7 Steps to Simplifying Your Life

My Dad used to observe that I could squeeze more into one day that anyone he knew. And he was right. There was a plan, executable down to 15 minute increments. The pace was fast and unrelenting. Work — kids — exercise — community work — school — church — cooking — cleaning — errands. The day was a blur — but boy oh boy, could I get a lot of things done! At least on some days. However, on most days, the long task list overwhelmed me and by Friday evening it was all I could do to order in pizza and collapse on the couch.

I can still recall a visit from him and my Mom on a weekend when my children were in high school. I had the plan. Who got picked up when and where and in what order. Where they needed to be next. The pizza delivery was pre-ordered for 5:45 and paid for in advance. My Mom and Dad were to start to eat and I’d join them at 6 pm. We would then leave promptly at 6:45 for the high school football game.

And then my Dad asked a simple question: “Why don’t we wait to eat at 6:00 when you get home from work?” Which prompted a breakdown from me — as it upset the perfectly time plan in which a mere 15-minute delay could result in a chain of bad consequences, just like dominoes.

Later I realized how ridiculous my response was. We only saw my parents a few times a year. They had traveled hundreds of miles to get to us. And the simple request to eat a meal together triggered a disproportionate outcry — all because our lives had gotten so busy and complex that there was not even 15 minutes to spare.

I suspect I’m not alone. Make no doubt about it — if you live and work in the western world, you are surrounded by abundance. There are things to do, food to eat, opportunities to pursue, people to meet, and work to be done. And the media is unrelenting in urging us to consume more — and implies that more is the ultimate measure of success. Faster, thinner, richer, more connected, more powerful — all the signs of success.

Factor in our hyper-connectedness (think unrelenting email and social media) and the fast pace of change — and it is far too easy to get swept into the notion that one could do it all, have it all if we were just smarter, better managers of our time, more efficient, or more productive.

Email, the predominant form of business communication, has reached a volume of over 100 Billion emails per day. There are 936 million active DAILY Facebook users. And if you want to make your head spin, go to Twitter’s dashboard and watch the number of Tweets live — which equate to about 6000 Tweets per second.

Those are big numbers, albeit aggregated. Break it down to individual cases and realize that many of the business leaders I work with report having an avalanche of between 200 to 500 emails per day — and most of it considered actionable.

Over the last few years, I’ve worked hard at simplifying and taking time to breathe. And it’s worked, a bit at a time. Not always perfectly but better. Less on the to-do list. More focus on what’s really important. More mindful consumption and more time spent on things that really matter in the end.

How I wish Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, was available 10 years ago. It provides a great guide on how to move from being buffeted from the trivial many to living in the essential few. The image on his book cover looks like this; which is a perfect image for the process he walks you through:

I’d do McKeown’s work an injustice to try to summarize it in a short blog post, but I’ll share a few questions posed that will help you simplify and focus:

1. Do you honor the fact that you live in choice — and consciously make choices that reflect that which is most important to you?

2. Have you identified the “few things” that really matter to you?

3. Are you willing (and able) to make trade-offs, moving from attempting to “do it all” to “doing what really matters”?

4. Have you established criteria for what you choose to do, enabling you to say NO to anything other than what is essential to you and your priorities?

5. Do you have time in your life where you are not connected? Do you have time for sleep? For play?

6. Do you have a “buffer” — a planned time for the things that invariably take longer, run over or don’t go as planned?

7. Are you willing to subtract things from your life to simplify it — which can include things, routines, people, or activities?

McKeown provides a great roadmap for HOW to do all this — and moves from deeply meaningful (What is my purpose in this world?) to highly practical (How do I get enough sleep?).

I suspect that many of my readers also know a thing or two about how to bring order, simplicity and focus into their lives. Please share what you do –for the benefit of us all.

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Driving positive and transformative change though my writing and the three companies I’ve founded.

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Kris Taylor

Kris Taylor

Driving positive and transformative change though my writing and the three companies I’ve founded.

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