How to Simplify Your Life

by Dan

As mentioned in my Day 100 Review, I thought I’d expand a little more on the ‘simplification type’ categories that I assigned to each of the 100 Daily Acts of Simplification. The acts themselves were quite varied, but I found that they followed a smaller number of themes. I have tweaked the categories slightly from the Day 100 Review, now that I have given it more thought, and polished it a little. Here goes:

This is essentially just removing things from your world. From throwing stuff away, to reviewing and trimming your lists of commitments, subtraction is a powerful way to simplify your life. In order to do this successfully however you need to have a clear idea of what you value, what is important to you, and what you have that would diminish you if you were to lose it. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater! As Einstein said “Things should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”. For most of us, the end point isn’t living in a minimalist white box, it is something warm, rich, meaningful, and personal to us. We are all unique, so there is no off-the-shelf solution. As Michelangelo said “David was already in the marble, I simply chipped away the excess”. You need to know your David, then proceed to chip the excess.

Control Information Flows
We live in the information age. Most of us these days are “knowledge workers”. We trade in information. The power of mobile computing and social media have led to vast quantities of information available to us at all times. Unfortunately for us, this information likes to scream for our attention. The polite “you have mail” has now become a Gatling Gun of pings, chimes, push notifications, emails, and texts. Continuous Partial Attention is a modern day syndrome that seems to affect increasing numbers of us. How often do we see people occupying the same physical space, but with their mobile phones out may as well be in a different country. Our brains love to multi-task, but doing so makes us counter intuitively less productive. Taking control of this information stream is essential for a simpler life. Unsubscribing to emails, trimming your social media feeds, opting out of marketing approaches via phone and mail, taking care not to subscribe to every newsletter going, are all techniques to get back in control. For me, controlling my information flows offered the greatest benefit out of all the simplification types within the first 100 days. In some ways this overlaps with subtraction, as a large part of getting in control requires a cull.

Process Improvement
This category is about bringing awareness to everything that you do, and asking yourself “Is there a better way?”. We do so many things automatically, and we rarely have a think about whether we are doing them in the most efficient way. It can be new technology making things faster/easier (for example getting a faster broadband). It could also be rearranging the contents of your kitchen to reduce the amount of movement required in your most frequent tasks. It could even be removing a step or task completely because you decide it actually adds no value. Think about what you do, consider it as a series of process steps, and think “If I were to design this process today, would I build it in the same way?”.

Get on top, stay on top
This is all about staying on top of your most important tasks. Don’t let things build up. Do you have a pile of unread post, or a to-do or filing tray bursting at the seams? Do you have a list of things you are meaning to do but haven’t gotten around to? Have you got things that you have started by haven’t finished? Take a dose of Zero-Based Thinking to reaffirm whether these tasks are still relevant, and if so, work to complete them. Then aim to stay on top by completing things in priority order as soon as they hit your to-do list. Another way to describe this one is “finish the unfinished”. All of these things weigh on your mind, in some cases causing anxiety and depression, and you feel lighter and more relaxed when they are done. If you don’t keep a to-do list of all your unfinished tasks then starting one is a great way to get an instant relief from this burden.

Financial Benefit
This one is very simple. Life is simpler with less financial obligations. Anything that puts money in your pocket, reduces debt, or protects your future moves you towards a state of increased peace of mind. Think about selling stuff you have “subtracted” from your world (recycling mobile phones/DVDs/CDs etc for cash is a good one). Cancel any subscriptions that no longer give you value for money. Review your direct debits and other outgoings regularly. Keep it trim and tight. Spend on things that give you fulfilment, cut any spending that doesn’t. Again, you need to know what you value and make the distinction between good spending and bad. Oh, and save. Savings ease a worried mind!

Worry Removal
This is about creating peace of mind. Any of the categories above can create worry, anxiety and stress. So, any of the above simplification techniques can be used to remove that worry. There are as many things to worry about as there are people in the world, so covering all angles in a few sentences would be impossible, but bringing attention to your own mind and identifying those niggles and worries is the first step. Once identified, take steps to remove that worry. Some might be quite simple (e.g. get that Will written, go to the dentist, arrange that insurance policy), others may be more psychologically complex and there are many professionals to help here.

Complexity Avoidance
This can be done right away, but it is the key to maintaining a life of simplicity once it is attained. Those emails, newsletters, whimsical purchases, things to say “yes” to when you should say “no” are everywhere and need to be avoided. Take care to check or uncheck the right boxes when buying online to prevent marketing emails, check you really want to accept that Facebook Friend Request, ask yourself if you really need that juice maker – having a simplicity mindset will protect you from these complexities.

Bringing Presence
This could turn into a long piece so I’ll only cover this briefly now, but I’ll say a lot more on the subject in the future. Bringing presence is all about being alive in the present moment, not consumed by thoughts of the future or the past. It’s doing one thing at a time and focussing fully on the current thing. It’s about beating the Continuous Partial Attention and living in the here and now. Do you actually taste your food when you eat it? Do you feel the wind on your face as you walk down the road? Do you see what’s around you or is your head elsewhere? Call it Zen, call it what you like, but living in the moment is the essence of simplicity. Removing distractions to enable you to do it is one thing, actively spending time doing simple activities (or nothing at all!) is the next step. It can seem weird at first. Having created loads of space in my life over the 100 Daily Acts of Simplification, at first I was looking around for things I should be doing to fill the space. I would even say that I briefly felt BOREDOM for the first time in years! Now I am striving to use the space to spend more time connected to the now and rediscovering all the things I normally walk straight by.

I hope that the above helps to expand a little more on what I have learned throughout this process, and how you may be able to apply it to your own situation. Please do let me know if you try anything and how you got on!