, how about being mindful about building? Sprinting is really fun, until you realize you’re sprinting off a cliff. It’s also — let’s be honest — not very sustainable in the long run.

The solution?

I don’t have a clear solution, yet. One thing I learned so far is that learning to work better is getting higher and higher on my priority list. Whether it comes to working at my own things, doing client work or learning new things, I am going to focus on one thing at a time and making sure that in a couple of months I won’t look back at it without anything but pride.

Less, but better.

Wish me luck.