Simplify Your Life
Many people reach a point in their life when they conclude: I want to simplify my life! Often this is because there is a sense they have lost control, things are out of control, and time is evaporating. There is a desire to have more time to do the things they want to do, both at work and at home. Every few weeks, there is another newspaper or magazine story about how people feel they aren’t spending their time on things they enjoy, on the people or things they value. It’s great if you have created a full and interesting life for yourself, but how frustrating if you don’t have the time to enjoy it!
The 80/20 Principle
The 80/20 Principle, first stated by Vilfredo Pareto in 1897, says that 20% of our effort produces 80% of the results. This means that a small number of resources are highly productive—and a large number (80%) are not very productive at all. Here are a few examples:
• 20% of the things in your house are used 80% of the time, and you spend 80% of your energy.
• 80% of the things in your house are used 20% of the time.
• 20% of your activities give you 80% of your satisfaction.
• 20% of the stocks in an investor’s portfolio produce 80% of the results.
• 20% of the books in a bookstore account for 80% of the sales.
The challenge is to identify those few vital items that produce the greatest value and joy for you. Focus on the activities that result in satisfaction, better health, or more free time. At the same time, identify those many trivial items that don’t lead to things like satisfaction, better health, or more free time. These activities are potentially taking up 80% of your energy. Does it make sense to de-emphasize (prioritize?) them in favor of the vital 20%?
Making Time Takes Energy
The first challenge to simplifying your life is that it takes an investment of time--or energy, that is recognize the expenditure of energy simplifying life will require! If you want to discover how to make time for the things you enjoy and value, examine how you are spending your time [energy]. How are you managing your energy? If you keep living your life the same way you always have, life will remain frayed and unnecessarily draining.
For some, the excuse, “I can’t slow down because everything is important,” is a way to avoid seeing what they don’t want to see: a relationship that is no longer fulfilling, a job that no longer satisfies, an emotional distance that has emerged between them and their family members. Some people keep their lives going at a furious pace to avoid seeing what they don’t want to see.
If you really do want to simplify your life, you will rethink how you are managing your energy. It is best to start small. For one month, set aside just 30 minutes each day. During that time, focus on one question: What are the elements that contribute to my life feeling so complicated? Make a list of your insights and write about them in your daily journal. Begin to think about what can be changed or eliminated.
Finding this time is not as impossible as it may seem at first. Maybe when leaving work you can stop at a coffee shop or at a park and take 30 minutes to reflect and write. Perhaps you can take the train instead of driving, or turn off the television in the latter hours of the evening and write in your journal. Set aside 30 minutes a day for one month, ask yourself some important questions, and be prepared to learn some remarkable things about yourself, your energy, and this illusive concept we think of as time.
You may think this sounds too simple. Many people who seek to simplify their lives think the answer is to get more help. But this probably won’t help -- you will actually have added another complication to your life rather than making it simpler. You probably don’t need to spend more energy (take the time) to manage more help. And, you will more than likely believe that no one can do "it" as well as you can!
Learn to Say No
People get into trouble because they agree to do things they really don’t have time to do. This leads to a constant state of being over committed and frustrated. Our culture makes it difficult for us to say no to requests to attend extra meetings, dinner engagements, or to take on new responsibilities. Many of us feel obligated to always be participating at a high level. We are proud of our high productivity and involvement, but it comes with a high price: a complicated life that leaves little time, diminished energy, for you. Some life coaches recommend that you actually schedule time for yourself on your calendar throughout the month (set up your calendar at the beginning of each month). When you are invited to participate in something that conflicts with your scheduled "me" time, turn down the request because you already have a commitment. Honor this time for yourself, for self-care.
Clear Away Clutter
Get rid of things you don’t use. Think of all the stuff you have acquired in the past five or ten years. Most of this "stuff" is designed to make life simpler, but in fact most of it brings along its own set of complications. Think of what typically happens when you buy a new electronic gadget: Consider all of the time required to earn the money to pay for it, shop for it, buy it, set it up, learn how to use it, fix the unexpected problems it causes with another gadget, and then the time you spend actually using it. Most of us have rooms in our houses filled with stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time, but ends up sitting on a shelf or in a drawer, unused. One coach suggests that you go through your house once each year and get rid of everything you haven’t used during the previous year. She also has an idea for not acquiring new stuff in the first place: create a 30-Day List. When you start thinking that you must have a certain product, add it to your 30-Day List - and wait. At the end of 30 days, ask yourself if you really still need it. Chances are, you will have either forgotten about the item or lost your enthusiasm for the product, and will cross it off the list.