Cut the Crap: Taking a Minimalist Approach to Your Work

by Matt Crow | October 11, 2017

When you hear the word “Minimalism,” you probably think of people who live with 50 items or less, don’t own a home, a car, or furniture. These are extremes. Minimalism is simply getting rid of the things you don’t need or use or that don’t add value. Minimalism means lower stress, less maintaining, and more room for the things that add value or give you joy. You might also think that this practice can only be applied to material possessions, but it can be applied to your obligations and relationships as well. Think about, instead of saying ‘yes’ to everything, you only worked on the most valuable projects. What would happen if you only utilized the tools and processes that you truly needed?  By taking on and using more than we absolutely need, we increase our workload exponentially and spread ourselves too thin to do our best work. If you want to take a Minimalist Approach to your work, you should start consciously deciding what obligations you take on.

Ask yourself these four guiding questions to determine if you should take on, keep, or remove something from your life.

1)      Does this provide value?

Many of us default to ‘yes’ when someone asks us to take something on at work. Can you honestly say that everything you are currently working on provides value to you and your organization? If the answer is ‘no,’ then you should start asking this question before you agree to take on a responsibility. Additionally, you can evaluate your current workload and talk to your team about ending some initiatives that aren’t valuable to the organization. Spending time on projects without merit is a waste of your resources and your organization’s resources.  Eliminating work that does not provide value allows you to focus your energy on the work that does; you’ll waste less time and bring your whole self to your other work.

2)      What will I contribute?

Different projects and obligations require different people. Just because you are the person that someone asked doesn’t mean that you are the best person for the job. If you agree to work on a project to which you can’t make a valuable contribution, you are doing yourself and your organization a disservice. This isn’t a selfish question. You are thinking about what you can give to the work at hand. If you can’t give something of value, it is better for everyone that you realize that upfront, and find a more suitable resource. By asking this question, you get yourself in a giving mindset, and you start to focus your energy on the things that you can truly impact and change.

3)      Will I learn something?

Ideally, you should be able to take lessons away from every experience in your life. That includes experiences derived from work and personal projects, friends, and the events in which you choose to participate. You won’t always be able to turn down work because you won’t learn from it, however, this question provides another way to consciously choose your work, and minimize the amount of time you spend on work that does not promote growth. Additionally, asking this question can help you choose to spend time on the projects and relationships that help you become a better person. Your time is the most valuable possession you have, and it’s a waste if you choose to spend it on experiences that do not expand your mind and push you to develop.

4)      Is there something more valuable that I could be spending my time on?

While the other questions in this list help you strip away obligations, this question helps you prioritize them. If you’ve already asked and answered the previous questions in this list, then you already know that the item you’re evaluating has value. However, several tasks could have value, but that doesn’t mean that they all provide the same amount of worth. This question prompts you to evaluate an item’s relative value – its value compared to the value of other items. Knowing the relative value of your obligations is the only way you can accurately prioritize your obligations.  Since we all have a limited number of hours in the day, we want to make sure that we spend our time on the items that provide the most value to us and our organizations.


Minimalism is a mindset that encourages you to question what adds value to your life.  Everyone’s version of minimalism is different, and your version of minimalism will vary throughout your life and career. However, if you are mindful about the work you choose to do, you are more likely to spend time on things that bring you value, joy, and growth. My challenge to you is to pause and ask yourself these four questions before you agree to any new obligation this week.

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