Less Exertion, Better Thinking: 3 Ways To Do Less But Better

The USA Today ran a fascinating piece this week about overworked and underpaid OTR truck drivers.

My interest in this article isn’t necessarily about the specifics of the trucking industry (although this is a decent piece of investigative journalism on the subject and well worth the read). My interest is in the culture revealed here. It seems the culture of many trucking companies is to keep the wheels rolling, at the expense of the laborers. Keep moving at any cost. The article reports that some companies even prohibit drivers from going home after days of being on the road for 20 hours at a time (which, to be clear, is in violation of the law — and at least part of the purpose of the article).

Exertion wins the day.

I mean — it makes sense in a way. The idea of energy and productivity and accomplishment — is good. Maybe even incentivizing for some. If the company culture is exertion, it feels like more is being done with greater focus and intensity. Keep up the pace. Run harder. Race faster. Accomplish more.

But at what cost? For these drivers, many don’t get to see their families, have no time to eat, sleep or play, and safety in the midst of weariness becomes a real concern (especially for a vocation in transportation).

I’m suspicious the trucking industry is not alone in its culture of exertion.

I wonder how many other companies, organizations, and ministries encourage a culture of exertion? In my experience, a lot. To an admitted fault.

I push back on this.

What if the culture of our organizations moved from exertion to thoughtfulness? From busy to intentional?

Yes, “Work smarter, not harder” is a cliche.

But it’s a good cliche. A correct cliche.

In fact, I know a less cliche way of saying this.

I’ve written a bit of German on the wall calendar in my office. I don’t actually know German. But, thanks to Greg McKeown, I know this:

Wenigar, aber besser.
Less, but better.

Easier said than done, of course. In exertion-based cultures, it’s counter-cultural. It’s much easier to just go with the general mood of the company.

I don’t think we should.

Here are three of the ways I’ve become exertion culture anti-establishment — and have moved myself toward a personal “culture of thoughtfulness.”

1. Analog Time

Just to be clear — I’m not anti-technology. I’m not even anti-Internet/social media (although a lot of social media has moved from being useful to being flat out annoying in recent years). I embrace all of it, and continue trying to be forward thinking about it. However, I do believe the brain is not intended to engage all screen/all the time. So, every day, I spend at least an hour (sometimes more) without screens or wifi. I write in a physical journal with a physical pen and read from a physical book. Occasionally, I’ll spin some vinyl — just to play into the analog vibe. I’ll even sometimes take a photo-walk with my analog camera. No phone. No screens. No digital media of any kind. I find this frees my mind to think more deeply — without even trying. Try it and let me know what you think.

2. Say “No” More. A Lot More

No is a complete Sentence — Anne Lamott

I realize sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do. However, I challenge the premise that you must always say “yes”. We can say “no” a lot more than what we do. When someone puts a meeting on your calendar which is completely unnecessary for you — hit decline. Accept doesn’t have to be the default. Ask for agendas. Prioritize your day — and keep those priorities. Accept very few repeating meetings. You can say “no”. And most people will think none-the-less of you for it.

3. Deep Work and Essentialism

Read these books more than once. Give copies to your boss. Insist your colleagues read them. I can’t recommend these two books enough. I have tended to be an Essentialism/Deep Work evangelist — because if those around me “get it”: — the culture around me will move from exertion to thoughtfulness.

And that makes me happy.

This could be true for all of us — whether the trucking industry or the non-profit/ministry world or any other business or vocation.

Punt the culture of exertion. Embrace the culture of thoughtfulness.

Do less. But do better.

Originally posted at BernieAnderson.com