When Less is More

Those that have worked with me at Patagonia over the last five years or so have heard me announce a countdown of days until I reach my retirement date (or at least the date I plan to go part-time). I have long been planning for this important time when I can work on my own projects, doing more things with my wife and daughter, coaching people in time and project management, getting my sprint canoe and kayak club going, being creative with some lesson plans from my first career (as well as creating new curriculum), and maybe just reading whatever strikes me as interesting in the moment.

[Picture of an arm over a laptop with a watch displaying time on the arm.]
[Picture of an arm over a laptop with a watch displaying time on the arm.]

As of today, that countdown number is below 50.

On September 16th 2019, I will shift my focus at Patagonia to doing mostly documentation of processes and systems. More importantly, I’ll drop my hours dramatically. Ironically, I think Patagonia will get more from me with less of my time.

I suppose I had best explain what I mean by that.

I know I’m an efficient worker. People bring tasks and projects to me because I have a reputation for getting things done. This is not just due to my GTD training. Much of this efficiency comes from having been a classroom teacher for over a decade.

Spend a few days shadowing a good teacher and you’ll find that they likely only stop working for a few minutes throughout the entire day. Teachers are constantly making decisions, preparing for another lesson, or communicating with parents and peers in addition to the classroom instruction. To do the job well, teachers have to be organized and focused.

When I first transitioned from teaching to business, I was amazed at people who would just stop and socialize with me at my desk, or who spent more than thirty minutes on a lunch break away from their desk. I know I was seen by many co-workers as unapproachable for a time because I simply felt the need to focus on my work alone, like I had in teaching for over a decade. (Eventually I came to see socialization as being an important part of team building, too.)

It took me several years to also understand that teacher’s reach an efficiency in their work partially because they don’t focus on a single project all day long. In my post-teaching career, I’ve often had just one (frequently very large) task or project to focus on during the day. Maintaining focus on a single thing for an entire day is extremely challenging — and not as productive. The mind needs a break.

I know this sounds counterintuitive perhaps, but studies show our “resting minds” are working on problems in the background and that it takes unfocused time to make real connections and see solutions to problems. Of course having too many tasks to consider is also not productive, and multitasking is downright destructive. For me, having three to four tasks or projects I can work on during the day is usually the most productive path. Teaching had given me a similar pattern.

In my future role at Patagonia with a focus on knowledge management, I will again be able to choose a small number of projects to work on, but more importantly perhaps, have the downtime away from work that my brain needs to quietly work on the problems in the background as I attend to my desired pastimes outside of Patagonia. The end result will likely mean greater productivity for my part-time work at Patagonia as I also get to do more of the things I enjoy doing. Hopefully this can be the model all of us get in the not too distant future.

Making more with less.

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash