Do Less, Then Obsess! New Perspective on Performance

We have all heard the cliché – Work smarter not harder. What does that really mean? I don’t think anyone wants to work “dumber.” Are you working long hours and others go home on time or early? Are some people more productive than you? Are we falling into the trap of equating volumes of activity with accomplishments?

I always look for alternative viewpoints and perspectives. And, here is one! Morten Hansen, co-author of Great by Choice with Jim Collins, has released a new book Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. He upends conventional thinking about how we should work.

He points out the real key to your individual performance are seven “work smarter” practices. The more you adopt the seven practices in your work, the better you perform.

In 2011, Hansen launched one of the most comprehensive research projects ever undertaken on individual performance at work. He surveyed 5000 business people and workers over a period of 4 years to discover if some people are more productive, and what are the keys to doing so.

Great at Work

Hansen’s study discovered seven “work smart” practices.

  1. When you work smart, you select a tiny set of priorities and make huge efforts in those chosen areas.
  2. You focus on creating value, not just reaching preset goals.
  3. You eschew mindless repetition in favor of better skills practice.
  4. You seek roles that match your passion with a strong sense of purpose.
  5. You shrewdly deploy influence tactics to gain the support of others.
  6. You cut back on wasteful team meetings, and make sure that the ones you do attend spark vigorous debate.
  7. You carefully pick which cross-unit projects to get involved in, and say no to less productive ones.

An impressive list – YES! The first four relate to mastering your own work, the last three concern mastering working with others. These seven work-smart practices accounted for a 66 percent of the variation in performance among the 5,000 people in the study!

And believe it or not, other factors tested (educational background, company tenure, age, gender, and hours worked) combined for only 10 percent of the differences in performance.

Do Less, Then Obsess

Top performers also did something else. Once focused on a few priorities, they obsessed over those tasks to produce quality work. This dedication to their priorities created extraordinary results.

Our conventional perspective urges us to choose a few tasks to prioritize. However, this choice is only half of the equation—you also need to obsess. These findings led Hansen and his team to reformulate the “work scope” practice and call it “do less, then obsess.”

The term “focus” consists of two activities: choosing a few priorities, and then dedicating your efforts toward excelling at them. Many people prioritize a few items at work, but they don’t obsess—they simply do less. That’s a mistake.

The “do less, then obsess” habit affects performance more than any other concept in this book. You can hear Hansen discuss this and other findings in his book at

I highly recommend Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. Make this a topic at your next Leadership Team meeting. Do you agree with this viewpoint? Can it be applied in your business?

Contact me to see how “do less, then obsess” can impact your business performance.


© 2018-2020 David Paul Carter. All rights reserved.

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