Today at work, I attended an interesting seminar by Lee Silber and Andrew Chapman on simplifying and prioritizing based on what they call the 90/10 rule. It can be applied to life or work. Basically, it’s a way to focus on the 10% of what you do that you love the most and is most beneficial to you.

As I listened to them, I was reminded of what Mark Tutssell, then ECD at Leo Burnett, once told me. It was maybe the most liberating, stress-reducing thing I’d ever been told by a creative director. He asked what I was working on, and when I told him it was just some crap for one of our crappier clients, he said, “Get it off your desk. It’s not an opportunity. Spend your time on opportunities.”

Real opportunities are about 10% of what we work on in our business (if we’re lucky). The rest is just time-eating stuff. Your goal should be to increase that 10%. This isn’t to contradict what I’ve said before, that you should look at everything as an opportunity when you start concepting. But when it becomes clear that a project isn’t going to end up great and has gone past the point of no return, get it off your desk. Do your best to make it not suck, but don’t get sucked into the trap of spending tons of your time on it. Polishing a turd, some people call it.

Some projects will never be opportunities. Some projects have potential but get so overburdened with junk that they cease being an opportunity. Once you recognize a project has gotten to this point, get it off your desk.

4 thoughts on “Simplify

  1. I’m not sure you heard Mark right. He said “Get it off your desk?” Then who, I wonder, will do the work? Him? Don’t think so. If Listen: If I discovered kids shirking the tough work because it lacked Pencil potential I’d fire said kids. Don’t be a precious ad-whore. Try to do a good job. Expect opportunities to come periodically. The job is not, nor should it be, an endless bowl of cherries.Steffan


  2. I think the post is not about being a precious ad-whore, it’s about putting more effort on the concepting stage rather then on polishing loosy concetps, which is quite right, because that is the stage when things may or may not become shit. It doesn’t mean that the work should not be done, it’s about focus and effort management and the in this sense the post makes a good point. But it of course always depends on lots of things.


  3. I had a similar experience with my old ECD, Mark Figliulo. I was writing a lot of retail commercials at the time. Mark said, “I want you to get really good at writing these well, writing them fast, and getting them off your desk so you can focus on the work that will win awards.”I think “get it off your desk” means “Do it well. Do it right. But spend your energy wisely.”I think it’s also worth pointing out that I didn’t decide the spots weren’t an opportunity. Mark did. That was never my call to make.So Mark F. and Mark T. gave similar advice. Maybe it’s a Chicago thing.


  4. To your point Steffan, and perhaps to clarify if it wasn’t clear, it wasn’t a matter of shirking the tough work. Nor was it a matter of cherry-picking the great assignments. It was a matter of spending time wisely on the opportunities, and doing the best you can but not wasting time on the straightforward assignments.


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