Start with the Premise that Everything is Noise

We each know that focus is the most effective way to work, but hearing the mantra to focus doesn’t help narrow our scope. What’s the best way to focus? Start with the premise that everything is noise and then work to find the exceptionally valuable or important things for each day and for each project. That’s the thesis of a book called Essentialism.

Defaulting to the idea that everything as noise simplifies decision-making about time allocation. In many areas of our life, we classify noise unconsciously. Archiving email spam, filtering out irrelevant boarding announcements at airports, and driving by habit. How can we replicate the same idea at work? By asking, is this noise? Is this among my top 3 priorities? Will this effort be exceptionally valuable?

I remember walking through an exhibition at the SF Moma that showcased the design work of Dieter Rams. The SK-4 phonograph player above has become a Bauhaus design icon and embodies a mantra Rams learned from his grandfather, “Less but better.” There’s a wonderful design critique and historical reflection on this record player which marked a critical moment in the evolution of Braun. Seeing this kind of focus embodied in a physical object reminds me to seek it in more intangible places like time allocation.

“Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things”, said Steve Jobs. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” said Warren Buffett. Many masters of their professions have articulated the same idea in slightly different ways.

Framing everything as noise goes a bit farther though. We ask ourselves each morning, before every email and for each request, is this noise? And that small question demands a bit of activation energy, imposes a bit of friction, and pushes us to remember our priorities.

However you say it, I hope this blog post is a reminder of the value of focus.

Published 2016-05-31 in


I am partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.

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