Increase Your Effectiveness by Reducing the Friction in Your Life
Create ways to do more with less time
One of our children complains about doing chores, especially dishwashing. This particular child drags their feet, making it as miserable as possible every step of the way. Each time we remind them to do chores, each time they think about doing chores, each time they finally do their chores, we’re met with a litany of grumbling. It’s maddening, and we have lost some dishes to rough treatment at the hands of an angry kid. (Surprisingly, the other two kids are fairly sanguine about their responsibilities and rarely, if ever, make a fuss. They find it a bit funny how much their sibling carries on about it.)
This one child makes chores a misery for all of us, including themselves, even though they know their efforts are counterproductive. Some parents, when faced with a similar situation, might accommodate the stubborn child just to get some peace and make things easier on everyone. We not only refused to give in, but we decided to follow David’s philosophy when it comes to kids throwing tantrums: “We don't negotiate with terrorists." We started by taking a neutral position, largely ignoring the behavior. Eventually, however, we decided to try raising the cost to see if we could change the cost-benefit relationship in our favor. We agreed to allow our child to swap dish duty with one of their siblings if they could go a full month without grouchiness. For five months, they were unable to control themselves, so they had to keep doing the dishes month after month. Finally, after much teeth-gritting on their part, they made it through a month without complaining, so we were able to reshuffle things. The complaining declined substantially with the new chore split.
What are you making needlessly difficult in your life? What are you complaining about unnecessarily? What are you adding friction to? Odds are, dragging your feet isn’t helping. If anything, it’s probably adding an extra layer of frustration and costing you time and energy. By finding ways to reduce friction in your life—and the lives of others—you can accomplish more with less mental anguish.
Find ways to remove the pinch
We tend to be very stubborn about doing things we hate. We protest, as my kid always did when they had to do the dishes. We filibuster, we fight, and we complain, making the process miserable for ourselves and the people around us. We see these sticking points in both our careers and our home lives, thorns in our sides that we'd rather complain about than fix.
For a long time, I was like this with charitable donations. I would put it off as long as I possibly could, and in the end, I always foisted the responsibility on my husband. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a very complicated relationship with money because my parents worried about keeping up with the bills when I was growing up.
Finally, my husband came up with a solution to make the process less painful: He found a donor-advised fund with Vanguard that would allow me to donate stock from my job that had appreciated. Because I had been at the company for so long, the frugal part of me knew that the charities could get substantially more than I would having to pay taxes on the gain. Once it was placed in the fund, the money was already out of my hands, which made deciding who to give it to much easier. David printed out the forms; all I had to do was fill them out. This took much of the discomfort and agonizing out of the donation process.
I was able to do something similar with exercise. We had a gym membership for a couple years, but the process of actually using it was painfully complicated: We had to find someone to watch the kids, get dressed, drive over, and work out before driving back home—and then do it all again the next day. The friction was too much, and it made exercising regularly next to impossible. Now we have two ellipticals—one in the bedroom and one in the family room—so there is no excuse. I even keep a spare pair of shoes under the machine so I can work out during the day between meetings to boost my energy.
By identifying pinch points and finding ways to smooth them over, you can make getting things done significantly easier and less mentally taxing.
Turn counterproductive arguing into productive engagement
Mail solicitations always annoyed me. I hated having to sort through the barrage of placards, pamphlets, and flyers that were constantly piling up, but it took me ages to address the problem. This continued to wear on me until, in a fit of New Year’s outrage, I compiled a list of all the things you should do to reduce your footprint on the internet and lower your amount of junk mail. I’ve made a significant impact in the amount of excess mail I receive, which has been a huge relief, even though I know I could have done it years ago.
We all have something that we complain about counterproductively without addressing it head-on. The next time you say, “I wish I didn’t have to…”, stop and ask yourself, “What could I do to make this better?”
Think about the areas of friction in your life:
Does your home need better organization?
Are you in a job that makes you unhappy?
Is there a relationship that needs healing?
Do you lack the motivation to start something that you want to do?
Rather than allow more time to pass, take 10 minutes a day to do something about the friction that’s holding you back. Rather than bemoan it or complain, as I did for years, take action. Use the energy that you expend being annoyed to change the outcome.
Start by making a list of three things that create friction for you each month, then invest an hour to brainstorm solutions. Whether that means organizing your pantry, creating a system to manage food prep, or setting up automatic bill pay, taking a bit of extra time to be proactive pays off in the long term.
Reduce friction for others
For years, my husband did most of the grocery shopping at Costco. Every Saturday, David and the kids were gone, leaving me an hour or two to get other things done, and food would appear in our fridge like clockwork. He made it look so easy that I gradually forgot he was even taking care of things. We revisit our division of labor from time to time to remind ourselves of the friction we are removing from each other’s lives and to ensure things are balanced and fair.
How often do you take the people around you for granted? It can be all too easy to focus only on what you are doing without acknowledging what other people are doing for you, invisibly. By taking a step back and taking stock of the ways others reduce friction in your life, you can also find simple ways to return the favor.
When you do something, consider sharing it. I created a tracker for National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo), and every year, I share a version of it with the community. When I created my 30-60-90 Day Plan, I made it a template that can be shared with others. As I launch my book this year, my daughter is documenting the lessons we are learning in her own Substack. Even this newsletter is a way for me to scale my coaching, since many of the things I write about stem from questions from my teams or people I mentor.
Each time you do or create something that someone else can use, make it shareable with everyone. You can ease the friction in others’ lives and refine your own strategies in the process.
Friction slows things down and adds cognitive load to our lives. Take a moment to do a friction audit, and then think about the things that would be easier if you had a plan and process. The new year is a great time to reengineer your life in small ways, which will, in turn, pay off in big ways—for you and for others.