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Away’s cofounder: Do less to achieve more

Jen Rubio shares her tips for deciding whether you’re doing the right work at the right time.

Away’s cofounder: Do less to achieve more
[Photo: Rawpixel]

Away started off like any other startup: scrappy, and hungry for ways to grow. A big part of our early growth meant saying yes to most of the things that came our way, and that the options for “the best way” were obvious. Now, we’re in a new phase: We’ve built our brand in a way in which the opportunities feel nearly limitless, which means that we’re constantly weighing good options against better ones. Most times, we’re choosing to pursue fewer options altogether.

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“Less, but better” isn’t just a commandment of good design (thank you, Dieter Rams)–it’s an operating principle at Away as we evaluate what to do and how to do them. The truth is, if we want to do something well, we can’t do too many of them at once.

Here are three principles we look to follow as we strive to do the right work at the right time.

Figure out what’s essential. Eliminate the rest

In a culture that glamorizes being “busy,” it might feel counterintuitive to narrow your scope of work intentionally. At Away, our success hinges on the quality and authenticity of what we create, so we have to be intentional about what we work on. That means deciding what tasks and projects drive the most significant impact, and focusing our time and effort on those things. We’re also deliberate about not falling into the “busy=productive” trap, and value our team’s output over hours.

You might end the day with fewer items crossed off your to-do list, but you’ll be using your most precious resource–time–on the things you know are driving the business forward in the most meaningful way. It’s this kind of work that will bring you the greatest results, whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur.

Say no and question instructions when the circumstances call for it

Have you ever been asked to work on a project that you didn’t think was in the company’s best interest? Or attended an hourlong meeting that the attendees could have covered in five minutes over Slack?

Remember, you can choose how you’re spending your time and where you focus your energy at work, no matter where you are in your career. Not all projects and assignments are created equal. Start each day by asking yourself, “Is this the most important thing I can use my time and skills on right now?” If the answer is no, consider whether you can eliminate it, delegate it, or replace it with something with higher impact.

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It might be an initiative that isn’t quite aligned with business objectives, or a meeting that wasted an hour of everyone’s time. If you don’t understand why you’re doing something, question it. Work with your boss to figure out whether a task is truly essential. They can offer additional context that will help you understand why it is, or they may reprioritize entirely. If you’re the one who’s managing, empower your team to review their to-do lists often, and make sure that you work with them to ensure that they’re focusing on the highest-impact work on a regular basis.

At Away, we empower anyone on the team to do this—whether you’re a director or an entry-level associate—because we believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to help decide how we invest our time and effort.

Remember that not all “essential tasks” are important

Even when you’ve narrowed down your to-do list to the essentials and worked with your teammates to ensure you’re all on the same page, you still need to prioritize. After all, your “must-do” tasks will have varying degrees of importance, and they won’t all take the same time to complete.

Consider every project you’re left with after you’ve stripped the nonessentials, and then weigh their value based on their potential for achieving your larger goals. This shift will force you to get comfortable with the fact that you’ll have to say “no” to a few great opportunities.

This can seem daunting to practice, but from experience, the trade-off has been worth it. By empowering our team to say “yes” to only the amazing opportunities–we’ve been able to capitalize on them. This has allowed us to create the space and judgment to determine, together, where we need to go next as a company.


Jen Rubio is the cofounder and chief brand officer of Away.

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