Learning to do Simple


I wrote this post a few years ago and am trying my best to learn from it myself as I reread it now. It became genesis for my book Just Do The Thing: A Guide which I sold for a bit on on Amazon & Smashwords but now make freely available as a gargantuan post on Medium. But this is where it all started.

Simple is marvelous place that you really can inhabit. Yes, you too can get there.

Oftentimes, the only thing that it takes to get from here to there is to give up the things that complicate our lives.

Yeah, so like most simple things, this is easier said than done.

Nobody ever said simple was easy! (Well, okay, maybe somebody did. But they were simply wrong!)

Here are some tips to make “simple” a little easier:

1. Forgo acquiring new tools
Tools cannot make life simpler. Processes make life simpler. Tools can make the processes easier, yes. But the one thing tools will never fix is a bad process. So forget bringing any new tools into the mix while you’re focused on simplifying something. Always focus on process first.

2. Try not to learn any new skills
You will fail at this — and that’s okay. The point is that simplification is subtraction. You should be taking things away, not adding new ones. Ironically, this even includes learning. If “I should really learn how to ______” is in echoing in your mind, it’s a clue that you’re not simplifying. You’re doing something else, and it smells more of avoidance than of simplifying.

3. Don’t organize, drop!
Structuring information inevitably involves making things a bit more complicated. That’s the wrong direction. Instead, just filter out all the things that aren’t what you’re looking for and don’t bother with them. Whether an item is crossed off your to-do list because you worked at it and completed it, or because you just decided not to do it, it is still just as crossed off. Which is easier?

4. Pre-decide your limitations
Anything you do has a beginning and an end. To make life simple, decide how long the duration will be before you start. Then when the pre-determined end time arrives, you end your actions, and make a clear choice about what happens next. This allows your intuition to surface over the dull roar of thoughts & judgements.

5. Stop and see what happens
This last one is not for the faint of heart, but I have found it to be extremely effective. We tend to think that if we stop doing something important, bad things will happen, right? Well, maybe — but maybe not.

So…how can we find out?

Well, for starters, you can try strategically NOT showing up to do stuff. This already happens when we fall ill, have family emergencies, or other such immediate reprioritizations. In those situations, life still goes on. But you can also just declare an act of “Simple Disobedience” and see what downstream impacts this really has. What actually breaks? Did anyone even notice?

Oftentimes, nothing bad happens at all.

If it does, just be prepared to swoop in and repair it quickly, apologize, and see if this avoids permanent damage. In my experience, it almost always does. This is good to remember when complexity becomes burdensome.

May this help you in your journey to The Land of Simple, which is not the myth you may have come to believe. You can really get there! You just need to follow a map or a guide who can direct you — and remind you to stop when you arrive.

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