“Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means” – Dr. Koichi Kawana (Designer, Professor & Architect)
Most of us have too much to do and there’s far too much complexity in our lives. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with long lists of goals, projects and actions. Yet many of us have a natural tendency to keep adding even more things and more complexity into our lives. We add even more goals and projects to our lists, even when deep down we know we’ll never get them done. Learning to simplify your life is an essential habit which teaches us about taking things away, boiling them down to the essentials and doing less. As the saying goes – less is more.
1. Simplify Your Thoughts
The first major hurdle to get over is removing the high expectations that you put in your mind when you start working on something that’s important. Just because something is important, doesn’t mean that it should be big and complicated. Some of the biggest breakthroughs in ideas, knowledge and products have come from simple and clear thinking e.g. from the wisdom of Confucius, the theories of Albert Einstein or even the impact that Steve Jobs had on the simplicity of product design at Apple. As the saying goes, “the shortest distance is a straight line”. Always keep that in mind as you’re thinking about a problem and don’t unnecessarily complicate your thinking.
2. Simplify Your Goals & Projects
Focus on the most essential goals and projects. Review your lists and see what you can remove. Ask yourself – what will truly help me move towards my dreams and what is just a nice to have? For years, I kept a long list of goals and projects but only accomplished a few of them. The others just got moved to the following year’s list of goals or remained ‘someday’ projects. And I often felt bad that I didn’t accomplish all my goals or that I had so many projects that I wasn’t making any progress on. I was sabotaging my own success and trying to do much. When I started taking things away and creating shorter lists of goals and projects, I felt liberated and far more relaxed.
3. Simplify Your Writing
When you simplify your thoughts, it also becomes easier to simplify your writing. Some people will spend more effort trying to use unnecessarily complicated or long words in their writing to show how smart they are. Or they may be quite verbose in conveying ideas that otherwise could be communicated very simply and concisely. The goal of writing – whether it’s a book, presentation or email – is to make it easier for the reader to understand your thoughts. So continuously challenge yourself to simplify your writing i.e. could you communicate the same point in less and/or simpler words? There’s a famous saying that’s worth keeping in mind as you simplify your writing – “I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead”.
4. De-clutter Your Life
Simplifying your home and office/workspace are also important to helping you become more productive and reducing the stress in your life. I would suggest adopting a minimal mindset and removing as much clutter in your life as possible e.g. from items on shelves, to filing, to items stuffed in your closets, to what you keep on your desk/workspace. But I would not recommend trying to do all this at once – pick a small and manageable area at a time. Identify what you really need to keep, what you can put out of sight, what you can donate, what you can throw away etc. Be disciplined about what you really need to keep. One rule that might be useful is to consider if you haven’t used something for the last year, then it’s probably unlikely that you need it again e.g. clothes, magazines etc.
The more you simplify your mind and life, the better you will start to feel. This habit will help to remove stress in your life and allow you to focus on what really matters. Start each day by asking yourself “what one thing could I simplify today?” and follow through on that diligently.