Personal Development

Why to Embrace Your Constraints

How to make constraints like time, money, people or experience, your competitive advantage.

todd-herman-webI recently revisited a topic in a book I've always liked, Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. The topic is "Embrace constraints" – here is its opening paragraph:

"I don't have enough time/money/people/experience." Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you've got. There's no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative." (page 67)

Looking at the first sentence, I'm guilty of having said something like that many times over the years! On the flip side, I've also heard it many times over the years – from staff, clients, potential clients, referral sources, friends, and family.

Identifying a "Whine"

The book's authors consider that first sentence to be "whining." Why might that be? After all, the sentence could contain a true statement of facts. So what converts it from a "statement of facts" to a "whine"? Something that can't be communicated in writing – the person's tone of voice.

When I whine, my voice changes – it has a higher pitch, is slightly louder than my normal voice, is uttered with a sense of incredulousness, and is tinged with dismay at having insufficient resources to do the quality of work I'd like to do. You know the tone of voice – it's what you hear from a teenager who doesn't want to do something.

I've heard the voice many times. Sometimes it's directed at me, and sometimes it's shared with me by someone who has used – or would like to use – the sentence with the person constraining the person's resources.

Another Type of Whine

There's another form of whining, which might be defined as "discussing a problem with someone who can't do anything about it." I've both initiated and heard many such discussions. The only things which might keep such a discussion from being "whining" is whether the person initiating the discussion:

•   limits the discussion to just the objective facts,

•   shares some solutions and approaches already devised with the other person,

•   believes the other person can see a solution or devise an approach better than the ones shared, and

•   avoids the words "I don't have enough," since they are an opinion.

A statement of facts is "My budget just got cut by 10%, without any corresponding reduction in my performance goals." 

A whine is "I don't have enough budget to meet my performance goals." 

See the difference?

Here's the thing – whining doesn't change anything. Your budget is still cut, your prospect still turned you down, your employee still quit, and you still have an inexperienced staff.

Re-frame Your Thinking

Reality hasn't changed, so that's why the authors suggest reframing the way you see things. I know this all too well. Over the last year or so, the recession has finally caught up with my firm, and my resources have been constrained much more than I have liked. Still, limited resources forced me to take a hard look at my firm's cost structure and the way we do things, and make some changes I would not have otherwise made. Read how personal accountability can help

Become Leaner & More Effective

My firm is now the leanest it's been since the early 2000's. While there have been some tough changes to make, my staff joined me indiagram on how to reframe your thinking reviewing how they use budget dollars – and they've come up with more effective ways to use fewer dollars! Thus, we are not only leaner – we're more effective, too.

•   Reflecting on these experiences, I see great truth in the authors' words. My staff and I were forced to get by with less – we;

•   streamlined processes, eliminated some internal meetings that had outlived their usefulness,

•   reallocated our marketing budget from advertising to activities designed to proactively touch clients and others,

•   and leveraged tasks to as low a level as possible.

To make sure these changes stick and address any "gotchas" popping up from these, we also devised processes and began a new monthly meeting to ensure the changes stick, and to objectively evaluate the firm's efficiency and effectiveness in all areas.

Choose the Lazy Person

All of these changes brought to mind something my grandfather had told me – "If you want something done as quickly and as easily as possible, don't ask a hard-working person – ask a lazy one instead. The hard worker will immediately set off on the task using the most obvious approach. The lazy worker will study the problem, think about different ways to solve it, and then choose the easiest one." He then pointed to two workers in his furniture plant – I knew both, and one was hard working (like me), and the other I viewed as "lazy."

Hearing this as a teenager, I didn't realize the great truth in what Grandpa told me. Both workers would get to the same result – however, the lazy person came up with the more efficient approach. I now view the "lazy" person less as "lazy" and more as "creative" – after all, that worker came up with a more efficient solution that could be easily repeated by others. Perhaps we should follow the advice to "Don't just do something – sit there" instead of our natural inclination to "Don't just sit there – do something."

The Value of "Less" & "Constraints"

In my recent situation, my staff and I lived out everything in the final three sentences quoted above – we were creative, we made decisions based on facts, we cut waste, we addressed reality, and we made do with what we had. What we didn't realize at the time were the advantages of "less" and "constraints." Read some of Todd's book reviews for more insights

The next time you find yourself in a situation of "less" and you're about to whine – STOP!  Don't do it! Take a deep breath and remember this article. Change your mindset to get comfortable with "less is a good thing," and take a few minutes to devise several creative solutions to "less." Only then should you get started and rise to the challenge you've been given. Remember – none of this will happen until you embrace constraints.



Todd L. Herman

"Culture" is a Verb

Redefining "The Hottest Topic in Business Today"

Category:Leadership Relationships

Start transforming your business and yourself by signing up here:


Business Book Reviews

Need more resources for growing your business? Get great business book suggestions from Todd.

Leadership Lessons to Take to the Pool

Image It Doesnt Have to be Crazy at Work(June 2019) Do you believe books on leadership have to be heavy, in both tone and weight? If so, these three books should convince you otherwise.


Good Things Come in Small Packages

Putting Your Employees First(June 2018) You've likely heard the phrase "Good things come in small packages." You might also wonder "How does that apply to books?"


A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words - 2017 Summer Book Reviews

thebackofthenap (June 2017) Is a picture truly worth a thousand words? Todd's annual summer book reviews cover four books that have helped either hone thinking skills by using doodles and simple drawings, or spark ideas for improving doodles or other visuals.


Nothing Changes Until Somebody Feels Something

Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins(June 2016) Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid Art gave Todd inspiration for this summer's book reviews when he said "Attach emotion to logic and anything is possible" — A common thread in the four books Todd reviews.


Free Range Staff — 2015 Summer Book Reviews

Leadership and the One Minute Manager book cover(June 2015) Todd describes his idea of how to develop "Free Range Staff" — Employees who can take an idea, develop and run with it with little or no supervision — as he reviews four books he uses to teach and develop his staff.

Latest in Personal Development:

Acting On Intuition

Have you ever sensed something is amiss, yet couldn't quite put your finger on it? What did you do?

Tips to Students Of All Ages

It's graduation season. What advice would you give to students? Do you consider yourself a student? If not, why not?

Three Cubed (27th Anniversary)

Todd Herman Associates is Celebrating Our 27th Anniversary! What Lessons Have We Learned Along the Way?

Category: Personal Development

Nothing Changes Until Somebody Feels Something

2016 Book Reviews - "Attach Emotion to logic and anything is possible"

Life is Like High School

Popularity versus Knowledge: Which one will help you succeed in life?


Popular in Personal Development:

Why to Embrace Your Constraints

How to make constraints like time, money, people or experience, your competitive advantage.

How Top Performers Handle Irreconcilables

Are you looking for a promotion or raise? How about a high investment return or an increase in your sales? Find out how top performers do it.

Todd Herman Associates


620 Green Valley Road
Suite 104
Greensboro, NC 27408

About Todd Herman Associates

Todd Herman Associates is a business technology consulting firm focused on non-routine technology issues such as replacing QuickBooks, getting two systems to "talk" to each other, shrinking process cycle time, and taming large volumes of data.