5 Strategies for Living a Simpler, Fuller Life

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About eight years ago, I did a little experiment. I wanted to find out if it really is possible to do business from anywhere in the world. So I packed my family off to Rome (one of my favorite cities) for a six-week “working vacation.” I not only learned that, yes, it is possible for me to work in Rome (or just about anywhere else, for that matter), I also learned something that has had a much more profound effect.

In Rome, completely separated from the crazy, stressful routine I was used to back home. I learned how to simplify my life.

If you think simplifying your life will mean making less money, enjoying less success, maybe even being less effective as a businessperson, think again. Simplifying your life is about having more – not less – of the good things. More passion. More meaningful work and relationships. And you can have more of those things by having fewer of the bad things – unsatisfying rituals, self-destructive habits, energy-draining feelings, and so on.

Today, I’d like to talk about one way to simplify your life at work. If you follow my suggestions, you’ll not only achieve more productivity but also gain more inner peace by avoiding emotionally costly conflicts.

We live in a time in which meaningless busyness keeps most people from achieving great things. They mistake being busy for being productive. They let the priorities of other people – their boss, their spouse, maybe even their children – take precedence. As a result, they feel swamped… and out of control.

You’re not going to regain control over your life if you continue to try to deal with too many issues in too little time. As counterintuitive as it may sound, the only way to do it is to learn how to:

  • simplify that which is complex
  • eliminate that which is superfluous
  • know the difference between the two

As an example, let’s take a trap that I used to fall into all the time: getting involved in settling disputes between employees. Is it critical to your business that people get along? Yes. Especially since conflicts often get in the way of their working effectively. Is it up to you to drop what you’re doing and help smooth the waters? No… not unless you want to join them in being unproductive.

So what should you do when the temptation arises to get involved?

Assure both individuals that they are bright and capable… or they wouldn’t have been hired. Let them know that you have every confidence that they will find a way to settle the matter privately, between the two of them. And make sure they know that while it is uncomfortable for them not to be getting along, it is even less comfortable for the entire team.

Instead of spending hours trying to resolve a problem that has nothing to do with your own priorities, it will take only about 10 minutes of your time to build their confidence, show them that you support them, establish your expectation for a good-faith effort to resolve the conflict – and perhaps make both parties feel slightly embarrassed for making the rest of the group feel uneasy.

As long as you allow your quest for simplicity to be pushed aside – in favor of getting involved in situations where you don’t belong, constantly checking your e-mail, going to pointless meetings, or writing long memos that no one reads – the ability to leverage your time and attention will continue to elude you. So will everything else that you’d like to accomplish in this lifetime.

Here’s what you need in order to regain control – what I call the ETR Simplicity Imperative:

Solid Vision

Whether you’re managing a project, running a company, or handling your day-to-day schedule, you need a firm grasp of the big picture. Further, you need to be able to articulate your vision to others with clarity and ease and help them find ways to support it… not work against it. When we’re not clear about our vision, we are at our most vulnerable. Our time and attention become diffused, and we start to lose focus.

Clear Priorities

Your priorities grow naturally out of your vision – out of knowing what’s important and doing only that. Then, when you find yourself behind on reaching your goals, you don’t have to look far to find the problem. Usually, it means you have lost control of your time because you stopped minding your priorities.

Daily Discipline

Perhaps the most valuable finite resource known to man is time. Squander it, and there’s no way to get it back. Adhering to a daily schedule that is led by your vision and run by your priorities is the surest path to personal freedom. That might sound easy, but it’s not. Most of us resist, and we pay the price. (It’s not surprising that most serious diseases are stress-related.)

When compiling your daily do-do list, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. “Is this something I could just as well delegate/eliminate?”
  2. “Is there some way I could do this in half the time?”
  3. “Is this related to an objective that will truly make my life better/richer/fuller?”

In selecting my priorities each day, I highlight the most important tasks – the ones that that are essential to my long-term personal Master Plan. And because I know I can do only a limited number of things each day, I start by doing those.

If I ever have to choose between two priorities, I ask myself: “Of the two, which one will be more important to me at the end of my life?”

It’s all about economy – doing fewer things overall but making sure that the things you do have more importance.

Two more things that can help you establish priorities:

  • Pareto’s Law: Twenty percent of the things we do will achieve 80 percent of what we want. So ask yourself, “Which of the tasks that are before me are among that 20 percent?”
  • The Gold, Vapor, and Acid Rule: Just about any activity you choose to do can fit into one of three categories. It can damage you in some way, improve you somehow, or leave you more or less the same. Think of the best choices – the ones that can improve you – as Gold. Think of the neutral choices – the ones that will just help you pass the time – as Vapor. And think of the worst choices – the ones that can hurt you – as Acid.

It’s up to you how much Gold, Vapor, and Acid you are going to have in your life.

To simplify your life, you have to do more of what gives you soulful satisfaction and less of what gives you negative – or no – rewards. Out with the bad. In with the good. In setting your goals and planning your time, keep that in mind.

Giving yourself the power to take control of your time really is the secret to success. And it will even make it possible for you to smell those roses along the way.

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  • Someone has to be working on Black Friday for all the hoards of shoppers. Heck, the stores are opening at Midnight. Is that crazy? Is that necessary?

    In our local mall, it was packed at one in the morning. You couldn’t find a parking place. But no one was buying. It was just a place to go. All of the merchants complained that they didn’t make enough in extra sales to justify the hours they had to be open. But if you’re in a mall, you have to abide by the hours they set. Maybe crazy mall policies are part of what’s driving stores out of business?

    Maybe if we as consumers would stop participating in the craziness, things would get better for everyone. Just a thought.

  • Zarayna Pradyer

    Very grateful for this clear, logical, moral road map. Your evidence-based logic is like a laser – both brilliant and cutting.
    I am indebted.