Less but better

First appeared in my private email list.


There are times in life when you learn something new — a moment that sets you off down a different path. Maybe you always had it “in” you, but something triggered it. Maybe it was a culmination of things or maybe something else entirely.

I think it happened to me when I was working with Mark Jenkins in the UX team at Just Eat back in 2014. But, before I tell you what happened, I want to set the scene a little bit.

They say 3 of the hardest things to deal with in life are: having a child, refurbishing a house and moving job. Well, the hero I am (ha!), I did all three at the same time.

And while it was my choice to do the first two, the third wasn’t. They let me go and while that can happen as part of being a contractor it wasn’t part of the “plan”.

Doing one thing is hard enough but doing three is not the way to do something well or stress-free. If I just had the new job, it would’ve been easier to deal with.

So I moved on and sorted myself out with a new contract at Just Eat. And that is when I met Mark, a UX designer.

It didn’t take long for me to realise how awesome he was. I am not one of those guys who says everything is “awesome”. Mark though, was and is, awesome.

We talked about some of the troubles that Just Eat had. How we hoped we could help the team make things better. In terms of UX, front-end and the time it takes to release — to name a few.

It’s not only Just Eat — most companies, teams and products have problems. They have problems because of their huge success.

Success can breed failure because success breeds growth. And when a company grows, there is just more of everything — more people and more opportunities to spend your attention on.

Mark and I spent a lot of time discussing these things. Then, one day he gave me this book: Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. He said “read this, you’ll love it.”

I did love it.

It was the idea that doing less is far more productive than doing more. The idea that you can do less, but better.

Problem is, it seems as though people are hard-wired with a do-more mindset.

I see it all the time in our industry. We design solutions for problems that don’t exist. We make something far more complicated than needed. We do a whole bunch of stuff that adds little or no value.

People think you’re mad if you say you want less stuff . The American Dream revolves around the idea that more is better — but that story is for another day.

When you do more, there is a tendency to do even more after that. It’s habit forming.

And I am not just talking about design. I am talking about everything.

Whether you’re designing, coding, defining a product, make the next smallest improvement. Then get feedback. Do just what you need to do and no more than that.

Narrow your focus and do it better.

In software engineering, it’s called YAGNI.

In product management, it’s called MVP.

In Agile, it’s called continuous improvement.

In reality all this — everything — is design. Whether you’re designing a product, a process or even your life, it’s all design.

Coding up a UI component? Just build it and worry about abstraction later. Once you’ve learned more about what’s worth abstracting.

Facilitating and managing the delivery process? Add just as much process as you need and no more. Ask your team how it went. And improve.

Enhancing something with Javascript? Build the degraded version first and see if it’s good enough. You might surprise yourself.

Living life? Try and improve something small just 1% per day.

We get excited by more. We get excited by complexity. We get excited by the idea that something can be perfect but there is no such thing.

Done is better than perfect.

I get excited by doing something that didn’t need complexity. That didn’t need more. That less was enough, that less was better.

It’s a constant practice, a habit to form, a mindset to nurture.

The trick is to practice continuous improvement.

Then after you’re done you can iterate. The next smallest improvement creates momentum. Then you’re done again.

Then you’re in a flow of done.

Then you’re in a flow of learning (from users).

Then you’ve achieved momentum.

Then it’s just the way you do things.

The users might be your team members following a process.

They might be your fellow developers trying to use your code.

And, of course, people using your product.

When you do more, you spread yourself thinly. You widen your focus and you do it to a lower standard. You learn fewer things, over a longer period of time and get stressed. That’s not a recipe for success.

Anyway, this email is my MVP. Time to press send.

If you unsubscribe, that’s okay. For one I got it done. For two I can learn to iterate and write you a better email next time.

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