the simplify guy

Daily acts of simplification

Category: Progress Update

Update

Hi all, just a short post for any visitors to the site to say that I am still here and getting organised for a re-launch of activity.

Entropy is real – simplification is the cure!

Momentum

Since reinstating my daily reminder entitled “Daily Act of Simplification”, I am pleased to report that the simplifying process has gathered renewed momentum. I don’t think any of the individual improvements have been particularly ground breaking, but the cumulative effect is one of increasing satisfaction. Discarding unworn clothes, rearranging the kitchen, clearing the last of the ‘unpacking pile’ from when we moved into our house, selling a load of camera equipment – all pretty easy stuff but its made a big difference. And so we continue! Upcoming planned activities include using an online service to turn stacks of old CDs and DVDs into a little bit of cash and, more importantly, more space. Do I really need the Best of Bananarama on CD?? Do I need CD’s at all? Hmm…

I am also currently reading “The Laws of Subtraction” by Matthew E May, a book that I’ve been waiting for which has finally been released. Once I’ve finished it I’ll do a review…needless to say it will be a good review, I’m thoroughly enjoying it so far!

Back on Track

Hello everyone. I am very conscious that it has been two months since I past posted, and thought it was about time I provided an update.

As previously described, after Day 100 of the Daily Acts of Simplification, I decided to cease forcing myself to write about a daily act as this was becoming a little burdensome. I was confident that new habits had been formed, and the simplification process would continue without too much deliberate effort. I also wanted to spend some time tackling some larger things, stuff that needed to be made more simple that couldn’t be ticked off in one day. I also reflected on my piece on Values, and decided that it had been a while since I reviewed my own values/roles/goals, and took my own advice and had a good review.

The only part of that which didn’t work out as planned was the new simplifying habit. In addition to not writing about daily simplifications, I deleted the recurring daily task on my to-do list which prompted me to simplify something, deeming it unnecessary. However, whilst I was finding that whilst I was still looking at the world through simplifying eyes, I wasn’t actually taking action as often as I would have liked. In fact I’m quite embarrassed by how little I did! It seems that deliberately planning in your important tasks each day is the only way to get them done, no matter how automatic you believe them to be.

So as a result of all that, the daily recurring task marked “Perform Daily Act of Simplification” is back in, and I am using my own How to Simplify Your Life findings to resume momentum.

With regards to the review of my values/roles/goals, I have renewed my vows to my values (they hadn’t changed), trimmed my list of roles, and drawn up a fresh set of goals. These now inform my weekly and daily task planning to ensure I am focussed on what is important, whilst still chipping away everything else.

As an example of the rebirth of the Daily Acts, I was standing at the petrol pump the other week, filling up the tank as usual, and I found myself doing something that I have always done without thinking about it, and left myself bemused at the realisation. For some reason, at the end of the fill, I always to try to get the petrol pump to stop at a number of whole pounds e.g. £64.00. I do a series of short squeezes as the next whole pound (after the first tank-full-click) nears and try to stop it on the button. If I go too much and end up with £64.01 I’ll try to squeeze another £0.99 in so that I can finish even. Why on earth did I do this? I KNOW lots of people do it too, I can watch them all around at the pumps! Some vague idea that my accounts will look tidier with whole pounds? Pass. It wasn’t even like it was a fun game (maybe it was when I first started driving!). Anyway, that habit was cancelled with immediate effect. Fill until it’s full, then stop. Simple!

#102 – Unencumbered Commute Part 4

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Days 77-79 of the Daily Acts of Simplification focused on making my commute less encumbered, starting with the decision on Day 77 to leave my business laptop in the office overnight when I know I’ll be back in that location the next day. I badged it as a pilot, and I would say it partly worked. Where it didn’t work was where I didn’t have many consecutive days in the same location (I have worked from home a couple of days during the Olympics to reduce travel chaos) or when I needed to use the laptop overnight (this only happened once but was a pain).

So I now have a better solution. A quiet word with my good friends in IT and I now have a desktop PC in the office, so my laptop can stay at home. It took a bit of work to organise my files so that the important ones were available from different machines, but I got there. That laptop need not go to London again!

#101 – A Simple Bike

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I thought I’d share some simple things I have discovered and enjoyed that predate the Daily Acts of this project. Here is a picture of my bike. It’s an “All City Nature Boy”, and it couldn’t be more simple. It has a frame, two wheels, and just one gear. If you go uphill you just have to pedal harder! It has a road bike frame and grippy tyres so I can go just about anywhere on it. It is man and machine, with very little intervention from the machine, which gives me a similar enjoyment to running. No gear selection to think about, and a lot less to go wrong.

I love my bike!

Day 100 – Life 100 Things Simpler

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Day 100. Wow!

109 days ago I was driving back from a relaxing holiday in Scotland’s Western Isles wondering how to tackle the one problem I had with my holiday. Constant interruptions by emails and social media updates, coupled with a terrible mobile connectivity due to my location, meant that I had spent far too much time and energy trying to keep up with everything. I concluded that the vast majority of these interruptions were completely worthless, but the few of value meant that I didn’t want to disconnect completely. I knew I wanted to sort out the wheat from the chaff and kill off all of the noise, so that only the value-adding stuff remained. Where to start? The 600 mile drive gave me plenty of time to ponder this. My mind wandered back to the prospect of returning to work and my ‘normal’ routines. My daily planning sessions, exercise, and running my team all came into my thoughts, and the need to ramp back up from the zen-like holiday mode to the go-getter professional guy who has ’stuff to do’. I knew it wasn’t just social media and emails that could be improved. Our house still wasn’t straightened out from moving in 6 months previous, there was stuff on the back burner of my mind that I wanted or needed to do, I had a million and one obligations to fulfil, I was spending far too much money on I-didn’t-know-what, the list went on.

This could be the recipe for a vicious circle of depression but luckily, rather than wallow in the hopelessness of it all, my mind turned to a philosophy that I held. I’ve written about it a number of times over the last 100 days, most recently in my marginal gains piece. Small daily disciplines, compounded over time, to create breakthrough results. I got excited. I wonder if I could tackle this one step at a time? What if I committed to taking one step, each and every day, to make my life more simple? The commitment was made there and then. I also knew that whenever you set yourself a new goal, or want to create a new habit, then holding yourself to account publicly is a great way to keep you focussed and motivated. Hence, this blog and the Daily Acts of Simplification were born. My progress would be out there. If only one person read it, then that would keep me going. It was a perfect plan. I would start on the first day of the following month. That gave me 9 days to buy the web domain, and set up the blog.

I had loads of questions – Could I keep it up? Would the one-a-day method actually compound over time into a noticeable difference? What would the benefits be? Would anybody be interested to read about it? Where would it all end? Good questions all but there was only ever going to be one way to find out! Also, I am a theorist by nature, so this was a great opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and do-first, learn-second. We began.

The last time I reviewed progress was after the first month. Day 100 seems like a pretty good time to review again, take stock, and decide where to go from here. There will be some changes, but changes designed to kick this to the next level. I have been surprised and delighted in equal measure at the level of support I have received, the number of followers, and the comments and suggestions that have been sent in. I’ve met some great new friends and kindred spirits in the social media world. This is now as much about you as it is about me and so we keep moving forward!

I won’t recap all of the 100 Daily Acts because, well, they are all described on this website. I have attempted to group them into ‘simplification types’, and in order of appearance they are:

1. Subtraction (40%)
2. Controlling Inward Information Flows (32%)
3. Process Improvement (10%)
4. Get on top, stay on top (9%)
5. Financial Benefit (3%)
6. Worry Removal (2%)
7. Complexity Avoidance (2%)
8. Bringing Presence (2%)

I will explain more about these types in another post, or this one will turn into a full length book! What is obvious however is that the vast majority of the Daily Acts relate to ‘Subtraction’ (i.e. removing things from my life) and ‘Controlling Inward Information Flows’ (i.e. emails, social media etc). It is fair to say that these are the categories in which most of the ‘low hanging fruit’ has been found. As these easy pickings have gradually become exhausted, some of the other categories have started to come into play. It is the opportunities in these categories that I have found to be the most thought intensive and time consuming, but come with the biggest instant rewards. The last ten days or so have been tough. Not because I’ve run out of things to simplify (that couldn’t be further from the truth!), but because the next big wins on my mind are things that can’t easily be planned and executed in a small time period of one day. This is the first reason why I have decided to make a change to how I tackle the simplifying process going forward. I’m going to keep going, but won’t force myself to do, and write about, one new thing each day. That routine forces me to think small, and I now want to think big! This will also benefit my readers who would soon see more repetition and diminishing returns from sticking with me. I want to bring new, bigger, more interesting things to this blog. I want to turn some of the learning from the first 100 days into practical advice for others to follow, and spend more time writing about simple things. For me, this is the best way to continue the momentum. This decision is also the Day 100 Daily Act of Simplification.

So is this the end of the Daily Acts of Simplification? Not quite…you see I’ve developed a number of new habits that mean that I simplify a number of things each day, maintain my improvement, and avoid complexity going forward. They say it takes 30 days to form a new habit, well I’ve had 100 days so they are pretty well established!

1. I unsubscribe immediately to any newsletters or marketing emails that I do not get value from
2. I monitor my social media feeds to ensure that I only receive updates from those who create value to me
3. I stay on top of all my regular maintenance activities (I don’t like the term “chores” as they can be enjoyable)
4. When walking from one room to another at home, I will scan for any object that can be taken with me to put them back where they should be
5. I open my post and immediately action, file or discard so that I accumulate no filing or to-do trays
6. I always hang clothes back at one end of the wardrobe so that the least worn accumulate at the other end. This makes it easier to identify those which can be discarded
7. I don’t take any distracting electronic devices to the dinner table (phone, iPad, work Blackberry)
8. I don’t carry things on my daily commute that don’t need to be transported
9. I use Spotify for my music and Kindle for my books, which are all housed on my iPad, and therefore don’t buy books or CD’s unless I really need to

I need to make mention of the benefits that the process has produced, after all it’s nothing more than an intellectual exercise unless there are any real reasons to do this. Well I can say that the benefits are significant. I have deliberately kept benefits tracking fairly unscientific. If I had kept records it would have been possible to say that I had saved x hours of time per week, had saved £x, or reduced my possessions by x%, but all of these are just numbers. What matters is whether it feels different. This main thing I have noticed is that I now have more free time. Most evenings I relax, something which used to be a rarity. I am more present in the things I do, with Continuous Partial Attention being noticeably reduced. Even more importantly, my wife has commented that I seem happier and more chilled out. I focus better at work, and am performing as well as I ever have done. I am also excited about this blog and this process. Every day is a joy. I’m not sure there’s a lot else I can say on the subject – it’s been incredible and I would recommend it to anyone!

So here’s to the next 100 days. They will look different to the first 100 but will hopefully be as interesting, fun, and beneficial as the first 100. This is most certainly the beginning not the end – stay tuned!

Day 99 – Socks On Socks Off

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One thing has been bugging me about my morning routine for a while, but an elegant solution has yet to present itself.

There is a gym in my office building, and I like to get to work really early and have a good workout to start my day. However, as I wear a suit at work, I have found the only effective way to transport it on my commute is to wear it. There’s nowhere to store it in the office overnight, and to carry it would mean a lot more luggage. This means I have to dress fully for work at home, change out of my suit, into my gym kit, out of my gym kit, and back into my suit. My morning would be a lot more streamlined if I could commute in my gym kit.

I still don’t have an answer to the overall problem, but inspired by my piece on marginal gains the other day, I have decided that I can commute in my gym socks. I am wearing a pair and carrying a pair either way, so its an effective swap. This is only a very small step, but it is definitely in the right direction. It may only save me a few seconds, but when added to all of the other seconds I have saved over the last 99 days, it is another small part in a very big improvement process!

Day 98 – Direct Debit Delete & Ronald Reagan

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A quick and easy one today. While I was reviewing my online banking, I took a cursory look at my list of Direct Debits. I found one that was no longer relevant so, with a couple of clicks, I deleted it.

As that was so easy, I’ll throw in a quote too!

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They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. ~ Ronald Reagan

Day 97 – App Cleanup

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I have been pretty good lately at not downloading every app under the sun onto my iPad. I have a core few apps that I use regularly, and rarely feel the need to add any. Since I wrote about the red tagging exercise way back when, I’ve kept a page on my iPad to store those apps that I haven’t used for a while, but as they have data stored within them, I felt safer keeping for a while to ensure they continued to be unneeded. Today I scrolled to that page, confirmed that the apps hadn’t been used for months, and deleted them all.

This “red tagging” process is one that I am finding particularly effective. Allowing my least worn clothes to collect at one end of my wardrobe is another variant in this theme. It’s a great way to sift through those things that you feel you don’t need, but aren’t quite ready to part company with immediately.

Day 96 – Pet Paraphernalia

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The decluttering eye turned towards our pet rats on Day 96. I wondered why the paraphernalia that lives around their cage had escaped me for this long. Then I realised – the minute I go near the cage, the cute heads pop out of their hidey holes demanding attention! “Not this time, ratties, I have work to do!”

Their cage sits on a storage chest, so it was only a quick ten minutes to declutter the chest and move all of the rats’ bits and pieces inside, leaving the place looking significantly tidier and more organised.