Sunday, December 19, 2004

Minimalist Best Effort

To a lot of people, that statement might seem like a contradiction. I mean minimalism has always been viewed as a negative trait. If you do less, you earn less. Best effort, on the other hand, is something often encouraged by institutions like schools. Teachers, and sometimes our parents, tell us that in whatever we do, we should give it all we've got. "Never give anything short of 100%" is what they might say. And of course, the current paradigm is that you're either one or the other. You're either minimal, or you're exerting your best. There is no middle ground, no gray area for both to coexist. We often generalize that people who are minimalist are lazy, while those who exert their best effort as hard working. If you're somewhere in between, you're normal. But for both kinds of traits to exist in one person at the same time, well, that's what some people might call a paradox.

To me, that's not necessarily the case. Minimalism and best effort aren't necessarily two faces of the same coin. Sometimes, they're two separate coins, and thus able to coexist. And as strange as that may sound, it's also something all of us practice.

For example, you're working on a paper, whether it's your homework, your thesis, or a report you have to file in the next day. You approximately have 12 hours before the deadline so you cram. You forego sleep and work 11 hours straight just to finish that paper and use that last hour to submit it. Did you not exert your best effort there? In those 11 hours, were you not utilizing 100% of your abilities? So best effort is established. What about the minimalist aspect? Well, let's say you the paper you passed was satisfactory. If it could be graded immediately, it was a B+. Perhaps if you were given more time (either you did the paper earlier or the deadline was moved to a later date, or perhaps a later time, even if it was just an hour or two), you could have improved on it. If you had the extra hour or so, you could have proofread it more and edited the work, meriting you an A instead of a B+. And let's say you are capable of such a thing, provided you had the additional time. Isn't the A paper your best effort as well? But wait! The A paper and B+ paper can't both be your best effort! In actuality, it is possible that both papers are you best effort. The only difference is the time constraint. And this time constraint is what I call minimalism. I mean we didn't work on the initial paper for 13 hours because we only had 11 hours to do it. Theoretically I could have done that A paper but it would mean not passing it on time. That doesn't mean I wasn't working at my best during the first 11 hours but rather in order for me to churn out the best, I need more than 11 hours. In fact, since there's always room for improvement, perhaps the perfect paper would involve working on it day and night, revising it endlessly. But alas, we're not immortal. We're only human, and we have these constraints called deadlines. And that is what I call minimalism because we have to limit ourselves. We have to limit our working hours to the set deadline, so that we can actually submit it. I mean as a writer, if I constantly revise and revise my work, it'll never get published!

The constraints we face doesn't necessarily involve time. Another example I have showing minimalist best effort is when you're acting host to a party. Let's say you invite five friends. As a host, it's your responsibility to keep them entertained. But since you're only one person and there are five of them, you cannot each give them 100% of your concentration. Usually you'll chat with all five of them and introduce them to each other, and then perhaps share a conversation or two with half of them before moving on to the next pair. And obviously, when we're talking to more than one person, we're not necessarily addressing everybody's needs. It's physically impossible to do so since we only have one body. That doesn't mean that as a host, you're not giving it your best effort, but rather you're limiting yourself so that everyone can have a better overall experience rather than giving one person 100% of your attention and neglecting the rest.

Minimalist best effort is also a prevalent mentality a lot of us have, but we just don't recognize it. Let's say you earn P20,000 a month. And let's say you work 8 hours a day, five times a week to earn that income. If you were given the opportunity to work for 4 hours a day, three days a week for the same amount of income, doing the same thing, which would you choose? Of course we'd choose the latter! We want to avoid suffering (assuming that work is actually "work" and not something we really enjoy) unless it's absolutely necessary. We want to reap the best reward for the least amount of exertion. That's minimalist best effort! And it's a great mentality; that's why we've developed the concept of machines, whether it's a simple lever or the computer that you're using right now. We want to make things easier, yet at the same time come up at the very least with the same amount of output (if not more). That's not to say we shouldn't work at optimum efficiency or that we should be lax in our jobs, but rather we look for ways to be more "efficient" since it benefits everyone.

Of course smart people epitomize the concept of minimalist best effort. I mean the owner of McDonalds, for example, is earning income right now from his fast food chains. Is he physically working? No! Is he earning income? Yes! Why? Because he came up with a great idea, and the beauty of his idea is not only is it effective, but also allows him to earn with the least amount of exertion. And similarly, business-minded people are looking for ways to earn the highest possible income with the least amount of investment. People are being both minimalist and exerting their best effort at it! It's not baffling but logical.

In itself, giving something your best effort is good. But what would perhaps even be better would be the minimalist-best effort mentality. Minimalism isn't necessarily a bad thing. I mean the greatest irony about wanting to be a lazy person is that in order to be able to afford such a lifestyle, you have to exert your best effort to achieve it.

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