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BW Businessworld

Less Is More

The latest fad that is taking over high end corporates is the philosophy of professional minimalism!

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We live in a world where multiple fads rage every few years. From specialist hobbies (read photography) to exotic dance forms (read Zumba) to dietary fascinations (read vegan), the 'age of fads' is truly here. The latest fad that seems to be taking over corporates, especially high end management professionals, seems to be the notion of professional minimalism. This doesn't refer to the minimalist workspace but the entire outlook to a professional career.

Minimalism, as a concept owes its origins to Buddhism. It is linked to principles of detachment, mindfulness and focus. The philosophy looks down upon rampant materialism which constantly leads to unhappiness. The 'keeping up with the Joneses' syndrome rarely ends up making anyone happy. Minimalism aides in eliminating unnecessary stress and focusing on more productive activities. The application of the philosophy is not new to business; its role in design and development of key Apple products is legendary. So is the design of clutter free, paper free workspaces!

Professional minimalism builds on this philosophy in everyday interactions. This is not to be confused with the preachy 'follow your heart' type of speeches which list out 5 ways to find happiness by quitting your job and doing something you love. Wait till the next EMI of your house in Mumbai reaches your doorstep!

Rather, it starts with minimizing unnecessary discussions. As a guideline, all meetings should forcibly end in an hour; if it doesn't end, another slot should be fixed later on. The first one might be unfruitful but over a period of time, meetings become efficient. All memos, discussion notes should be crafted in one page. More than that implies the sponsor lacks clarity in thought. A lot of energy is often spent on topics not directly related to someone's life. Is it worth passionately fighting with a colleague over which political party is better? Can the time and energy be used on something more productive?

A corollary of the above thought process also involves minimalistic written communication. A lot of us are guilty of typing out long emails with complicated sentences with unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. The philosophy advocates emails to be 3-5 bullet points long. Any new idea should be explained in one page. Presentations should not have more than 5 main slides. The human mind takes 30 seconds to implicitly decide 'yes' or 'no' to something. Three to five slides are often good enough to impact that decision. Unfortunately, the number of slides in a presentation is often taken as a proxy for competence and hard work. The golden principle while constructing presentations is simple; will the idea collapse if that slide is not there? Often, it is only 3-4 slides that stand the principle.

Professional networking is often stressed upon as a key driver for success in modern day business. The minimalist approach focuses on adding only 2-3 key contacts per year but investing significant time and effort in them. Over a period of time, it makes sense to have a few solid professional relationships rather than a gamut of low quality ones. Don't like someone? Just block them on your phone and your social media pages. It is advisable to give no space to unfavorable interactions.

At the cost of repetition, minimalism is the exact opposite of materialism. Common parlance in minimalist theory suggests the number of material possessions should not cross 51. While others say the magic number is 101; the larger point is to be ruthless and limit the number of material possessions. It is fairly obvious to go easy on the number of gadgets and possessions. If the tablet is not adding any tangible value to your life, it is not required. Same with the fitness band and the music player. It also involves minimizing the number of bank accounts, credit cards, pens and contacts on the phone. There is little pride in flaunting 5 different credit cards with 5 different types of benefits. The share of mind space occupied by them is completely unproductive.

From a work perspective, it often involves doing only 3-5 things every day and leaving the rest. Not more. Consciously not doing the rest. Once the most important things get done every day, work stabilizes automatically. The philosophy of working efficiently and leaving office on time every day goes along with it.

While there are other aspects to building a focused minimalistic mind by limiting unnecessary variations in diet, sleeping patterns and clothing; they are best left for a discussion in another article.

In summary, the elements mentioned above are rudimentary and can aid to remove clutter and noise in day-to-day business interactions. It can also help in removing the debt trap and driving away the necessary evil of borrowed plastic spending.

However, in certain work contexts, adopting some of these can be tricky if not detrimental to professional success. Only time can answer if this fad stays on or will be replaced by the next one in queue!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Sandeep Das

The author, Sandeep Das, is an MBA from IIM Bangalore, a management consultant, the author of “Yours Sarcastically” and a columnist.

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