Less but Better: Life by Design

When I surveyed readers of this blog, one of the strongest themes that emerged was a desire for greater clarity in your lives. So what kind of deliberate experiments might help along that journey?

Well, recently I’ve been mulling on the phrase “Less but better”.

It’s the credo and book title of German designer Dieter Rams, famous for his minimalist approach to design and an influence on the design aesthetic of Apple.

You may have seen a video spoof that was created a number of years ago re-imagining Apple packaging in the Microsoft packaging style of the time. It demonstrates beautifully the merit of the ‘less but better’ principle in design.


Of course, it’s not just in design that Rams’ credo is worth consideration. The deliberate design of our lives should also prompt us to consider the ways in which ‘less but better’ might be worth implementation. 

In my own life, I’ve been experimenting with designing a life of greater clarity by pursuing ‘less but better’…


If you have been following this blog for a while, you’ll already know that I’m very conscious of the content I allow into my life first thing in the morning. I’ve been asking myself more, however, what if I was more deliberate about extending that into the rest of my day? What if I aimed for less but better content in my life?

In The Organised Mind, Daniel Levitin discusses the challenges of our modern information age and the need to be deliberate in the face of an overwhelming onslaught of content –

“The need for taking charge of our attentional and memory systems has never been greater. Our brains are busier than ever before. We’re assaulted with facts, pseudo facts, jibber-jabber, and rumor, all posing as information. Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting…”

Further, Nicholas Carr explains in The Shallows that –

“Experiments indicate that as we reach the limits of our working memory, it becomes harder to distinguish relevant information from irrelevant information, signal from noise. We become mindless consumers of data”

Clearly, a ‘less but better’ approach to the content we consume can have its benefits if we wish to design a deliberate life in which our minds are focused on what we consider most important.

So where can we start?

a) Pay attention and start noting all the content coming at you – the radio, the streaming music, the billboards, the email, the social feeds, the messaging apps

b) Consider which of these are providing the most value and serving you in living a life that honours what matters to you most

c) Consider ways to remove, limit or manage the content you’re receiving

d) Consider the ‘better’ part – is there high-quality content that will actually help you move towards your goals which you’re not currently consuming?



At the start of the last couple of years, I’ve used the ‘One Word‘ concept for setting an area of priority for the year ahead. This year, as I’ve mentioned before, my area of priority is relationships.

For me, this has, among other things, involved a version of ‘less but better’.

I’ve never been a huge fan of loading up a calendar with back to back social engagements so I’m rushing from one to the other, cutting some short and arriving to other late. Partly, this is my personality. But it’s also something of the ‘less but better’ factor.

I went against my better judgement recently and did just this – agreed to two social catchups in tight proximity, meaning I was rushing off from one and keeping the other waiting when everything didn’t work out perfectly (and, let’s be honest, when does it ever?). I very, very quickly remembered why I rarely do this. Both engagements felt lessened by trying to squeeze them both in.

I renewed my resolve that I would rather have better quality relational time with less people, than time of a lesser quality with more people. 

There are seasons when you have high demands on your time. I’m not here to judge anyone’s schedule. Truly. Nor am I saying we should all stop networking and making new connections and only invest in a few best friends.

I’m only saying that when it comes to the way we invest in the meaningful relationships in our lives, there are always trade-offs, and we should be aware of and deliberate about the ones we choose to make. 



There are seasons of life when you’re just still discovering your skills and it can be a great idea to just try your hand at lots of things and throw yourself into every opportunity that comes your way.

After a certain point, however, there has to be some focus. We learn to clarify our purpose, our passions, our direction. I went through a two-year leadership development program a while back, and one of the processes they took us on was developing an integrated vision statement, as well as a short, 8-words-or-less ‘burn statement’ articulating what we’re really here on the planet to do. It was an invaluable experience, and the results of that are incredibly valuable in assessing my choices and priorities, especially when it comes to making commitment. There’s a summary of the process for developing your own integrated vision statement here, if you’d like to explore it further.

We need to be willing to regularly ask ourselves if the commitments we are investing time and energy into are the best ones for this season, and for the highest point of contribution we can bring to the world. Where should we be serving? How can we best seek the good of others?

Are there areas where choosing to commit to less will better enable us to give of our best?


These are just a few areas of life I’ve been experimenting with a ‘less but better’ approach. There are many others you could try – finances and the increasing popularity of minimalism of course being one. They key idea, though, is to deliberately ask yourself – how could I trade quantity for quality? How can I design the best version of my life – one that honours what I believe matters most?