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How to Simplify Your Life Using Subtraction with Leidy Klotz (Episode 17)

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Description: Leidy Klotz is the author of a book I have been obsessed with, Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less. One of my mottos is “less but better,” so you know that the second I heard about this book I was going to dive straight in. Today I get to talk to the Leidy about the power of subtraction and how we can use this tool to help us do less, focus on the positive outcomes, and optimize our lives.

This will help:

👉 Anyone who wants/needs to do less, but still wants to make an impact.
👉 You to identify where in your life you can gain by subtracting.
👉 Focus on outcomes and optimize your life using the tool of subtraction.

In this episode: 

3:24 Leidy Explains How Addition is Our Default Mode
8:35 What It Looks Like to Practice Subtraction
20:02 Subtraction in Parenthood and Home Life
29:15 Buying Time and Weighing Opportunity Costs
39:55 Where to Start Subtracting


As humans we automatically default to addition when solving a problem. In fact this is one of the reasons that Leidy wrote the book. He had this really amazing research finding, which is essentially that whenever we try to make something better, our first thought is to say, “Hey, what can we add to this situation?”

The problem is that we sometimes add and move on without even considering whether subtraction might have been a better option. A fun example happened when he was playing Legos with his 3-year- old son. They were building a bridge and the bridge wasn’t level. Leidy went to add a block to the shorter column, and his son immediately removed a block from the longer column.

He thought of adding and would have just moved on without even considering that there was another way to solve the problem. Now this is obviously a very simple and fun example, but he went on to study this idea in a variety of different contexts. One study gave participants an itinerary of Washington D.C. that was completely full of tasks and things to do. I mean, it was so full it was almost impossible to get to everything on the list. They asked the participants to make the itinerary better. Every single person added to the itinerary. Not one person thought to take something away to make the trip more feasible and enjoyable.

The research shows over and over again that not only is it hard to subtract, but we rarely even think of it as an option.


An important distinction to make when you want to start the practice of subtracting is the way you think about it. It’s not lazy to want to eliminate certain things in our lives. We want to subtract and make room in our lives to do better, to have a bigger impact. Whether that impact is in our businesses or in our home life, the intention is for fulfillment.

When you are clear on what your goals are, you gain clarity on the things that can be subtracted.


There are some areas of our life that may be easier than others to practice subtraction. Leidy shared that he is able to practice subtraction with ease when it comes to physical items; he is good at subtracting in work life, but when it comes to parenting and home life, he struggles. I’m going to guess that is where a lot of you do too! His reasoning was that as adults and parents, because we are capable of doing a lot of things, naturally we think we should be doing every single thing. It becomes more difficult to weigh which things are most important because they all feel important. And when everything is important, it’s almost impossible to subtract. Instead, we find ourselves continuing to add.

I have found that sometimes the thing I need to subtract is ME! When I handed off dinner to a meal plan service and the prep to each of my three kids (I talk about this all the time), it changed the dinner game for our family. Family dinner is important to me, and I thought I had to be the one to make it happen. By taking myself out of the equation, it actually made it MORE possible!

We can also subtract in parenting and home life by delegating and by allowing our kids to be bored. This was a huge one for me too. When we subtract ourselves and allow our kids to step up to the plate, they get to experience things on their own and end up feeling really proud of themselves. So it is a win for everyone!


The more overwhelmed we are, the more likely we are to go with our default decision mode. We use adding as a substitute for thinking. The very thing that we need to relieve our overwhelm is the least likely to happen, so the more overwhelmed we become.

We create this reinforcing cycle that can be really harmful. Obviously we need to to break that cycle and a great place to start is just knowing that this is happening. Be aware of this default mode and then remind yourself there’s a whole class of options out there that we aren’t even considering. And maybe you don’t choose another option, but at least you’re bringing them back into consideration.

Get in the habit of asking yourself “could I subtract here?” whenever you are feeling overwhelmed.

You might also want to use a different word. The word subtract can have a negative feel to it and you might find yourself not feeling connected or inspired by it. Instead of focusing on the subtraction and what you are taking away, you focus on the positive and what are you gaining. Words like carve, reveal, clean, etc. I liked using the word reveal. What am I able to reveal when there is less?

In fact, I think reveal is going to be my word as I’m thinking through all of this. How can I reveal the best way to do this, in the simplest format, in the simplest way, to get the outcome I want.

Gosh, I loved this talk with Leidy Klotz about subtraction. I mean, I’ve been totally geeking out on the science behind it and loving that there is now scientific proof behind my statement of less but better! It is possible! If you want to grab the book and read it for yourself or need any other links that we mentioned in this episode, they are right here for you. Be back next week!


Get the book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less

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Leah on Instagram

[00:00:00] Leah: Welcome to the Balancing Busy Podcast. I am Leah Rela, and today I have such a treat for us. We are going to be talking about doing less but better, but in a way that is going to blow your mind. You just wait. I have lighty clocks with me, and he is the author of the book Subtraction, which I’ve been obsessing over for the last couple of.

[00:00:25] He is also a professor at the University of Virginia. You were also a professional soccer player before all of this began. Yes. Yeah. Like that’s, I mean, that’s its own amazing thing. So I found you through Stanford’s, um, Masters of Creativity series, and you had this lecture on, um, the untapped science of less, which of course then I had to like, There was no way I was not clicking that button.

[00:00:53] Like, I was like, Yep, I love this. And so I found that. Then I immediately bought your book, which your book is praised by like Carol Dweck and Dan Heath and Adam Grant, Like these incredible people. And me, I am not in that echelon, but like . 

[00:01:08] Leidy: Yes, you are. You’re in that echelon. Yeah. Oh, 

[00:01:10] Leah: I thank you. Um, so is there anything else that, that I should, that we should know about you?

[00:01:16] Tell, tell us a little bit. 

[00:01:18] Leidy: Uh, I’m an under 10 soccer coach right now, the black Mambas, so, yeah. Uh, yeah, so maybe that I’m a, a husband and a dad of, um, uh, an eight year old and a, a three year old, so those are important things that take up a lot of my time, uh, in a good way. 

[00:01:38] Leah: Yes. Okay. I love that because I think, and I love it.

[00:01:42] I actually really love that you’re the soccer coach too, because I. You can truly relate to the majority of my listeners who we are juggling a lot of different things and you are juggling a lot of different things. You, uh, you know, deep in your research work, you’re an author, you’re an. Uh, professor and you’re also is soccer dad and like coaching, and that’s gotta be, I mean, those kids are so lucky.

[00:02:05] That’s the coolest coach ever. 

[00:02:07] Leidy: You’re like, Yeah, no, I’m lucky. I, I mean it’s like, yeah, that’s the problem and not the problem, but it’s the blessing, right? It’s like you’ve got all these really great options and, um, getting to hang out with a bunch of 10 year olds or under 10 year olds, plus your son when he still thinks like, he still thinks it’s cool to have dad be the coach.

[00:02:25] So I gotta take advantage of that as long as. 

[00:02:29] Leah: You really should. Absolutely. Because mine are all like teenagers now. We’re slightly less cool at this point. Like my son just had a dance and he was like, Under no circumstance are you allowed to chaperone. You guys will try to dance and you will embarrass me.

[00:02:44] like, dang it, we lost our coolness. So yes, yes, definitely capture that. Okay, so, um, let’s just jump in. You, um, you talk a lot about obviously sub. And we all say that we want less. We say that, right? Like that. That’s the idea. Like I think of the buzzwords of we’re too overwhelmed, we’re too overschedule, we are overextended.

[00:03:11] Uh, these are, these are really popular topics. And yet even when we say that, it’s really hard to let go and it’s even to think of subtraction. So will you kind of talk us through that a little bit? 

[00:03:26] Leidy: Yeah. This will be the most kind of into the weeds of the research we get, I promise. But the, I mean, that was the reason I wrote the book is cuz we came across this really amazing research finding, which is essentially that whenever we try to make something better, right, when we try to take something from how it is to how we want it to be.

[00:03:47] our first thought is to say, Hey, what can we add to this situation? And then we . The problem there is that we sometimes add and move on without even considering whether subtraction might have been a better option. And you know this, the first example of this was me playing Legos with my eight year old.

[00:04:06] He was three at the time. And, uh, and we’re building a bridge and the bridge wasn’t level. And so I removed a, or I went to add a block to the shorter column on the. And he immediately removed a block from the longer column. And, and that’s the, that’s the thing, right? It’s like I thought of adding, first I would’ve moved on if he hadn’t been there to randomly subtract this thing and show me that that was also a way to solve the problem.

[00:04:30] And we, you know, we studied it in a whole bunch of different contexts like writing, um, our, our calendars. There’s a one, eventually we to a point where we. Yeah, doing studies, trying to like, okay, this surely people will subtract from this. We gave people this ridiculous day trip itinerary in Washington DC and they had to do like 14 different things and big things like go to the Smith Sony and or go to the Lincoln Memorial, eat it a five star bistro and there was a drag and drop interface and we said, Okay, how would you make your itinerary better?

[00:05:04] And people added stuff to that itinerary. The majority added stuff instead of taking things away. So it’s just like this. Instinct to be like, Okay, the way to make things better is to do more. Um, I was talking to a, an awesome group last week and there was this, uh, really thoughtful woman there who talked about how she, like, once a year she goes down and sits on the boardwalk and uh, looks out at the ocean and thinks about her dad, who was really influential in her life, but has since passed away.

[00:05:33] And like, she’s like, one of the questions she asked them is like, What more could I be. Right. And so it’s like all these ways that we’re like, Okay, more is the default thing that we think of. And, and one last example that maybe gets a little bit at like why we have such a hard time relieving it. My friend Ben, who’s a, he did some of this research, a lot of the research with us.

[00:05:58] He’s a co-author on the the journal article. Um, About halfway into doing that research. It’s just, you know, dozens of studies. We’ve just been immersed in it for like two years. He’s, he goes to me, Hey, I’m taking some of our research to heart. And I had gotten them this, uh, this bell. It was like one of those dinner bells, a triangle west like that you see in Western movies.

[00:06:19] And, uh, that, that they would ring when they said no to something. And so he. My department chair came and asked me to be on this committee, and I said, no. So then I like rang the Nobel and I was like, Well, that’s great Ben, but you, you didn’t actually subtract anything right? Because you just, all you did was not add something.

[00:06:40] And if, if the problem is that your schedule’s overloaded, you know it’s a problem if you think that you’re taking away, when really you’re just not adding. So this is, it’s a, it’s a hard thing to do and of. You know, the research shows that we don’t think of it. Um, and, but that’s just the first chapter of the book.

[00:06:56] There are a lot of reasons why we don’t, might not do it even after we do think of it. Yeah. 

[00:07:04] Leah: So I was interviewed about a week ago, and I’m talking about last but better. I’m talking about how I cut my hours back from full-time to part-time and he makes this comment like, How did you do that though? My inclination would be, oh my gosh, I can add a whole nother business now that I got this one down to part-time.

[00:07:25] And, and we all do that. We all have this sense of feeling like we need to add. And I think it’s so emotionally connected. I was, I was thinking about, um, you know, the, the concept of busyness and we say we don’t want to be busy. And yet there is this connection with if I’m busy, I’m in demand, I’m wanted, I’m more valuable, I must be.

[00:07:48] And if there’s white space, if there’s, if there’s less, then I’m not as valuable as desired, as wanted. And so we all say we don’t wanna be busy. And yet there’s this, this feel towards busyness and, and filling up and not missing out on any opportunities and all of that. How have you combated that cuz your, your life is soul full.

[00:08:10] There’s so much, and I, I’m gonna add one thought to this. I’ve been really considering and pondering. I’m going to always have a lot because I’m multi passionate. There’s a lot of things you have a lot. So it’s this, this transition and this transformation from frantic to fulfilled and full as in a full life, but fulfilled.

[00:08:31] How do we, how do we get there? 

[00:08:34] Leidy: Yeah, I, and I really appreciate how you framed it. I think this was before we were recording, but just that. Uh, you’re driven to make it have an impact, right? And that’s, I’m driven to have an impact. And so this isn’t a case where it’s like we, neither of us would be happy if we were just like, Oh, I’m just gonna like watch TV or play golf the rest of my life and like, just kind of kick back and not make things happen.

[00:08:56] So this isn’t a matter of like subtracting out of laziness. This is a like subtracting. Do better to have a have a bigger impact. And if that means like working three days and then spending the other days with your family or, or your partner or, you know, on vacation. Um, I think and then, yeah, it’s funny about the busyness and it’s almost like a humble brag, right?

[00:09:18] You go and, Oh, I’m so busy. But really what’re saying is like, Hey, look how awesome I am. I have so much stuff that I’m doing and I’m not taking care of my health. And, um, I don’t, I guess one general thing, it’s not, uh, is just to, if the goal is impact, right? Uh, I think kind of going back to what those goals are, cuz so many times the, and that can give us a little bit of clarity on the things that can be subtracted.

[00:09:45] Right? Um, you know, if your goal is impact in terms of changing people’s lives, who you work with. Uh, you know, having having three days a week of work where you do a great job with them and then having four days where you have time to do the other things in your life that kind of help clear your brain and, you know, keep the other parts of your life functioning in a strong way, um, and kind of re re reenergize you that’s in service of that goal of, you know, kind of helping, helping the people that you’re helping for those three days.

[00:10:20] So, I mean, that’s how I think. , like exercising, for example, right? It’s like that’s one thing that people chop out and it should be the, almost the last thing after like sleeping and eating that you chop out, right? I mean, so it’s like I’ll exercise in the middle of the day and come up with some of my, my best ideas.

[00:10:39] So, but, but again, I think the general principle there is like, what’s. , we often lose focus on what that goal is, you know, what the impact is that we want to have, and that can be the thing that gives us clarity on, on what we can subtract to. To do a better job with that impact. Um, it’s also interesting, some cultures don’t have that busyness.

[00:10:59] I’ve, I’ve, or so I’ve heard , but I like, I’ve heard stories that, you know, if you go to Italy, the, or Spain, the first thing people will say isn’t, what do you do? They’ll say like, Where are you going on vacation? Right. And so it’s like the, the questions you ask are, um, or I don’t know. The, the culture doesn’t have to be that way, although the, I don’t know, I’m kind of, uh, What’s the word?

[00:11:24] I’m kind of partial to the, like, impact, you know, I, I want to know what people are doing. I don’t really want to know where they’re going on vacation. You know, I wouldn’t be happy if my whole life was just going on vacation. You 

[00:11:34] Leah: so agreed. I agree. It’s, it’s, it’s in finding the balance. Uh, but I agree. So I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

[00:11:41] There was this 2014 Super Bowl commercial that was done by Cadillac. Have you ever seen. 

[00:11:47] Leidy: Uh, I don’t, you’re gonna have to tell me which one, and then I’ll, I’ll to know. I know the Bob Dylan one, but I think that was 2007 when he was driving. 

[00:11:56] Leah: Okay, So, so this one you have the actor, he’s standing in front of his amazing, beautiful pool, and he is it the, the idea is why do we do all this?

[00:12:05] Is it. Is it just for show? Is it to have the toys? Which is a rhetorical question we’re basically gonna get to the end, be Yes. But he’s trying not to frame it that way. And you see him pass by his kids and he gives them a high five and he’s like, you know, there’s countries where they take the entire month of August off, off.

[00:12:24] We’ve, you know, we don’t do that need like high fives as kids passing them. Hands off the New York Times to his wife in passing and his heading, you know, through this beautiful house. And he’s like, We went to the moon. Why did we stop? Because we got bored. And like this whole concept of like, you know, we just go, go, go.

[00:12:41] And he gets to the end, he’s standing in front of his Cadillac and you know, he’s like, We do it because this is who we are as Americans and we, we, you know, we don’t need the whole month. And, and I watched the commercial and I’m like, well, I kind of want the month actually. I mean, I don’t. I, I want impact and I want intention, and I love, I love working.

[00:13:01] Like it’s truly a creative outlet for me. You know, I, I joke, um, when the whole family’s gone, like if the kids all have activities and my husband’s gone and I have the night to myself, and it’s like, What are you gonna do? I’m like, I’m gonna work. I’m so excited. I, I love what I do, but I also want to teach myself to have that downtime.

[00:13:19] Like what you said, when you’re exercising, you get that time to have creativity and some of your best thoughts as. Thinking these three, but I think about that and I think, yes, it is such a cultural thing, especially in the United States. This idea that we push more and more, more and more can be good, but it can also be to our detriment when we neglect exercise and sleep and our health and our key relationships of, you know, our partner and our children and, and all those kind of things.

[00:13:50] It, it can get really. So, so what are some of the ways in your personal life where you have subtracted? 

[00:14:03] Leidy: Uh, I’ve gotten much better with my time. Um, and I, you know, I hang, I got to hang out with some business school professors and they’re really good at kind of helping you focus on opportunity costs, right?

[00:14:15] It’s like, Hey, you know, it doesn’t make sense for you to. 30 minutes to pick up the pizza to save $5, right? Unless it’s something that you love to do or you’re like going with your kids or something. But it just, in no world, does that make sense? Um, so like, really prioritizing time. Um, also, I mean, that’s an easy one, the driving to get pizza, but you know, thinking about work activities and.

[00:14:46] It’s really easy, especially in a job like mine, where you’re, you know, you’re part of a big organization and you’re not kind of, you’re not the one on the, on the hook for the profits and losses, right? Like where you’re, So it’s really easy to just kind of like float around, go to a bunch of meetings, like show to people that you’re, you’re there and you’re generally active, but you’re not ever really like making these critical.

[00:15:11] Asking yourself these critical questions about like, how do I provide the most value? Right? Um, and so getting better at that too, right? So being a little bit more ruthless with how I allocate my time in my job. Um, and, you know, I say ruthless, but I’ll like meet with a student whenever, uh, you know, I see that as something that’s like, that aligns with my vision.

[00:15:35] So I, I’m good at the time stuff. I think I’m good at the, the, I think of subtraction across three different places. It’s kinda like our social situations. Um, so time, also physical things. I’m good at subtracting physical things, but I have an eight year old and a three year old and a wife who wants to make sure they have everything.

[00:15:53] And so like our house is a disaster and it’s, uh, . We put an addition on our house that I write in about in the book. It’s like, I, I ran this whole design competition for students. It’s like, how could. Renovate our house to make it work as well in the same amount of square feet or, or less. Uh, so we tried to get, it was even called Addition by Subtraction.

[00:16:14] That was the name of the, uh, the competition. And we ended up with like 900 square feet on the back of the house, which was the right decision for us. I mean, we were getting another kid and uh, the other one was growing up. But, um, so I’m, I’m okay personally with physical things. I find it challenging with a family.

[00:16:32] Ideas is the other category, right? So it’s like, how do you like rethink the things that you already know? And you know, this, uh, this is hard. They call, um, you know, people who study learning, call it knowledge construction, right? It’s like a very additive description of how, how this happens is like we take new information and put it onto our existing mental models.

[00:16:58] But if you think about some of the biggest breakthroughs in your. thinking. It’s often when you, you know, kind of question something that, that you’ve always believed, um, and remove it from the mental model. So, I mean, I like, and everybody, I could be better at that, but I, I do try to, you know, kind of set aside time for that in addition to reading and inquiring knowledge, just kind of laying out what I, what I think and, and kind of scrutinizing those, so,

[00:17:30] Yeah. Those are some of the examples of, of how I tried to practice it. I’m horrible at it in my parenting, um, , so, 

[00:17:38] Leah: Okay. I wanna know why, why do you think you’re horrible at it in your parenting? 

[00:17:42] Leidy: Because I care so much about it, I think is the, um, Right. And so, like, one of the reasons that it’s hard to subtract is because you’re like, Hey, I can do this thing, so I should.

[00:17:52] And, um, uh, for most of your life, you. . Well in, in my experience for most of my life, I could just do everything. And it’s not like once you have kids and a job and you’re trying to balance all these things, then you know, when you try to do everything, then something else suffers. So, yeah, so I think you just care so much about parenting and there’s all these great resources out there in studies and saying that, Hey, you know, if your kid has the DHA.

[00:18:22] Gummy vitamins, that’ll be good. And then you have to look and see if like, Oh, well, is that better than having the vitamins that aren’t gummies because the gummies are bad for their teeth? And maybe we should, but those don’t have dha, and you know, and now I need to go figure out what kind of mattress to get for the crib.

[00:18:39] I mean, there’s just like so much information and so many opportunities to do things. I mean, like in our town, there’s all these private schools and Oh, should I be thinking about private schools? For I, when I grew up, it was just you went to school there it was. And, um, so the, and you feel like you’re, when you, when you don’t do something and there’s a possibility that you could, that it’s really, um, you know, you feel bad about it.

[00:19:06] Uh, and. . Yeah. I, I think that’s one area that I’ve had to kind of consciously work on because, you know, some of the best developmental times in my kids’ life, I’m sure is when they’re just sitting there playing with each other. So like when , the eight year old and three year old are playing nicely now I try to be like, Okay, this is not the time for me to go in there and see if anybody wants to go to the tennis court.

[00:19:30] It’s like, that’ll happen in 15 minutes when there’s a, when there’s a meltdown. And so, and you know, so. trying to, and I think that that makes me feel better about it when it’s like, okay, I knew what the additive thing was and I deliberately decided not to do it in the best interest of the kids. And then I’m like, Okay, that that allows me to feel like I’m being a good parent still.

[00:19:56] Leah: I like that. I like that. I so agree with you. I have so many thoughts, which we won’t get into in this, but about like the power of being bored because board fosters. And you know, when we were kids yeah. We were like sent outside to go play and like you didn’t come back and say you were bored. They just look at you like, and you go find something to do.

[00:20:18] And it’s often you work through that boredom. It starts to become uncomfortable enough that you’re, that you make a decision in a plan and you do something that that fosters that creativity. And I do believe that one of the things. That maybe has become a disservice as we’ve all grown up in this next generation is we don’t give our kids as much time to just be bored, to be creative.

[00:20:40] I was having a conversation. I just hosted a business, a mini mastermind retreat for some of my clients over the last four days. I got home last night and one of our conversations, just a side one at night, we were talking about what we’re seeing with our kids and there’s some of these fundamental things that are really hard for them to do.

[00:20:58] Um, pick up the phone and call. Talk like, right? Like, and, and you probably see this in your students, like being to, to email, to call, to ask, um, to have a, a conversation that’s a little bit uncomfortable. And everybody was, was saying, Oh, I think it’s Covid. And I was like, Okay. I think Covid is part of it, but I actually believe this goes much deeper.

[00:21:18] When we were all kids, we absolutely had to pick up the phone to call if we wanted to play. And usually the parent answered, You had to say, you know, Oh, is Jane available? Right? And sometimes they weren’t, and you got rejected and you. I remember knocking on the door of like, the my neighbor’s house. You know, can Kim come out and play?

[00:21:34] And they’re like, No, not right now. And you’re like, Okay. And like, right, like we, we were put in uncomfortable situations where we got rejected, where we got used to all this. And I, my kids didn’t do that. I called and set up play dates. I did the work for them, right? Like I sent the text. They didn’t go out and play in the front yard because we all were taught like that’s not.

[00:21:54] They only played in our black yard, so you don’t get to know other kids. There’s no other kids in our backyard besides ours. So it’s interesting to think about. Anyways, such a side tangent, but yes, I’m in such 

[00:22:05] Leidy: agreement with you. No, it’s not a side tangent. I mean, I think it’s incredibly relevant, right?

[00:22:09] Because it, it gets back to that, uh, I mean, when your kids do accomplish something. I mean, that’s one of the most amazing parts of parenting, right? Is when they have that look on their face of like, Hey, I did the thing. Like, um, Ezra came with me to give a talk this week, and he got up there and just like did his part.

[00:22:27] Awesome. And then afterwards he’s like, jabbering for the next 20 minutes. And I’m like, Why is he like that? Oh, he’s like, he’s proud of himself. Like he knows. He did a good job. So, and it’s the same with like calling somebody, it’s uncomfortable at the moment, but then you, you realize that you can do the thing.

[00:22:43] So Yeah. So yeah. Um, yeah, sometimes 

[00:22:47] Leah: maybe we need to all think about that in parenting. Maybe sometimes subtracting us is going to actually add a lot more for them, right? Because they get to have that sense of accomplishment and confidence and that they’re capable, that they can do the hard things, right?

[00:23:02] Yeah. Yeah, Absolutely. Okay. I, So in these examples, I’ve been thinking about the different areas of my life. I’m like, Okay, where, where am I subtracting? Where has this worked? So one thing, um, we sort of talked about this before we were recording, but was family dinner. I really wanted to have family dinner, but I thought I needed to be the one who made it all.

[00:23:26] And when I finally broke that down, which that’s its own thing, like I’d love to understand how we get past these emotion. Connections we have to outcomes. Like I wanted us sitting around a table having dinner that there wasn’t a part of that. That said I had to be the one who made dinner every night, every week, but for some reason I associated and I felt like I was maybe cheating.

[00:23:47] I was like cutting it short. I don’t even know. But there was something there where I had a really hard time letting go of that. But when I finally did, and this started years and years ago, my kids were actually not much older than Ezra for you. We started, I would buy. So I buy a milk kit. I have three kids.

[00:24:05] I do three nights a week. They got to pick what the dinner was gonna be, and they were in charge of making that dinner. And obviously in the very early years I was the sous chef. I was there helping them, or one of the siblings was. But as they got better now they complete, they all can cook really well, they can make those all themselves.

[00:24:21] So now they’re ma. And again, this idea of, at first I felt bad, like, Oh my gosh, I’m making my kids cook the dinner. I’m such a bad mom. But no, now I’m so proud of that because they’re so compet. In the kitchen and they get a lot of pride in that, and I could have robbed them of that if I would’ve continued to hold onto.

[00:24:38] I’m not being a good mom if I’m not doing it all myself. So we did the meal kits three times a week, then my husband is in charge of one dinner a week. That absolutely means it’s takeout like that is not gonna be cooking, and I’m fine with that. Right. Then we have one night a week that we call Fend for yourself, and everybody just gets, Oh, that’s like they get to make their own dinner.

[00:24:57] It’s whatever they want. Right? Like it would be leftovers, whatever. Then for yourself night. And that leaves me down to like one or two nights a week that I actually cook. So I got the end goal, but I had to, I guess, subtract me out of it, if that like, almost makes sense. . 

[00:25:15] Leidy: Yeah. Your physical labor, your intelligence is still shining through, I guess, right?

[00:25:20] Um, I mean, your planning and your, uh, your thought. But yeah, that’s, that’s amazing. We’re horrible at dinners. I mean, we’ve got it to where everybody sits down at the same time, but they, both kids are watching an iPad because, you know, that’s like a holdover from when you couldn’t get them to stay at dinner, you know, to sit at the table long enough for you to eat.

[00:25:40] But, um, I like the, I like the different, different approaches. Like Fend for Yourself night would be incredibly popular at my house. Like the, the four, the three year old would. going into the cabinet, getting her thing and eating it. I mean, that would, that autonomy would be amazing. Uh, so yeah. Um, I think it’s, that’s a really good example.

[00:26:02] Uh, we have, we struggle with food, like diversity of food too. Like the kids are like, Hey, we want pasta. You sure we have that for lunch? No, we want pasta and. Good. They, they’ll brag about eating a new food and it’s like literally a different shape of the same exact brand of pasta . So, um, but like one of the ways to get them to eat more diversity of food is to like not present.

[00:26:30] bread as like the default option for their snack, right? And then all of a sudden they’re a little hungrier and a little bit more willing to experiment. And of course, like, don’t starve your kids. But it’s like if you, if you’re always giving them the exact thing that they want, then they’re gonna be robbed of, of different experiences.

[00:26:47] It’s funny, my fam, well I’m one of three kids in my family and, um, my brother was the youngest and by the time. Coming up, it was like my parents were just driving me and my sister to soccer practice or whatever, and he was the one who had to fend for himself. And he was like cooking chicken catch Tori in like fifth grade.

[00:27:06] You know, we’d come home from soccer and like the fifth, the fifth grader would’ve cooked chicken catch a toi, and now he is like a really good cook. Uh, and so it’s like something that he enjoys doing. So yeah, you’re not, you’re not cheating anybody by having them do it. 

[00:27:21] Leah: I love that. I love that. So, So other things I was thinking about is in, in the house.

[00:27:26] I love having a clean house. It’s not gonna happen if we rely on me. I don’t know why that took me so long to understand. But that is just the fact. And so things like getting a house clean, I feel like that’s actually probably adding. But one very silly thing is I got this vacuum up. My friends told me to get it.

[00:27:46] At first I thought it was ridiculous and then it went on sale on Amazon Prime and, and I. And it’s incredible. I never used to mop because you have to sweep or vacuum first, and then mop, like that is just a lot. It does it together at the same time. And I’m like the genius who realized like, why do we need to do this twice?

[00:28:02] Why can’t we just do it at the same time? I’m like, It’s brilliant. And then 

[00:28:07] Leidy: we have, Is it a robot or is it you have to push it? I have to do it now. I 

[00:28:11] Leah: also have the robot. Okay. I have the robot too. So we have the, the iRobot, you know, like the vacuum downstairs? Just the vacuum. Yeah. Yeah. And, and his name is, And so like on the cho on the chore list, I’ll literally be like, Somebody turn on Fred.

[00:28:24] Right. And like he, he does that work. And that’s definitely one of those things where it’s more expensive, it’s really easy to feel guilty to have that expense, right? But we need to start making that conscious decision of, I always think about like, I’m buying time with my money. Mm-hmm. Fred is an example of buying time with my money.

[00:28:46] He was a lot more. But I don’t spend any time vacuuming the, you know, the downstairs basement area. Fred does it all. And so that, that time for money, exactly what you’re saying. Why am I driving 30 minutes to save $5 when I could just have the pizza delivered? Yeah. I’ve even really tried to start being more comfortable with using like services like ins.

[00:29:13] Way more where I know I’m paying more. I can tell I it’s a little more than if I was in the store. I can, you know, there’s also the service fee and all that, but I keep trying to get myself to say, but the time that I’m getting back the fact that instead of getting done with my office and I now need to run to Costco in the grocery store and all those, those are being delivered, and instead I come out and sit down and have lunch with the kids and hang out with everybody like, that is worth it.

[00:29:36] But how, how do we, you know, for everyone who’s listening, they’re like, Well that sounds great. I’m having a hard time justifying how do we get there to, to believing that like subtracting is, is the right cancer to consider. 

[00:29:53] Leidy: Yeah, and I mean the other, there’s, there’s a ton of great research on like spending money to buy time and like Ashley Wills is a Harvard professor, has a book called Time Smart and uh, is a friend of mine and she, um, she’s done a lot of this research.

[00:30:09] And like one of the questions, one of the immediate reactions is like, oh, well, of course people who spend money to save time are happier because those are people who can afford to spend money to save time. And like, there’s a little truth to that. It’s like you can’t be living on, you know, below the poverty line, but they find it, uh, like across the economic spectrum.

[00:30:30] So it’s like they, they’ve done some controlled experiments where they give people who are like making 50 grand a. Uh, like money and some of them spend it to save time and those people are happier than the people who bought like another thing. So it’s something that way, way, way more of us can be, can be using.

[00:30:50] Um, and you know, so I guess, I don’t know what the, I don’t know if research is the thing that convinces everybody to go over the mental hurdle, but like, maybe it’s just, you know, kind of trying it, trying out some of. The really obvious ones, like the driving get pizza, then dabble in the Instacart thing, and then you realize, oh yeah, that was kind of nice.

[00:31:08] And then, then you’re kind of into whether you wanna spend money for the mop slash uh, slash broom. Um, and, and yeah. Uh, and then babysitters and all those kinds of great things. Um, I also, , that makes me feel, I feel for some reason it’s easier for me when I’m giving it to a person than when I’m giving it to like a Roomba, right?

[00:31:32] It’s like, uh, and I mean, I know there’s a person on the end of that manufacturing line somewhere, but like I, it’s nice to pay the Instacart driver who’s a member of your community or a babysitter who’s, you know, gonna be, you know, that’s gonna be your kid in 10 years or whatever. So, . Yeah, I think those are some of the ways to to get over that hurdle.

[00:31:54] And it also goes back to what we talked about at the beginning. It’s just like keeping the the vision in mind, right? I think when you’re not spending money to save time, you’ve got this like really siloed view of the problem, which is like, how do I get pizza for the cheapest amount? And it’s really like the, that’s not the problem.

[00:32:08] The problem is like, how do you keep your , How do you optimize your entire day? Or, you know, zoom out to your. Life or year, and then then it becomes more of an option. 

[00:32:20] Leah: Oh, I love that so much. I love that. How do I optimize my day or my life versus how do I get the, The pizza . Yeah. Yes. I love that so much. So you talk about this concept that we can actually add to our detriment.

[00:32:37] Will you, will you talk a little bit on that?

[00:32:42] Leidy: Yeah, I mean, like Hoardings a really, uh, obvious example of that. Um, and, you know, kind of shows how deeply rooted it is in our psychology too. Uh, the, a lot of the, so we did the, one of the study examples I just talked about, which wasn’t an actually a study, but it was the example of Ezra’s Bridge, for example, that it was basically the same you could add or subtract and get the same outcome.

[00:33:06] We did a lot of, studies to sh to see whether, okay, it’s objectively the wrong thing to do here to add, right. Subtracting is the right answer. Uh, and we, the reason we did those is to see, well, if, if people are not getting what’s obviously the right answer, then this is a, like there’s a, there’s a, that’s a problem.

[00:33:29] Um, it’s not just that, oh, people considered both and then they just like to add. This is a situation where they. Subtracted if they had thought of it, but they didn’t think about it. Uh, we’ve got one example that’s like, well, I think the most convincing example of that is, um, there’s just giving people grids on a computer screen.

[00:33:49] And it was, you can imagine like a pattern of squares on a computer screen. And we had them make it symmetrical from left to right and top to bottom. So you’ve got four quadrants. There’s extraneous marks in one of the quadrants. So one of the ways to make it symmetrical is to add those marks to three quad.

[00:34:06] The other way is to subtract marks from one quadrant. Um, and you know, so people would add marks to three quadrants, even though we said do this in as few clicks as possible. And then, you know, after we, some of the participants, we’d be like, Well, what was the right way to, you’d show them the right answer and say, Well, would you have rather have done this if you have thought of it?

[00:34:26] Of course. Yeah. So, um, I think. . This isn’t just a matter of not thinking of it and then, um, or thinking of it and not choosing it. There are cases where we don’t even think of it in the first place, and that that can be, that can be harmful. Does that make sense? Yes. 

[00:34:44] Leah: In that example, Okay. This is a, a kind of silly thing, but it was even more aesthetically pleasing if you removed, like for me personally, it like was more a Oh yeah, yeah.

[00:34:55] Pleasing to remove too, and yet that. That that instant thought was, Oh, to fix this, I’m going to add. Not to mention it took more clicks. The goal was to do it in less clicks. Right. But I just thought that was, that was a side interesting thing to me that I’m like, It even looks better if you 

[00:35:13] Leidy: removed.

[00:35:14] That’s amazing. Like we’ve had that, I mean, that’s gotten like. A million views on YouTube and like, there’s all the comments beneath it that, I mean, I haven’t looked at ’em in a really long time. I looked at ’em when it was first going up and you’re like, Holy crap. I guess a lot of people saying stuff, nobody’s ever said that, but it’s so true, uh, that like the, there’s a, it’s not just.

[00:35:37] Better in terms of functional, it creates a much better image at the out. So there’s maybe there’s something to study there in terms of like art, and of course like all the principles of good graphic design and good information design is like, what’s it, you know, kind of minimum amount of ink for the maximum amount of like information conveyed, Right?

[00:35:56] You shouldn’t have stuff there that’s not, not doing any work for you. Yeah. Yeah. That’s, I love that comment. Um, yeah, I just, I don’t, Do you have. . Do you think people don’t realize that it’s, do you think it’s a lack of taste or it’s a Uh, no. That’s a really good question. Cause I was 

[00:36:12] Leah: like, is it because I love design and you know, and, and I’ve done design work and I’m very, I’m, I wonder that like when I thought, I’m like, it’s even more aesthetically pleasing if you just, So why, why didn’t they grab that?

[00:36:27] Like, why wouldn’t they catch that and think I’m gonna remove, And then I did think I said is that, you know, my thought process was, well, is that just me? I love design, but I, I don’t know. I mean, I, I don’t necessarily think that, I think the second you take away you do see that it’s, it’s, it’s more attractive and like, I mean, it’s just blocks.

[00:36:45] I know, 

[00:36:46] Leidy: but Yeah. I can’t imagine. I mean, again, I, I, I agree with you. I think there’s, I think the people that like design know why that’s better or. But I can’t imagine There’s people and I, I think there’s probably a large percentage of people who like, look at it and they like, like it, but they don’t know why they like it.

[00:37:06] But I can’t imagine there’s a group of people who’s like, Oh, the, the cluttered grid or this, you know, the added more blocks is something that, um, I actually like better. Right? It’s, uh, so yeah. That’s, that’s amazing. That’s, um, Yeah. 

[00:37:23] Leah: There you go. Just, just a, Yeah. That was my first thought when I looked at it.

[00:37:26] I’m like, Huh. So just a, an an interesting random. So for everyone who wants to start a more conscious choice to look for subtraction, I mean, I really feel like it, it’s probably gonna be a portion of that, that mental switch of like mm-hmm. , can I take from, instead of adding two, I just, I couldn’t get over this idea when you shared.

[00:37:55] Our natural inclination is to add, when I think I’m here and I want to get there, I instantly think I want to add. And then I thought, how, How ludicrous is that, that we even do it when we want less in our lives? I’m too overwhelmed, so how am I gonna get too less overwhelmed? What could I add? We literally think like, I need to add a process or a software or.

[00:38:20] That is where we go. I just, I obviously, I, I feel like I keep coming back to that because it’s just, it’s, that is the thing that I just get cut off and I’m like, how do we solve this in ourselves? But if we’re, you’re like, Okay, you have sold me. I want to subtract where, where, what’s the best way for them 

[00:38:37] Leidy: to start?

[00:38:39] Yeah. The, well, first I wanna do a, a tangent into the, um, and to your point about overwhelm is so interesting. In fact, the more overwhelmed we are, the more likely we are to go with our default mode decision, right? We use adding as a substitute for thinking. And so the very thing that we need to relieve our overwhelm is the, is less likely to happen, the more overwhelmed we are.

[00:39:03] And so that’s like creates this reinforcing cycle that can be really harmful. So, you know, obviously we need to to break that and just as the cycle itself can be powerful, like breaking it can be really. I’d say the place to start, I mean, people have done a good job with the first step, which is like listening to this podcast and watching it, right?

[00:39:22] It’s like just knowing that this is, this is happening, right? And framing the problem in this way and, and, you know, hey, there’s this whole class of options out there that we aren’t even considering. Um, and maybe you don’t choose them, but at least let’s like bring them that back into, into consideration.

[00:39:41] That can’t possibly be a bad. So there’s that like first step, and then I think, you know, I mean the book is meant to help, like, rearrange people’s mental furniture, Hopefully make it stick a little bit more. I’d also say that, um, when you’re thinking about it, thinking about places to build it into your process, right?

[00:39:58] Because it’s, it’s hard to rely on yourself to come up with these things in the moment. Every single time there’s a time to add or subtract. So when you’re specifically like, Okay, we, we don’t subtract, I agree. Think about the times in your life when you want to, that, where you make important decisions or that like you want to have all your options available to you.

[00:40:18] So like I try to plan out my week every week, and sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But like in addition to thinking of the things you want to do, what are the things you’re gonna stop doing, right? I mean, that’s a kind of automatic check against creating o. In your, in your calendar. I mean, if you’ve got an organization, right, it’s so easy to, to build in new rules or processes or new things that you’re going to do.

[00:40:45] And maybe you create a uh, uh, kind of like rule of . It’s like, okay, I’m just cre, I’m creating a rule. After I said, It’s so easy to create rules. Maybe you create a common practice. Every time you come up with a new rule, you say, Well, here’s two rules that are already on the books that I don’t think we need anymore.

[00:41:05] Right? And so not only does that, you know, kind of remind you to, to consider subtraction, it also helps, helps you know the people who may work for you or the people or helps you feel better about, about doing it. Right. Because now it’s the rule, it’s the practice. You’re supposed to offer subtractive solutions.

[00:41:23] So I guess, you know, kind of listen to this podcast, you know, read the. And, or listen to the book and, uh, and then like build these things into your process where you make key decisions and how, how can you make sure that subtraction is an option that you actually consider? I 

[00:41:44] Leah: don’t really think just being aware that subtraction is an option.

[00:41:48] It’s been very, and, and I feel that I naturally am more inclined to, I mean, my whole concept. But better, right? I am someone who does think in less. But even since listening to, to your, your talk that you did, and then reading the book, I, I have been so much more prone to think, Could I subtract here? And, and so that’s been powerful.

[00:42:14] I also really liked how you talked about even using different words, right? If, if subscription feels negative, 

[00:42:20] Leidy: It’s a bad word. Don’t use subtract. I mean, I, I, I used it intentionally on the book, right? Because it’s singular. There’s not another book called that. And it accurately describes the concept. But most people are gonna like, it’s, you know, the, they classify wor, they classify words, um, Computer scientists can do this somehow.

[00:42:41] They look at words and how people react to them, and most words have like a positive or a neutral balance. And subtract has a negative balance. It’s not as bad as moist. Moist is like a classic, really bad. But, um, I mean people are just like, ugh, subtract. It’s, um, and so like one thing is to, you know, I think what you do a great job with Leah is like, kind of flipping it around, right?

[00:43:04] It’s fun, um, you know, less but better, like focus on the positive aspects of this. You can also just use synonyms, right? It’s like clean or carve or reveal or, you know, focus on the, the positive vision rather than the individual subtraction that are going to get you there. Yeah. The 

[00:43:22] Leah: win you can get. I really liked reveal, like when you were talking about the different words Yeah.

[00:43:25] Like carve and, and you said real on reveal. And I was like that it got me like excited because ultimately what I want to be Oh, that’s a deal. Yeah. Is my best life. I want to feel like I am living in every. My best life. No, that’s not possible, of course, 24 7. But, but as a general rule, I don’t want to feel that frazzled, that frantic.

[00:43:45] I wanna feel, feel fulfilled, right? I don’t want to feel like I’m, I, it’s chaos. I want to feel creative, right? And so I want to reveal the, the white space to be able to just think, I want to reveal like, Self healthwise, which means I actually have time to exercise and get sleep and those kinda things I want to reveal having time with my family, having family dinner, which meant removing me as, Cause I was, I was the block there, right?

[00:44:17] To be able to do this. So I love that. Like that is, I think gonna be my word as I’m thinking through all this is it’s like, okay, how can I reveal the best way to do this in the simplest format in this, the. Simplest way to get the 

[00:44:31] outcome 

[00:44:32] Leidy: of one. That’s, uh, yeah, I, I like it too even more now that you’ve, you’ve like kind of presented it in that way.

[00:44:39] It’s also a very, like, designy word, right? It’s uh, Yeah. So of course I’m gonna like it . Yeah. Well there’s a lot of like, there’s just a lot of promise there, right? It’s, um, it’s, and it’s, it also Yeah. I like it a lot. Yeah. I think 

[00:44:52] Leah: Reveal makes me feel hopeful. Subtraction makes us feel. Right. Like we’re, we’re gonna lose something that, that maybe we want even when we know we don’t want it.

[00:45:01] You know, it’s like Marie Condos. I loved how you shared that, cuz I will admit, I totally was thinking like, oh, like Marie Condo. And then you said it in the book and I was like, Okay, good. I’m not the only one who thought Yeah. But yeah, this idea of, of we can let go to, to let more, more in maybe. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:45:20] Oh, so, so good. Okay. For everyone who wants to find. Connect with you, What is the best way for them to do that? Obviously, the very first, best way is either get onto Amazon, Audible, go grab the books, subtract. So that’s, that’s the first best way. 

[00:45:37] Leidy: Anything else? Um, I’m on Twitter, in LinkedIn in those places.

[00:45:42] I mean, you can find my email on the internet too, if I can be helpful. Uh, so yeah, um, I, all the good writing is in the book. I don’t, I’m not like super active on, on Twitter and. Yeah. But yeah, I’m easy to find. Awesome. 

[00:45:56] Leah: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here today and doing this interview and, and sharing.

[00:46:01] I mean, I can’t even imagine the amount of research that and time that you have put into getting these insights for the rest of us that we can read in, in a few hours that I’m sure took you years and years. So thank you for everything that you contributed. It was, uh, just, it was, it’s been amazing. As soon as I first read this, I called my sister immediately and.

[00:46:23] Subtract. And I was telling her, I’m like, Oh my gosh, why do we do this? Why do we always instantly think to add? And I’ve been getting texts from her for the last two weeks about like, I just subtracted and like, you know, thinking about this. And so it’s, I’ve already seen the, the power of it just in me slightly sharing.

[00:46:41] And I know this podcast is gonna spread that even more. And so, It. 

[00:46:46] Leidy: Well, yeah. Thanks for those kind words. And it really is an honor to be able to, to share it. I mean, that’s why I work on the writing to be able to get the ideas out into the world, and there’s a whole ecosystem to help do that, and you’re a huge part of it.

[00:47:00] So, So thank you. And thank you for the, again, for the idea on, uh, those grids actually look better with the, um, with the dots subtracted. I’m still, I haven’t figured out how to turn that into a research question. It’s amazing. I, Yeah, I’ve talked to so many people and you’re the first person who said that very right thing, so thanks for having me on.

[00:47:19] I feel so 

[00:47:19] Leah: like, so smart. So good. Thanks, . Awesome. Okay, well we will have show notes. You can go to the website balancing busy and you’ll get everything you need. If you don’t have a moment to write down links and names, we’ll have it all there for you as. Please remember that you can do this.

[00:47:40] This is possible and you deserve to live a life and have a business that lights you up. And quite often that is all around doing less but better.



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