Simplifying Your Life is About Having More

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 productivity. More passion. More meaning, love, friendship, serenity, etc.

You can have more of those things simply by having less of the bad things — unproductive work, unsatisfying rituals, self-destructive habits, energy-draining acquaintances, battles, bad feelings, and fatigue. You can have a fuller and simpler life . . . and enjoy it more too. As I try out and succeed with techniques to help do that, I’ll pass them on to you.

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 serenity by avoiding emotionally costly conflicts.

We live in a time in which meaningless busyness keeps most people from achieving great things. We mistake being busy for being productive. We let other people’s priorities take over our own. And this is not only a problem for us on a personal level. Entire companies, governments, and other organizational systems are drowning in the inertia caused by operating this way.

In “The Simplicity Survival Handbook”, Bill Jensen makes the very important point that simplicity is about power — having the power to establish your own priorities. Show me someone who feels swamped, and I’ll show you someone who has lost control of his own life because he has given up that power to his boss, his spouse, and maybe even his children.

If that sounds like you, the time to make a change is right now. 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 — settling disputes between employees that they should handle themselves. Is it critical to my business that people get along? Yes. Especially since conflicts often get in the way of their working effectively. Is it up to me to drop what I’m doing and help smooth the waters? No . . . not unless I want to join them in being unproductive. So what do I do now when the temptation arises to get involved? Instead of spending hours trying to resolve a problem that has nothing to do with my own priorities, I assure both individuals that they are bright and capable . . . or I wouldn’t have hired them. I let them know that I have every confidence that they will find a way to settle the matter privately, between the two of them. And I make sure they know that while it is uncomfortable for them to not be getting along, it is even less comfortable for the entire team.

It takes only about 10 minutes of my time to build their confidence, show them that I support them, establish my 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 a simpler life to be pushed aside — in favor of your 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 power to leverage your time and attention will continue to elude you. So, for that matter, 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:

1. 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.

2. Clear Priorities

True power lies in your ability to know what is important . . . and to do only that. Your priorities grow naturally out of your vision . . . and 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.

3. 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 simple 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 is no accident that the most prevalent diseases in this country are stress-related.

In planning your time — in creating your monthly, weekly, and daily to-do lists — stop to consider your objectives. Ask yourself these three questions every time you make a plan:

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 an objective that will truly make my life better/richer/fuller?”

Remember, the secret to simplifying your life is 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 this 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.