Being a human being is complicated as hell these days. To top it off, we add stupid amounts of stress to our lives and often without realizing we’re doing it. I’m guilty of this your honour.
Back when the iPhone was launched for the first time, a friend of mine bought one and insisted that its simplicity was beautiful. I laughed at him and didn’t understand what the heck he was talking about.
He hassled me for several years until I finally bought one. It wasn’t the phone itself but its simplicity that I fell in love with. My friend schooled me, using the iPhone as an example, about why simplicity held so much untapped potential in my life.
It took a while, but eventually, simplicity became my obsession. It wasn’t because it was in-fashion; it was because it helped me live with less stress and as a former anxiety sufferer, that was critical.
Having less stress in your life allows you to experience a quality of life that you may never have thought was possible. Unfortunately, the path to simplicity is not always easy. That’s why this extreme guide to simplicity will help.
1. Make a list of the only requests you will say YES to
Dealing with inbound requests is the first step. If you can’t learn to deal with the inbound requests, the rest of what I say won’t matter.
Before you start being better with making decisions about what requests you accept and decline, you first have to start with knowing what your priorities are in advance.
If you try to decide your priorities at the time of deciding on a particular request, your willpower will let you down.
The urge to please or think you have more time than you do will screw up your chances of living a more simplified life. When I went through this exercise, these were the requests I decided to say yes to:
- Conversations with writers who are accomplished
- Requests from editors of major publications
- Activities my girlfriend suggested
- Time with my parents
- Attending conferences that went for less than a day, that had at least two speakers that interested me
Every request outside of this narrow list was declined. It made saying yes to startup advisor roles, blogging requests, coffee catch-ups, sales pitches, marketing partnerships, podcast interviews and the host of other inbound requests that find their way to my inbox, easy to reply to without feeling any sense of regret.
2. Introduce automation so you make less decisions
I’m a big believer in setting up a system in advance and automation is an excellent way to free up time.
Easy areas to automate are:
- What you’ll eat
- When you’ll sleep
- What you’ll wear
- What you’ll do in your free time
- When you’ll read
- What hours you’ll work
The options to automate depend on your circumstances. The key is to pick areas of your life that don’t matter a great deal to you. For example, I don’t care about what people think about my clothes, so automating my wardrobe is easy. If you are a fashion designer for a living, then automating what you wear may not be practical.
Pick the areas that don’t hold significance in your life and automate them, so when the option is given to you, you already know the answer.
3. Throw away most of your podcast list
Information overload is killing our dreams. The podcast generation was born a few years back and now the compulsion to listen to every podcast episode within a particular genre can be overwhelming.
Most of the podcasts you listen to are not essential listening.
In my radical experiment, I decided to delete all podcasts and just listen to the Tim Ferriss Show from now on.
There is always another podcast to listen to. Resist the urge by picking one show in advance.
4. Book in time for your brain to synthesize new ideas
When you are doing meaningless tasks like washing the dishes or going for a walk, your brain is creating magic for you in the background.
Tasks that you do on auto-pilot, which distract your mind, give your brain a rest. Your mind uses this rest time to synthesize all the ideas and thoughts you have and draw insights from all the data.
If all you do is fill the cup, eventually it overflows if there isn’t time to take a few sips.
The Co-founder of Buffer, Leo Widrich, writes beautifully about this process that occurs in your mind:
“Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease–when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain–we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere.
In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. ‘That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,’
‘For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.’ It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our email, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been there all along–we just weren’t listening.”
Your brain can’t support your simplified life if it’s not given menial tasks to accomplish — that you may have previously taken for granted — that give it time to do its work while you are awake.
5. Do a huge cleanout at home
It’s very difficult to live a simplified life and feel the joy of having less stress if your home is full of clutter and junk.
Most of those items you think you’ll need one day will never be used. You have four options:
- Throw them away
- Sell them
- Give them away
- Or donate them
To simplify your choices, I’d suggest not selling your useless items because the process of listing them online is tedious and it will give you time to reconsider or decide that the price being offered is too low.
During my extreme period of simplification, I made giving my stuff away to those in need priority number one. If that wasn’t an option, the rubbish bin was the best option and forced me to make a decision on the spot.
I tried to give a few things away for free and the process was more exhausting than charging money for those items. All that junk in your house is diverting your attention to little tiny items that will add extra stress to your life.
Free your space; free your mind; dispose of the non-essential.
6. Start a clean desk policy
They exist at work, why not at home?
A clean desk policy applies to your physical desk normally and I want to encourage you to extend the policy to your digital desktop.
Start with cleaning the desk you use to work on at home (even if it’s the dining room table) every week. Wipe it down with wipes and respect the magic that happens on top of it. File away any papers, remove any dishes and experiment with having nothing more than a computer on your desk.
Then, go to the desktop of your computer and delete all the icons and docs you have stored there. A messy computer desktop equals extra stress that visually impairs you from fixating on your priorities.
The only time something ends up on your desktop is when you haven’t made a decision about what folder it fits into. Make a decision. File documents, images, videos and audio away as you go.
7. Commit to a single social media platform
My former boss wants to chat on WhatsApp. A startup investor in Sydney wants to chat on Telegram. My girlfriend’s friends want to chat on Facebook Messenger. My work colleagues want to chat on Slack.
My writer friends want to connect via comments on Medium. My business network wants to chat on LinkedIn. My school friends want me to follow and comment on their posts on Instagram. My audience online wants to ask me questions on Quora. The bully in high school that hates my guts wants to abuse me on Twitter. My mother wants to chat with me via email. My dad wants to chat with me via SMS.
Look how long that list is! If I tried to be on all these platforms, I’d have an unpaid full-time job trying to keep up and stressing myself out.
I decided to only use LinkedIn and forget the rest (Medium is excluded as it’s not really a social media platform with direct messaging capabilities).
Forget what the personal brand guru’s say who want access to your back pocket to charge you their fees and stress you out.
Pick one social media platform and timebox your the time you spend on there. The real world is so much better than the fake world that exists on social media.
8. Drastically change your email game
My inbox used to be flooded with emails and when I tried to sort through what I actually needed to do, it was damn hard.
That’s when I decided to archive my entire email inbox and action each email during specific times during the day. My inbox sits at mostly one to two emails tops, which are tasks awaiting competition that align with my priorities in step one of this article.
You can search your emails whenever you like. Archive or delete all your emails.
9. Re-prioritise the areas you spend money
Money is an area of huge stress for a lot of people.
Making decisions about money can feel like life or death at times. Everyone has a few areas of their life which they love to spend money on. These are areas beyond the costs you can’t avoid like rent, food, and bills. Decide in advance what those areas will be.
Here’s what my list looks like as inspiration:
- Money to give away to good causes or people who need help
- Quality food that gives me energy
- Books that give me topics to write about
- My family
These are the areas I spend money on. All other areas I’m a tight ass in and bloody proud of it. Knowing where you want to splurge reduces the guilt that equates to stress.
Pick your areas to spend on and be frugal elsewhere.
10. Be more selfish
Part of this process requires you to be more selfish and be okay with that. Unless you prioritize your simplicity, you’re going to succumb to guilt when you feel like you are not giving enough of yourself away.
If you really are dealing with a lot of stress, you can’t be helpful to people in that state of mind anyway. You have to be selfish to start the process of simplification and even to maintain it.
It’s okay to focus on you.
11. Disappoint people
There are going to be lots of people who will be disappointed with your decision to simplify.
When we lead complicated lives, we take comfort in knowing that other people endure the same struggle.
People always want more of you. People always want your time. People always want you to work more. People always want you to help them.
Saying no to people will disappoint them. People will be disappointed when you don’t agree with their request.
Dealing with disappointment is part of simplifying your life. To simplify is to disappoint others and that’s okay. They are disappointed in their priorities, not being met by the allocation of your time.
12. Allow white space into your calendar
How do you feel when you look at a day on your calendar that is jam-packed? Do you feel good? Probably not. The solution is to allow white space back into your calendar.
Decline more meeting invites (without the need to justify).
Leave invitations unanswered.
Keep entire days free.
My calendar used to be always full of endless activities and there was never time to take a break or practice the gorgeous art of doing nothing.
Bring back the white space to your life.
That’s my extreme guide to simplifying your life and knocking out most of your stress with a few nuclear bomb sized ideas. It’s drastic advice and a brutal approach, which is why the results will come thick and fast.
Discovering simplicity has helped me a lot and wiped out my anxiety and need to please every human being. I hope this guide can help you in some way with managing the difficult job of being born a human in a world that is built on ever-increasing complexity.
It’s not easy to simplify, but it’s worth it. Try it for yourself and experience the joy it brings to you and those you care about.