The Strategy of Elimination (via negativa)

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Anthony Pica
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The Strategy of Elimination (via negativa)

The Strategy of Elimination (via negativa)

Competing priorities create stressful distractions.

A member of my team told me they were starting to feel burned out. To visualize their workload, we wrote down all of their projects. After putting everything in priority order, they looked surprised when I asked them to cross off each project except the top two.

If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We made the most critical project a true priority by deferring the others. They could now focus their energy on what mattered most—without the stress of distractions.

When we want to be more productive, our first instinct is to think of what we can do more of: build a new habit, buy more software, schedule another meeting, wake up earlier, multi-task, etc.

But there is a simpler approach that is often more impactful: subtract instead of add.

Stop the bad habit to feel better. Consolidate software to prevent integration issues. Eliminate confusion to reduce meetings.

I call it the strategy of elimination, inspired by the concept of via negativa, which means "the negative way" in Latin.

  • When asked how he created the marvelous statue of David, Michelangelo replied: "It's simple. I just remove everything that is not David."
  • In my garden, I prune shriveled leaves so that the plants don't waste nutrients on them.
  • To maintain health, reduce sugar consumption.
  • Sleep better by minimizing caffeine or screen time before bed.

Rather than doing more to be productive, you can identify what to eliminate to work smarter.

What's one thing you can eliminate in your life to either save time, feel happier, or be a better leader?

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