The most epic spring cleaning of my lifetime, and yours, is now in motion. Our spaces, lifestyles and beliefs are evolving as a result of the constraints the health pandemic and resulting economic crisis has introduced to everyone.
This is Year Zero. Our culture Before Coronavirus (B.C.) was to encourage more and our culture After Coronavirus (A.C.) is to encourage less.
Evidence of our evolution from ‘More Is More’ to ‘Less Is More’ is in every direction I look, outwards and inwards. With awareness of this evolution, we learn to be intentional and can approach the changes ahead with a bit more acceptance and openness.
[You can listen to me read this reflection here]
What Is Essential
Many years ago, I used to buy almost anything and what now feels like everything. My consumption patterns were liberal and I did not think much before making a purchase. That changed for me about five years ago, when I started to become more introspective in life. Feeling unsatisfied with constantly consuming, I questioned my prior belief system that ‘More Is More’ when it came to stuff and experimented with a different belief system, one of minimalism.
With only essential businesses allowed to be open now in lockdown, the economy has come crashing down like we have never witnessed before. Unemployment is already at the highest since 1930. The GDP for all countries, a measure Before Coronavirus of the size of the economy, has already contracted at a rate never documented before. Massive government stimulus packages have been pumped into the system, only to provide momentary relief measured in months, not quarters.
It is clear that our high consumption patterns Before Coronavirus were never needed, despite our culture, media and beliefs. Many are now asking the questions that I had asked myself five years ago. The economic structures and systems that we have followed for the past century were anchored on a belief system that ‘More Is More’ and are not as relevant After Coronavirus.
We now have to build new economic systems that support a new belief, that ‘Less Is More’.
Focus In Business
A few weeks ago, I turned my attention to explore new ways to support my team, knowing that there are plenty of competing external sources of distraction right now in everyone’s lives. I wanted to reduce internal distractions to create more space for focused uninterrupted work. At a time when teams have become distributed, you would expect leaders to encourage more communication and collaboration. We did the opposite.
We set an explicit intention to reduce our adoption of Slack. Overnight, we reduced the volume of messages on Slack by 30% and I think we will get to a 50% reduction soon. We set a guideline to have no internal meetings after 1pm and encouraged a 30 minute time limit on all meetings, internal and external. I have noticed that I feel more productive and focused during the day, and can see many examples that people on my team are getting better work done faster. And more importantly, feel better.
Although we have over 100 clients in 20 countries, 80% of our revenue comes from 20% of our clients and from only a handful of countries. We have long made the decision that we would rather be very important to a few clients instead of interesting to a lot of clients. In this time of economic uncertainty, this strategy has proven effective. Although a few smaller clients have had to leave us, most of our larger clients have leaned in with us and many have grown their activity, and revenue, with us in the past few weeks. They need us and we need them.
The past few months have reinforced for me that ‘Less Is More’, especially in business.
In the months Before Coronavirus, I took pride that 2020 would be the first year, in over a decade since I took my business global, that I would not have frequent flyer status with Air Canada. Over the past year, I had lost the willingness to jump onto a plane, which I’ve done almost every week for the past decade, and had a desire to ground myself. Now we are all grounded and will remain grounded for a long time.
As governments begin to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions, it is clear to me that the experiences that we once knew and loved will no longer exist in the same form. Transit will have to be redesigned, with even greater public funding and higher passenger fares, to support fewer commuters. Gatherings of all kinds, from professional sports or music festivals, to parents watching a kids soccer game or friends going on a hike, will be forever changed. Over the next few years, most of the experiences that we have come to identify with will feel stressful as we navigate this transition from Before Coronavirus to After Coronavirus.
The bar will be now much higher for the experiences that we will choose to engage with. The financial costs, health risks and time involved will lead to greater discernment and judgement before saying yes to something. We will ask ourselves, ‘is this really worth it?’, and realize that the answer will be no more than it will be yes. We have also seen the positive impact that ‘Less Is More’ can have on our climate, which may be the next global crisis that humanity will need to navigate skillfully.
We will now look for more meaning in our experiences and will find that ‘Less is More’.
In the first few weeks of lockdown, I found myself happily jumping on to and setting up Zoom calls with team members, clients, friends, family and even strangers. That has changed as Zoom fatigue has set in for me. I do not need to read the research to know that staring at screens, small, medium or large, drain my energy. I have now become more discerning about who I connect with, how often and for how long.
I can see that my parents are growing tired of the screen too. The frequency of nightly movies has reduced, as they choose sleep and rest instead. It has become more difficult to watch entertainment that was clearly produced Before Coronavirus, as it feels disconnected from our new reality. If anything, watching Netflix has become an endless source of triggers. Close physical interactions. Large groups. Travel to new places. It is all a painful reminder of what was and not a window into what can be, which is partly what I expect from entertainment.
Staying informed with the world through print newspapers has given me a sense of satisfaction that the digital feeds simply do not. When I read the paper each day, from front to back, I feel complete. Unlike websites filled with click-bait that needlessly encourages more content, more comments and more perspectives, the constraints of a newspaper mixed with a serendipity of indiscriminate discovery have given me more through a lens of less.
Audio is another medium that I feel inspired to now rediscover. Connecting with friends over audio has been a richer experience for me, as I can more clearly hear someone’s tone and get to imagine their environment. My creativity comes more alive. Last night on the phone, a friend commented that my Canadian accent is more clear now, likely because she was able to tune in more clearly to my voice, with less distraction from the screen. Audio is also a more accessible medium that does not discriminate based on my experience with technology, how my home looks or the strength of my wifi signal.
With digital consumption and real connection, ‘Less Is More’ is what I am learning.
This pandemic has enabled me to reconnect with my global social network in a special way. For the past 8 weeks, I have continued to host daily live meditations, through which I get to connect with friends and family from all over the world. It’s common for me, each morning now, to say hi and meditate with people from dozens of cities across different time zones.
There is no longer a discrimination that once occurred in the connections that I once invested in. Meditation and yoga classes, birthday parties, improv workshops and dance parties now include friends from around the world, whereas before they were limited by physical location. The constraints of the lockdown have made everyone more accessible to me, if only in my mind.
It does take more effort and intention to connect with people in a physically distanced world. There are no longer large gatherings, previously found at studios, grocery stores, the subway, events, conferences and walking down the street, where I would once bump into people that I know. The number of acquaintances that I have is beginning to reduce and the depth of the friendships is beginning to strengthen. Frequency of contact is not a proxy for strength. Neither is the size of the gathering. The most meaningful online events I have participated in during lockdown have been smaller, not larger, in size.
Fewer and deeper connections have reminded me that ‘Less Is More’.
A Final Reflection
Less Is More is a philosophy that cuts through the noise of my mind and brings me to a place of peace. I feel less stress and pressure to have more, do more or be more. It helps me glide through life with a little less friction and a little more ease.
Less Is More is like a breadth of fresh air, one that I happily accept with open arms and continue to invite into my life.
A bit more to share:
Year Zero: new recorded conversations with friends on mental well-being, how we connect and gather and the power of emotion.
Meditation: access a library of dozens of guided meditation recordings and join me for live meditation each weekday at 930am EST on Zoom.
Subscribe to my newsletter here.