PMBAProductivity & Effectiveness

The Simplicity Survival Handbook – 1

The Simplicity Survival Handbook - 32 Ways To Do Less And Accomplish More


One Sentence Summary: In life there is theory and practice, and there are things that “usually” work a certain way, that in actual practice work differently; discover how things really work in the professional world by exploring these 32 Ways To Do Less and Accomplish More and have a more productive and calmer life.

By Bill Jensen, 300 pages, 2003.

Note: Because this is a thick, very detailed book full of “how-tos” and designed not to be read from cover to cover, coming up with a useful summary is long and takes time. I am therefore publishing it in two parts, of which this is the first 😉

Summary and Book Critique:

In my recent critique of  Cut to The Chase, I asked myself about the relevance of collections of rules, given that most of the rules in these books are certainly interesting, but are of the “in one ear and out the other” variety and that this type of book has difficulties getting into the subject deeply. I wondered if the best way to use them was rather to put them on your desk, choose one rule a day, and try to apply it that day – you could also do one rule a week.

Well, apparently Bill Jensen asked himself that question before writing his book because this is designed to be put into practice after spending a minimal amount of time reading it. Firstly, the author begins by strongly recommending 3 rules to use his book in the simplest and most efficient manner possible.

It’s the first time that I have ever seen a book begin by advising you to absolutely not read all of it! 😉

What’s more this book has an unusually interesting and original format that uses highlighting for the contents (at the moment only  The Creative Habit and 45 Effective Ways for Hiring Smart can claim as much among the books in my challenge). Actually, every chapter begins with a “Less-O-Meter”, a “Doing Less Counter” which gauges the courage required, the difficulty of the task and the amount that applying this tip/method will yield on a scale of 1 to 10:  Less-O-Meters 

The author did not guess at the values. He asked 260 people over the course of 6 months to evaluate, test and change everything in the book, then he asked them to rate each rule on the three criteria. The rating provided is the average of the ratings for all 260 people.

Moreover, the book uses pleasantly different fonts and font sizes, it is also filled with drawings – often funny – and explanatory diagrams of all kinds:

Inside the problem

And finally each rule is presented in the same format:

  1. The “Less-O-Meter”
  2. Why you should do less
  3. How to do less 
  4. Optional : To get more out of it, often accounts and real-life situations of people who have lived this in a company setting.   
  5. Optional: Want More ? , additional resources for those who want more. 

The format is therefore brilliant, absolutely brilliant, there is no other word. Because of it, everyone can make their own “mini-book,” read what interests them and begin to apply it. But what’s inside? Let’s take a look:

1 : How to Ignore Most Corporate Communications

  • Courage: 4
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Yield: 4.5

You get too many messages from outside of your team and your department. Therefore you can’t pay attention to all the information about your company that you are supposed to know, there simply is not enough time.

To fix it:

  1. Find these two essential points in your messages:
    • Any actions that you must take 
    • The deadlines for these actions, if they are within two or three weeks at a maximum.  
  2. If the message contains neither actions nor short term dates, ignore it. Delete it.

2 : How to Delete 75% of Your Emails

  • Courage : 4
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Yield: 5

Emails and the myriad of other ways to stay connected with the world is both a blessing and a curse: if they bring the world to us, they bring the whole world to us, including jokers, slackers, scammers, people who are the most unorganized, confused, boring, etc. You must then develop discipline when it comes to closing your virtual door.

To do this:

  1. Let’s say this together:
    • Hello,
    • My name is [your name], and I am an information-aholic.
    • My first step towards being cured is admitting it.

      Good, you are on the right path! 😉

  2. Becoming good at sorting information quickly is difficult and takes years. While you are waiting:
    • Look at each piece of unread email. Are the subject and the sender both telling you: I must read this email?
    • IF the answer is no, delete it without reading it.

      At this point your inbox should be 50% emptied.

  3. Search the remaining email for two basic things:
    • Actions that you must take.
    • Deadlines for the actions, if they are within two or three weeks maximum.

      If email does not contain these points, delete it. By this point your inbox should be 75% emptied.

  4. Examine the remaining messages using the CLEAR model. The information contained in the message should give or be:
    • Connected to your projects and your current work. 
    • The List of ensuing actions: Things you should do after reading this email. 
    • Expectations (anticipated results): What success looks like 
    • Ability: How things will be done, the list of tools and available support 
    • Return: WIIFM “What’s In It For Me?”

      If it’s not, delete the message. After this step, your inbox should be 90% empty. This step is difficult and requires a lot of discipline. You might be content at number 3. A 75% empty inbox is not at all bad!

  5. Install an antispam filter… Now! 

3 : How To Quickly Prepare for Any Communication

  • Courage : 2
  • Difficulty: 3
  • Yield: 8

Your standard day operates under the authority – and even the tyranny – of urgency. You only have a few seconds – on good days, a few minutes – to organize your thoughts, write your email and make it clear, you must therefore take the shortest route between what is in your head and what others will see or understand.

For that reason, always remember these three words and the questions associated with them:

  1. Know: “What is the thing I want people to know, understand, learn, or ask themselves about?”
  2. Feel: “How do I want people to feel about what I have done?”
  3. Do: “What do I want people to do as a direct result of my communication?”

Time necessary for all these steps: in the beginning 1 to 10 minutes, with practice, less than 45 seconds.

4 : How to Leave Shorter Voicemails for Betters Results

  • Courage : 1
  • Difficulty: 3
  • Yield: 4

99.999% of voicemail messages should not be longer than 30 seconds, ideally, 20 seconds. The key is to know how to use this time. This is how it is done by those whose messages are listened to, replied to, and actions triggered.

To do this:

  1. Always start with the idea that no-one will answer the phone and you will automatically be sent to voicemail.
  2. Always remember these three words:
    • Know: “Hello Frank. Here is what I need you to know: [the purpose for the message]. You don’t have to say it that way, but get to the message quickly. Don’t state more than two important points in the message.
    • Feel: your tone of voice will have an impact on whether the message is answered. Try 1) a voice full of energy, 2) full of joy (smile when you talk) and 3) a frustrated or bland voice explaining your problem, firmly but politely.
    • Do: “Frank, here is what I need you to do: [action]”
  3. Leave your telephone number. Speak at the speed that people write, not at the speed people talk.

5 : How to Write Shorter Emails for Better Results

  • Courage : 1
  • Difficulty: 5
  • Yield: 7

Voice messages are constrained by time, emails by space. You must capture someone’s attention, connect with them, and help them to act, all that in 7×12 cm or 3 x 5 ins (height x width). Otherwise, you will become part of their 75% of deleted messages.

To do this:

  1. Everything worth doing MUST be kept to 7×12 cm. Why 7×12 cm? Because that is the size most commonly used by people for their email window. Also, staying disciplined with regard to this size accommodates the space constraints for Blackberries and cell phones.
  2. You are writing a billboard. Not a letter. Write to be read easily: not more than 75 to 110 words within the 7×12, that’s about 8 or 12 sentences. The shorter the better.
  3. Always use the CLEAR model (see point number 2).
  4. Use common sense. Obviously there are many exceptions to these rules. The point of the advice is not to give you a magic formula but to keep you disciplined.

6 : How to Do Less and Still Deliver an Awesome Presentation

  • Courage : 5
  • Difficulty: 5
  • Yield: 7

Powerpoint – or equivalent software is – 1) one of man’s worst inventions because its the biggest source in the world of uninteresting information in companies, 2) a great presentation tool that is as good as you are and 3) points 1 and 2 at the same time.

To get the best out of it, prepare your work with Know, Feel, Do (see point number 3), then:

  1. Change the basic point that everyone wants to KNOW into a QUESTION. Change the question into an interactive exercise with the audience. By doing this, you will have less work, both in preparing the presentation, and in getting a better reaction from your audience, who will be happy to avoid a long, meaningless speech and get straight to the point.
  2. Did you understand the radical idea behind step 1? Never present. Always stimulate conversation. Actually, your real success is measured by the changes that you incite in conversations.
  3. If you vous must use Powerpoint: use more video clips and animated graphics than text ,and:
    • Create a one page summary.
    • Use a ration of 1:3 to determine the number of slides. If your slides include mostly text, numbers and charts, you should present a maximum of one slide very three minutes.
    • Insist on the fact that everyone takes notes. Ideally before beginning, not after.
  • 7 : How to Go Fewer Meetings and Get More Out of Them

    • Courage : 6
    • Difficulty: 5
    • Yield: 7

    Meetings are probably on your list of the five least productive things that you do at work. Trivia: your grandchildren’s grandchildren will say the same thing. This problem won’t go away.

  • To fix it:

    1. Remember a number: 1440. It should be the source of every choice you make with respect to every meeting that you attend. It’s the number of minutes in a day.
    2. If you are like everybody else, you must change the filter that you use when chosing which meetings to attend. Most of us go to the meetings we are supposed to go to. But if you are “nice” and go to all the meetings you are invited to attend, you will never be able to do anything whatever. Ask three questions before deciding if you are going to a meeting:
      • What benefit will I get from attending this meeting? (Your Return On Investment)
      • What value will I bring to this meeting? (Increase the ROI for your team, your company or your customers)
      • “If I were hit by a bus today, would this meeting still be held?” This is the BIG question. Variation: “If I worked several hundred kilometers away, would this meeting still be held?”
    3. Now that you have a new filter: Use it. Every day.
    4. Use your common sense. There are some meetings that you must attend. And of course, you must be careful if you use this tricks with your superiors. Pay careful attention to the Paradox of Exceptions: making too many exceptions will bring you the same results.
    5. When you go to a meeting, use the CLEAR model.


    8 : How to Do Less and Still Run a Great Meeting

    • Courage : 5
    • Difficulty: 6
    • Yield: 7

    Forget the best practices that have been drummed into you. There are just too many details to master. Instead, use a simple rule: Become an Example. Run the kind of meeting that you would like to be invited to by making it efficient and getting straight to the point.

    To do this:

    1. Decide what the meeting will be about and who should go. There are only three types of meeting:
      1. Brainstorming : To develop new ideas and new approaches.
      2. To Connect people and ideas: To create motivation and cohesion.
      3. To make decisions, plan next steps.
      4. Share Information: This kind of meeting should be completely banished. Today there are more efficient ways to share information, so anyone who suggests a meeting of this sort should be tarred and feathered and dropped in boiling water.
    2. Now, forget everything that we have just said about the 3 types of meetings. This type of classification is good in an ideal world, wonderful on paper and in theory. In reality, most meetings – including the best planned ones – are a vague mixture of the three types. But it’s okay. The main reason for knowing the difference between the generic types of meetings is to help you choose who should come (or who should be on the phone or online).
    3. Define what a successful meeting means:
      • Successfully conducted: What do you want to see and hear during this meeting that will indicate that you have succeeded?
      • Successful result: What is the purpose of this meeting? Has it been achieved? Did conversations change after this meeting?
    4. Communicate immediately upon starting the meeting what will indicate that the meeting was successfully conducted and the results that you expect in 2 or three concise and precise points.
    5. The most important step: show your passion.

    9 : How to Give Executives Less Information and Keep’Em Happy

    • Courage : 7
    • Difficulty: 7
    • Yield: 8

    Unless your full time job is to keep your bosses informed, you need shortcuts to give them what they need as quickly as possible!

    To do this, in a presentation:

    1. Organize your presentation to tell a story. Focus first on the title, which should always be something like:
      • “Boss, things are under control/not under control.”
      • “Boss, whether things are good or bad, you are safe with me.”
    2. Be prepared to do it an about one third of the time allotted. Senior leaders are often interrupted and pressed for time. If they have given you one hour, prepare about 20 minutes of productive, uninterrupted presentation.
    3. Reduce everything to a single page.
    4. Focus on the last 90 days. And the next 90 days. Everything beyond this limit is not relevant.
    5. If you need something from them: be clear, direct, concise with regard to what you want.

    Bossphobia: There is a reason why the Courage and Difficulty indicators are higher from the start: after studying, between 10 and 15% of people experience a moderate fear at the idea of dealing with their Boss. This percentage is probably much higher when it comes to telling your supervisors things in fewer pages. If you are affected by this fear, make a note of it. And even though this rule is not a magic bullet against Bossphobia, it will be a big help in eradicating it.

    10 : How to Say “No” to Anyone in Any Situation

    • Courage : 8
    • Difficulty: 8
    • Yield: 9

    Either you are good at the art of saying “no,” or you are a perpetual victim of other people’s to-do lists. It’s just that simple.

    To learn how to say no:

    1. Trust your instincts, not your head. Listen to the little voice, sometimes instilled deep inside you from years of Pavlovian decision-making, and ask yourself: “What do I WANT to do? or NOT do? What is best FOR ME?”
    2. Now that you are clear about what you want to do, choose an approach:
      • Direct: Say “No,” “No, thank you” or “Too busy. I pass.” Use this with those with whom you either have a close working relationship or none at all: friends, close partners, or people that you hardly know and that you do not have to interact with regularly. That represents about 25% of opportunities to say no.
      • Indirect: Say “Help me understand…”, “Let’s talk about that a bit…”, ask questions. Use this with your managers, and coworkers with whom you work every day. That represents about 75% of opportunities to say no.
    3. Communicate the Direct No as quickly as possible, with the minimum possible amount of reflection or hesitation.
    4. Treat the Indirect No as an opportunity to change the relationship, to build mutual respect.

    11 : How to Use One Question to Do Less and Deflect More

    • Courage : 5
    • Difficulty: 6.5
    • Yield: 9

    Why? It’s a good question, simple and concise, and it allows you to dig, go deeper, reject, redirect things that people give you and identify what actions they inappropriately give you from their to-do list – but which should be given to other helpful and attentive coworkers.

    To get there:

    1. Ask “Why?” three to five times before agreeing to do something. Obviously if you ask your Boss this, he will sometimes reply: “I don’t know. Just do it!” Try to use variations to disguise the “Why?” such as:
      • Huh?
      • Silence (which implies Why?)
      • Tell me more
      • Repeat the last few words in the last sentence, while looking like you are thinking. It’s a powerful NLP trick that works in 95% of cases and which says still more to the other person (This point is not in the book). For example:
        • I need you to write this report and send it to the Alpha team.
        • The Alpha team…
        • Yes, they need it for their presentation.
        • Their presentation…
        • Yes, they are doing a presentation tomorrow to their leadership.
        • Ah! But… Why?
        • They want to show their directors our impressive results!
        • That’s nice! I will be happy to help you. In fact, that reminds me, Mark did a similar presentation last week. We could ask him for his Powerpoint and modify it for what the Alpha team needs.
    2. For all your tasks, ask yourself: Why?  three to five times to find out the truth behind everything you do whether it has been assigned to you or whether you assign it to yourself.

    12 : How to Deal with Bosses Who Just “Don’t Get It”

    • Courage : 8
    • Difficulty: 8
    • Yield: 10

    If your Boss just doesn’t get it, he or she will never get it. So don’t waste your time, your energy and your passion beating your head against a wall and trying to change that mule-head. Instead, affirm your beliefs, and take the next step in the right direction for your career.

  • Before you do that, define what “get it” means, and be sure that he really is not getting it. If there is a chance that he does get it, try rule number 17 instead.

  • To manage your Boss if he doesn’t get it:

    1. Smile and Acquiesce. Works best in companies that do not have a good system for measuring performance, or who are changing significantly.
      • Say: “Of course, Boss. Whatever you want.” 
      • Think: “I am just going to continue doing what I think best.”
    2. Skirt around the issue. Go to see your Boss’s Boss. Works best in companies that focus on merit rather than politics.
    3. Let your resignation do the talking. Give your boss six months to get it or to overcome the problem, if you don’t get past it in that amount of time, you never will. Leave.

    13 : How to Never Again Need a Time Management Course

    • Courage : 8
    • Difficulty: 8
    • Yield: 10

    Can you list the five things that you spend the most time on? Do you know that none of them can be resolved with better analysis, by juggling, by them giving priorities and other things that have no meaning? And that four of the five be handled with these words:

    No… Whoah… Why?

    Studies show that the 5 biggest things why we waste time on are:

    1. Meetings
    2. Managing communications with others
    3. Communicating with others
    4. Your Boss who micro-manages you and underestimates you
    5. Work tools and processes designed for the success of your company, not you

    To fix this:

    • Say “No” more often (rule 10)
    • Question more often (rule 11)
    • Say “Dead time” more often (rule 12)
    • Just do it (rule 13)

    14 : How to Figure Out if Your New Employer Will Work You Harder, Not Smarter.

    • Courage : 7
    • Difficulty: 5
    • Yield: 9

    Wouldn’t it be nice if – before you do your new job, instead of months afterwards – you realized whether this company will help you get your job done or put roadblocks in your way? It is not a case of whether it would be nice to do a quick assessment – you must do it!

    To do this:

    1. You have just had your first or second interview. They like you! (of course). Now, ask to come to their company for a day at their company.
    2. If:
      • The recruiter refuses or is bothered by your request: Alarm! Warning! Working in this company is undoubtedly not going to be very easy…
      • Their reply is: “Of course, when?” Okay, you are off on the right foot. Go to step 3.
    3. Ask if you can sit in and observe two or three of the following activities during the day that you will be at the company:
      • A brainstorming meeting with your (future?) team
      • A daily, weekly or monthly team meeting where tasks are given out
      • An executive level presentation to middle managers
      • A meeting to talk about customer sales
      • Resolving customer problems (face to face, by phone or online)
      • etc.
    4. Make notes of your observations.
    5. Validate your observations. Have a cup of coffee with the people who will be part of your activities, and ask them questions.
    6. Make a decision.

    15 : How to Get the Orientation You Deserve

    • Courage : 7
    • Difficulty: 7
    • Yield: 9

    Most job advertisements focus on the needs of the company, not yours. Three out of four new employees are unhappy with their assignments. Don’t expect your employer to understand.

    For this:

    1. Before accepting a job offer, ask what the policy is for new employees. If you don’t get these three things, ask about them:
      • Working from Home
      • 20 Names
      • A three month two-way feedback review
    2. Ask for work to take home and study between accepting the job and your start date. Ask questions with regard to the job, like:
      • Goals and performance for the last three months of your department
      • The three biggest projects in the last three months by your department
      • The company’s current strategic plan
      • The most recent cost reduction initiative
      • The most recent innovation initiative
      • Etc.

        Then, ask to speak to your manager on the first day so that you can go over with him what you have learned at home.

    3. Ask for the names of 20 people that you should talk to during your first month on the job. These people can be either inside or outside the company. Meet with them and ask each of them: “what should I talk about next?” When you meet your manager on the first day negotiate with him to spend time with these twenty people during the first month. If he refuses, you have perhaps joined a bad company! Before telling yourself that, go to Plan B: Arrange to meet these people by eating out with them, either before or after work.
    4. During your first day meeting with your manager, ask for a three month two-way feedback review after three months to see if you are both satisfied.

    16 : How to Clarify Your Goals and Objectives More Quickly

    • Courage : 4
    • Difficulty: 5
    • Yield: 9

    You already know that weak, vague goals are one of the biggest things at work to manage in terms of complexity and endless suffering. But do you know how to stop the accumulation of new work so that it will all become clear?

    To do this:

    1. As soon as your Boss sets a new goal for you, ask: “Help me understand how this will change what I am doing?” Most managers will clarify goals from the company or department point of view, not from the employee’s point of view.
      • If the response is not always clear, ask “Why?” up to five more times.
    2. Then ask:
      • Do you have any suggestions for my first steps?
      • What is the best way to start?
      • If it is still not clear to you, ask “Why?” up to five more times.
    3. Then ask:
      • What will success look like?
      • What should I look out for to be sure that I am making progress, and that I have targeted the right goal?
      • If it is not always clear to you, ask “Why?” up to five more times
    4. Then ask:
      • What tools will be available to help me?
      • In this case don’t ask “Why?” if the reply is not satisfactory, because that makes the manager, the company, or both look unorganized. All additional discussion on the subject will only frustrate you more.
    5. Last question: Ask the WIIFM: “What’s in it for me – or us?”

    To be continued… 😉

    Translated by 

    Read more reviews about The Simplicity Survival Handbook on Amazon.

    Buy This Book on Amazon :

  • 2 thoughts on “The Simplicity Survival Handbook – 1

    1. Olivier,

      You’ve outdone yourself with this extremely complete review.

      I love #2 – how to delete 75% of your emails. I agree … we deal with WAY too many messages on a daily base.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *