Don’t Get Things Done. Get The Right Things Done.


In 1956, German industrial designer Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot worked on the development of the SK4 radio and record player. [1]

The norm at the time was to cover the turntable in a solid wooden lid or even incorporate the player into a piece of living room furniture.

Rams and Gugelot abandoned the traditional wooden cabinet and instead, designed a player with a clear plastic cover on the top and nothing more. [2]

Rams redefinition of design language was so revolutionary people worried it might bankrupt Braun because nobody would buy it.

However, rather than being repulsed by the sight of electrical apparatus, consumers considered it chic and transparent lids became an industry standard. [4]

On his success, Rams said:

[People] should – and must – question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes, for the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs [and] their living habits. [5]

Ram’s phrased his innovative design approach as Weniger aber besser.

The English translation: Less but better.

Why More Is Less

In life, we all have things we want to get done; we want to achieve our goals, change our behaviours and make our dent in the universe.

But, in order to do that, we have to protect ourselves from noise: disturbances in our daily lives that obscure or reduce our clarity.

According to Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, there are three reasons why we fail to cancel noise. [6]

  1. Too Many Choices. We have more choice now than ever before. If you’re dieting and want to lose 14 pounds, where do you begin? There are bestselling books, blogs and YouTube videos, all vying for your attention (and often money).

Granted, having choices can be empowering, but only when it’s in moderation, as Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, writes:

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of choices increase, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. [7]


  1. Too Much Social Pressure. If you’re a smoker and you’re trying to quit, how do you contend with your friends and coworkers smoking?

There’s a pressure to conform in society and our belief is failure to do so result will result in punishment. We fear we’ll be exiled by our peers and have to achieve our goals alone.

  1. The Idea That “You Can Have It All”. You can’t. There are only 24 hours in a day. How are you going to spend them? If you’re not prioritising your ONE Thing every day, how are you ever going to achieve it?

Dieter Rams believed almost everything was noise and very few things were essential. His job was to filter through that noise until he got to the essence.

That essence – was Essentialism.

Introducing Essentialism

According to McKeown, Essentialism isn’t about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.

The right things are the things that make the highest possible contribution towards our goals.

McKeown says:

The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions. In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves asking the same questions again and again.

Time is valuable and arguably our most valuable resource. But regardless, we don’t prioritise it as highly as we should.

Sacrifices must be made if we are to achieve our goals, and saying no to opportunities that don’t serve our highest needs, should be at the forefront.

He concludes:

Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.

That “disciplined, systematic approach” is a 3-step process for change.

How to Become an Essentialist

McKeown offers a 3-step mode to distinguish the vital behaviours few from the trivial many.

  1. Explore and Evaluate. Ask yourself “Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution towards my goal?”

The bestselling author doesn’t click on clickbait links on her newsfeed; she reads classic novels that inspire her to write her best literary work.

The multi-million dollar entrepreneur doesn’t multi-task; he focuses on ONE Thing and does it with his undivided attention.

The successful dieter doesn’t overeat, over exercise or have unrealistic expectations for herself; she researches one diet, one exercise regime and commits until she achieves her desired outcome.

What’s the highest possible contribution you can make towards your goal?

  1. Eliminate. “It’s not enough to simply determine which activities and efforts don’t make the highest possible contribution”, says McKeown, “You still have to actively eliminate those that do not”.

Bad behaviours like binge eating, thinking negatively and watching Internet pornography causes resistance to change. If we’re to remove our roadblocks, we need to break bad habits.

  1. Execute. Once you’ve identified which behaviours you need to keep to make your highest level of contribution, you need a system to make executing your intensions as effortless as possible.

Your system is simple: form a new habit and commit to it. This is easier said than done, of course, but relying on behaviour change strategies like Choice Architecture and the Zeigarnik Effect can help improve our consistency tremendously.

Ask yourself: “ Am I investing in the right behaviours?” if not, explore and evaluate the vital, eliminate the trivial and execute the essential.

Like Dieter Rams, be courageous and eliminate the non-essential. You’ll realise less is more and you can achieve something great.


[1] Wikipedia (2015) Dieter Rams, Available at: (Accessed: 19 January 2015).

[2] Design Museum (2007) Dieter Rams, Available at: (Accessed: 19 January 2015).

[3] The Modernist (2011) Modernist Product of the Month SK4 Record Player by Braun, Available at: (Accessed: 19 January 2015).

[4] Design Museum (2007) Dieter Rams, Available at: (Accessed: 19 January 2015).

[5] Design Museum (2007) Dieter Rams, Available at: (Accessed: 19 January 2015).

[6] McKeown, G. (2014) Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, London: Virgin Digital.

[7] Schwartz, B. (2005) The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, London: Harper Perennial.


Greg McKeown for introducing me to Dieter Rams.