My room was always messy. Usually because clothes were strewn everywhere On the floor, on the couch, anywhere there was a surface there was a pile of clothes. Dirty, clean, or mostly-clean scattered about.

I tried a dresser. I tried making a system where I had spaces for each type of clothing: shirts, pants, etc. Nothing worked.

Then a friend saw my room and quipped, “Duh. You have too many clothes. Let’s get rid of most of them.”

So we did. About 75% of my clothes were packed up in garbage bags and sent off to the Salvation Army that day.

Ever since, my room has been at least 5x cleaner on average.

Almost always, there is one simple change you can make that will have drastic effects.

This change is called the least you can do.

I had a website that was struggling to earn money even with a lot of visitors. I added AdSense and almost nothing happened. Then I moved the AdSense to a different part of the page and it suddenly made 5x more money. A week later I changed the colors of the ad and it suddenly made 2x as much money. Now the site makes 10x as much money and I barely did anything.

These are trivial examples, but the technique works on real problems as well.

The key is to figure out what the “least you can do” is.

You can discover it by working harder or smarter:

  • The hard way. You can try a ton of things, go through a to-do list dozens of items long, and hope you hit upon it.
  • The smart way. You can invest time learning instead of doing. Reading books, learning new math or programming techniques, talking to other people, thinking critically, etc. You’ll then have a much better hunch at what the “least you can do is”.

In reality you need to do things both ways. But try to put extra effort into doing things the smart way, and see where it takes you.

Notes

  1. Thanks to Conor for providing feedback.
  2. I never shop for clothes. Once a year, maybe twice. The reason I had so many was because I never got rid of any clothes.
  3. This AdSense site doesn’t make a ton of money, but it now makes enough to pay all my server bills, which is nice.
  4. Finding the least you can do is kind of like diff. You are trying to find the smallest change you can make to turn the status quo into an improved version.
  5. Another relevant computer science topics is the The longest common subsequence problem.