Slow Down, Do Less!

The new year usually makes us think of long-term stuff.

In 2010, I strive to slow down, do less, and focus on what’s important.

I set a similar goal for myself in 2001 and life has been better ever since.

At the time, I decided not to be in a hurry and not to be late for things. Some friends chuckled at the idea of deciding not to be hurried. But it’s actually very doable if you just make the decision and change a few things in life.

I don’t mean being a slacker. Doing stuff feels good, especially if it’s some sort of accomplishment, and dilly-dallying gets boring pretty quickly.

I tossed out most of the noise and crap and focused on things that matter. The rest largely takes care of itself or drops by the wayside and wasn’t important, anyway.

I got a real reminder of this when clearing out my Aunt Dorothy’s apartment a few months ago after she passed away in her 80s.

Aunt Dorothy had 3 large file cabinets of pictures and letters and records of the last 4 generations of the whole extended family. The pics and letters told a great story of husbands and wives separated by WWII, of going to college and medical school, of moving out West, of rearing children, etc.

That huge collection of lives viewed from 2009 reminded me that the vast majority of details were incredibly irrelevant and very soon forgotten by the people living those lives. What was important were the overall directions and narratives of peoples’ lives.

So in day-to-day life, I strive to make fewer promises, fewer appointments. I can’t break promises I don’t make! Make only the ones that really matter. An appointment is a promise to be somewhere at a certain time. I try to make fewer appointments and put more time between them than I think I need. Between important or mentally taxing appointments, I make an appointment to have a mocha somewhere. That gives me breathing room and time to focus on the next thing.

I don’t take my laptop everywhere. I don’t always take it on short trips, either. It’s great going through airport security with just a small backpack and no laptop! Having an iPhone has helped a lot. I don’t always want to be connected, though.

Some of my best thinking is while driving or flying or walking with no electronics whatsoever (not even music). Silence, both audible and mental, really is golden.

(A beef about luggage on airplanes: don’t try to take so much crap! I recently traveled for 3 weeks across America and spent a week in Rome with 1 medium-sized backpack. Hotel laundry is the key. Just like this whole post: less really is more.)

I’m part of a startup again, so work is pretty much whenever I’m awake, so short naps and disconnection time become more important. For me, a 20-minute nap is really good for my brain.

I use as many focus-saving services as I can, like bill-paying services and once-a-month housekeeping (I’m pretty neat already and I can grab the vacuum if I need to). In business, I use services like Engine Yard and Basecamp. They cost a little and save a lot. I need to find more focus-saving services this year.

Incidentally, my new company, Chargify, is a HUGE focus-saving service for anyone running a recurring revenue business. Once you realize how much time & focus it saves, you’ll want to pay twice the price!

I mostly drive the speed limit or even more slowly because my beloved 10-year-old Jeep can’t go very fast. I stop completely at stop signs and look both ways twice. I use my turn signals 95% of the time.

Why do I focus on driving? Because most of us do a lot of it and doing it as I describe is nice to others, results in fewer accidents, AND forces me to slow down and be more deliberate. I want to get a bumper sticker that says, “Slow Down, Do Less.”

I swear if you do this driving thing for 2 weeks, you will start to realize that you were living in some sort of rat race Matrix. You will literally start to see yourself as outside the rat race just by de-stressing while driving. I dare you to try it! Drive 65 or 70 while everyone else is going 80. Get over toward the right, of course, and let the rat race pass you by.

Obviously, I don’t do any calling or texting while driving, not even to receive. Both are stressful and distracting, and are contrary to the aim of doing less unimportant crap! You can check the phone when you reach your destination, or at least wait until you get to a long red light.

I turn off email sometimes. That allows me to stay focused on something bigger and more important long-term. I don’t know about you, but I’m very distractible by communications, which is why I sometimes have to disconnect if I really want to get important stuff done.

So that’s tonight’s thought for 2010: slow down, do less, focus on what’s important. Remember Aunt Dorothy’s files!

Have a good (and slow) one 🙂

5 Responses to “Slow Down, Do Less!”

  1. 1 Jayson Vantuyl January 3, 2010 at 12:48 AM

    This reminds me of Seinfeld’s advice. I first read it here:

    He claims that the secret to success is not heroically doing everything all the time, but rather just making small progress every day. The saying goes “inch by inch, anything’s a cinch”.

    Being focused and unhurried is, I think, a good way to achieve that. It lets you focus on what you’re doing, helps set realistic goals, and stresslessly connects daily progress to greater progress.

    The last one is the doozy. I think people get frantic and hurried because they get nervous when they can’t connect their daily activity level to their overall success. This drives people to take on heroic and oversized tasks that appear to make “big progress” but really just wear you out (and generally build habits antithetical to consistent progress).

    Good advice, Lance.

    • 2 Lance January 3, 2010 at 6:33 PM

      Glad you liked it, Jay!

      I just know that most frantic activity is wasted and probably actually detracts from reaching long-term goals and/or a simple state of well-being. I used to be more stressed years ago because I was trying to do too many things. When I started doing fewer things, life got better (felt better, less stress) and whatever materials goals I had still got met, maybe even faster than before.

      I’m sure some Chinese proverb covers this and was written thousands of years ago!

  2. 3 Andy Johnson January 3, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    Refreshing perspective Lance. Especially the part about looking back on life and recognizing the things that were really important vs. some of the details that really didn’t add much to the value or direction of your life. Not worth being a slave to those details.

    I think I’ve come to realize in my life that I’m somewhat of a workaholic, and I really need to plan the downtime into my schedule or it hardly happens. It’s amazing how simple things like taking a breather at a coffee house (like you mentioned) can be mentally stimulating and refreshing. Those “timeouts” can really become an investment in producing even better work, not to mention living a life that’s more enjoyable.

    Have fun in the slow lane!

    • 4 Lance January 3, 2010 at 6:30 PM

      I’m definitely a workaholic, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to pay more attention to stuff that really matters and makes a difference, vs all the stuff that doesn’t. Other people have tried experiments like ignoring email for a few days or even a week. Guess what? Something like 90% of emails will “take care of themselves”. 10% really need you, and 5% will find another way to reach you because they’re so darned important :-).

      Of course, that doesn’t work if email is the primary way you communicate with a close team every day!

      But overall, deciding what to hold important is the goal, and acknowledging that focus cannot be placed on many things at once (or it’s not focus).

  1. 1 Business coaching – Successful CEO’s Advice for 2010 “Slow Down, Do Less” (and get more done) Trackback on January 3, 2010 at 9:28 PM

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Fun Stuff & Business History



I co-founded Parallax in 1987 with my best friend. We were both fresh out of high school. We grew from a bedroom operation to a $3M/yr business.

I learned a TON at Parallax! We strugged for several years to find a market we fit, but once we did, were were able to "pivot" (today's term!) into that market and then execute on manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. We didn't even know the term "VC", so we *had* to make money! We took $20K from friends & family and had day jobs to bootstrap those early years.

As I left Parallax in Winter 1996, Radio Shack started carrying our BASIC Stamp computer.

I spent a few years trying to make money in the mobile-messaging space. Unfortunately, I learned lessons about how to spend all of my cash chasing a market that simply was not yet developed enough. I wish I had known about VC :-)! I closed up shop and put up a notice saying "goodbye" to my customers.

Which led to a San Francisco VC-funded startup in 1998. They were in the mobile-messaging space and were on the normal VC route as everyone else back then. Unfortunately, it didn't end pretty, but my friends and I learned a lot through the CEO, who was nice enough to tell us how things worked with his Board, the investors, etc.

I got laid off along with most other tech folks in SF in 2000. What does one do at a time like that? Start Quality Humans, Inc. as a way to offer my programming services to clients. QHI grew to employ 8 guys working around the USA.

My friend and QHI consultant, Tom Mornini, saw Ruby on Rails coming over the horizon, so we started offering Rails consulting. Within a few months, Tom noticed that Rails clients didn't want to worry about details; they just wanted to deploy their apps.

That led me to co-found Engine Yard in 2006 with Tom, Ezra Zygmuntowicz, and Jayson Vantuyl. We built a great business and then took VC after a year from Amazon, Benchmark, New Enterprise Associates, and others. I served as CEO until Jan, 2009, when we started building an executive team who can take EY up a few more notches.

I reflected on major pain points we experienced at EY, and recurring billing was one of them. That led me to Chargify.

In Chargify, I joined great folks from Grasshopper. It's been very cool working with the team as we grow Chargify in 2011.


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