Why A Strategy Of Restraint Is Key To Success

I’ve had acne since the moment I hit puberty.

Certainly worse than average–but not so bad that I ever really considered serious medication for it.

It’s made me extremely self-conscious and I tried all manner of things to get rid of it or cover it up.

In the glorious decade that was the 90s, the prevailing wisdom was that you could scrub, scour, and chemically resurface your skin to eliminate acne. I did it all.

I also tried every maximum coverage foundation and concealer on the market (or at least on drug store shelves) to cover it up.

This strategy lasted me well through the 2000s.

But at some point, the prevailing wisdom about acne started to change. 

We stopped talking so much about acne and started talking about sensitive skin. We stopped sandblasting and started nourishing.

What the hell? I thought. I’ll give it a try.

I pared way back. Fewer chemicals, less soap. Fewer products, less stress.

And what do you know? It started to work!

Today, I have a very simple, fairly minimalist skincare routine. I wear almost no makeup on a regular basis. My skin is the clearest it’s ever been.

For my skin, a strategy of restraint has been the key.

Small business today can feel a lot like the skincare market of the 90s. There are a plethora of flashy tactics and an endless stream of new ideas presented to you as the secret to growing your business.

Instead of zit zappers, sandpaper-in-a-tube, and harsh astringents, there are complex sales funnels, “proven” ad systems, and automated customer attraction strategies.

And even though we all (yes, me too) wonder if maybe, finally, this is going to be the thing that works…

…we also think to ourselves, “Isn’t this all a bit much?”

Just like I bought into a maximalist skincare strategy, I bought into maximalist business strategy for a while. 

I tried to do it all. I tried to layer tactic upon tactic, offer upon offer, opportunity upon opportunity.

But when I looked around at the people who were leading incredibly successful (and profitable) businesses, I realized just how simple they were.

That’s when I adopted a strategy of restraint for my own business.

Doing less but doing it better. Doing less but making sure what I’m doing really works. Doing less but getting the most from it.

And just like with my skin, it’s worked.

How would you do things differently if you adopted a strategy of restraint?

What more could you accomplish by doing less? How much more rewarding and enjoyable could it all be?

With gratitude,

Tara McMullin
Founder, What Works

P.S. Restraint is one of the strategies behind better business habits that I’ll be sharing during the 100 Days of What Works–a brand-new learning experience we’re rolling out in a couple of weeks. Click here to get on the waiting list!


Often, we lose track of our projects and the work that needs to be done because our projects aren’t linear. They don’t follow a 1-2-3-step system. They’re creative projects–not lists of items to do. So how do you manage those sorts of projects? Our series on project management continues as I ask Joelle Hann, founder of Brooklyn Book Doctor, how she helps the authors she works with stay on track.

🎧 Click here to listen.


Margin is the space around the “real stuff.” It’s the extra time in your day, the extra snack you carry in your bag, the extra time space between your car and the car in front of you. It’s extra–but it’s not unimportant. Margin can avert disaster: a missed meeting, a blood sugar crash, a car accident. Businesses need margin, too–lest they court disaster.

👓 Click here to read.


If you want to adopt a strategy of restraint or create more margin in your business, you’re going to have to learn to say “no” more often. This is a reminder to myself, of course. But most of us have been conditioned to people-please and default to “yes.” Sarah Peck has a great guide for leaning into “no”–and even provides email prompts for making it happen.

👓 Click here to read.


This is a tangentially business, more personal inclusion in this week’s newsletter. Have you heard about Dolly Parton’s America? It’s a WNYC podcast production led by Jad Abumrad from RadioLab and it’s a brilliant exploration of American culture through the lens of Dolly Parton, her creative legacy, and her vast business empire. It’s a fairly short 9-part series and it blew me away–as a podcast fanatic, a business owner, and as a human. Highly recommend.

🎧 Click here to listen.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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