“Our life is frittered away by detail … simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau
A lot of people seem to connect with my message of simplicity, and yearn to find a simpler life in this world of ever-increasing complexity, of overwhelming technology.
We want to take the good things in our lives, the benefits of technology, but simplify things, get rid of the complexities.
And while I’ve written dozens of articles on simplifying (and an entire book on it), I’d like to offer a simple method.
Something you can do today, without being overwhelmed.
A 12-step method, perhaps, simplified into just 6 steps.
1. Write down your top priorities. We all have a long list of things we want to do, to try, to learn, to accomplish. Just pick 4-5. You can do that right now — make a short list of the things that are most important to you. My list: spending time with my family, writing, reading and running. These are the things you’ll build your life around, for now. You can always change this list later, as your priorities change.
2. Reduce one commitment. What is something you do every day or week that’s not on your short list? Is there any way you can get out of it? Make a phone call or send an email right now that will get you out of that commitment. It might mean disappointing one or many people — but you are going to create the simple life you want, not the complicated life others demand of you. By reducing this one commitment, you are simplifying your life, creating more time and space for the important stuff. Make the choice to put your priorities first, to find the time for them, by reducing your commitments.
3. Simplify your to-do list. Same concept, but at a smaller level — what’s on your to-do list that doesn’t need to be there? Something you’ve been dreading that you don’t absolutely have to do? Can you tell someone you’re just too busy to work on this? Can you give it to someone else, or automate it? See if you can pare your to-do list to just the most important things. Alternatively, just pick 1-3 things to do each day, and don’t worry about the rest.
4. Set aside some disconnected time. If you’re connected all the time, this step is essential. Don’t skip it! Pick one hour to be disconnected — no Internet, no email, no IM, no phones. You can use your computer, but just for desktop computing, like writing in a word processor or text file, or working in Photoshop, or what have you. Use this time to really focus, to pour yourself into important tasks that you love to do. Or you can use this disconnected time to relax.
5. Create your perfect day. You’ve blocked aside some disconnected time, but let’s take that a step further: what would your ideal day look like? What would you do when you woke up, what would your work day look like (hint: it doesn’t have to be the work you’re doing now, but it could be), would you have time for exercise or sports or taking a walk or relaxing or reading or doing a hobby, would you have time for loved ones, time to clean or do errands, time for checking email, etc.? List the things you’d do, ideally, then simplify to the most important ones. Then lay them out in a schedule. You don’t have to stick to this schedule exactly, but knowing what’s ideal gives you something to work toward. In some cases, you can simply start living this day, tomorrow, but in others you’ll have to make gradual changes to allow this ideal day to happen. The key: taking control and responsibility for making the perfect day a reality.
6. Declutter. You want a nice, decluttered, serene space to surround you in your new simplified life. So you’re going to create it. Two ways to go here: if you don’t have much time, just do 10-15 minutes for now, and continue to do small increments until you get to where you’d like to be. Here’s how. Second method is if you have an entire day or weekend — set aside a big block of time and just overhaul your workspace or one or two rooms in your home. Here’s a good method.
Once you get to this stage, things should be a bit more simplified. But you’re probably interested in going beyond that. Here’s what you can do next — but please, please, don’t try to do these all at once. Pick one at a time, and do it slowly, over time. Simplifying isn’t a race — it’s a life.
- Declutter some more. Read.
- Letting go of wanting to buy more. Read.
- Reducing more commitments. Read.
- Transitioning to doing only work you love. Read.
- Creating time for solitude, quiet and relaxation. Read.
- Slowing down in everything you do. Read.
- Being present more often. Read.
- Single-tasking. Read.
And most importantly: enjoy the process! The important thing isn’t a destination — a perfect, simple life — but the journey along the way.
Have few desires.