Image courtesy of John R. Bell

Today I’m pleased to share a guest post by John R. Bell.

Six weeks ago, my business book was released. Do Less Better. The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World concerns itself with focus and simplicity. In it, I draw on personal experiences from my days in the C-suite and the boardrooms of my consulting clients to make the case that sacrifice is the surprising secret to successful long-term viability. Business complexity has never been greater, but it is not the phenomenon itself but rather the inability to cut through the clutter that comes in the way of resurrecting clarity and coherence

In the weeks following the release, I’ve had several challenging questions about the concept from podcast interviewers and traditional journalists. One of the more biting ones was how doing less better impacts the organization’s average Joe or Jane. This question concerns itself with activities at sea level, not up there in the stratosphere where corporate strategy is crafted

I say that “focus touches every department and every employee in well-run do less better companies.” I suggest that the “to do” list is a good place to set the stage for a do less better mindset. You need a “to do” list. Your boss needs a “to do” list. So does the President of the United States. But understand that the list’s effectiveness is in direct proportion to the number of items on the list. Fewer projects = bigger impact

Know what is essential.

Know what to delete from your screen, and when to move on.

Know what will bring the greatest return on effort. This is your personal ROE ratio.

Sure, there are menial tasks that we all must do. If they consume 75% of your day, prioritize the other 25%. Some people set up their lists according to operational and strategic projects. Some differentiate by the value of the task. Some establish goals based on what they can do really well. For example, should a blogger go for quantity or quality of posts? Is a daily post that’s been slapped together in a half hour better than a weekly post of insightful, engaging content that might take days to research and write? The answer depends on the blogger’s objectives and his or her working style.

When I was a CEO, one of my marketing managers made a request to hire an extra brand manager. Credit to him for his courage; he was well aware of my distaste for adding employees. My belief, then and now, is that the greater the number of employees, the greater the corporate complexity. Anyway, he said his project list had reached a point that precluded him from doing the kind of job he wanted to do. He believed that the recruitment of an assistant would make all the difference. I asked him to update his project list and organize it, beginning with the most important and ending with least important projects. The following day, he brought me the list

We discussed the projects, and when satisfied that I understood the twenty or so items on his page, I scratched out the bottom third of them. “Stop working on these,” I said. “Do you think you can manage the rest without that assistant?”

Of course he could. Okay, I’ve simplified the interaction but not the part about scratching out a third of the projects. Ultimately, that marketing manager became far more effective and far more motivated by doing the work that matters. Properly deployed, do less better is a winning strategy for employees, customers, and shareholders

John R. Bell, the author of Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World, is a retired consumer packaged goods CEO and global strategy consultant to some of the world’s most respected blue-chip organizations. He has served as a director of several private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. John can be reached at or