A Simple Way to Get More Done

If you want to be more productive, the key is simple. Simple is the key.

People are often surprised at how much I am able to accomplish and yet how responsive I am when something new needs to be completed. Here is my secret to being a top performer: I don’t multi-task.

The idea of multi-tasking has become so ubiquitous and abused it is practically the butt of its own joke. People who accomplish a lot do not do so by spinning from task to task, with imaginary octopus arms, inching each project forward a little at a time until everything is complete.

Top producers simplify their work. They edit ruthlessly the work that is unnecessary and they politely say “no” to work that does not move them toward their goals. Top producers instead work on a single task until it is done and then they move to the next task and work on that one until it is done, and then they move on to the next task and… you get it.

I watch so many leaders burn themselves out at the altar of, “I have to get it all done and it all has to get done by me”, rather than taking the approach of, “What is the goal and what is the most efficient way to reach it?” Smart leaders look for ways to move on to the most important stuff. “What can I let go of so I can focus on what is really important? Am I the only person that can do this? If so, why? Can somebody else do it, and get it done, even if it is not to my perfect standards?”

For me, I saw my productivity transform when I embraced minimalism as a lifestyle. Being a minimalist forces you to think about the smallest number of things that bring the greatest return on value. As a result, I began working to simplify every area of my life (and I am still working at it) and the results have made it clear to me that doing less is one of the best ways to get more done.

I think corporations, teams, and even personal relationships suffer from complexity when a dose of simplicity can change everything.

It makes sense. We stretch ourselves too thin.

We take on 12 assignments at a time, which means our mental resources, our attention, and our efforts are divided by 12. I try to never have more than 2 or 3 focal points at one time on my docket. More than that and I find myself slowing down the thing I am doing because I am thinking about all the things I need to do next.

How many half-finished projects are on your desk? How many projects have you contributed your labor to, only to watch them disappear into the ether because other “more important” projects came up? (Well, why weren’t you working on the most important project from the beginning?)

That is the easiest measure of time being wasted for the sake of wasting time. Or put another way, workers work to fill the time required to be in the office, rather than working to do important work. The reason for this is simple, by the way. Workers fill time because they know the reward for work done well is to be piled up with more (busy) work. If your people can accomplish a task in 4 hours but still have to fill an 8-hour work day rather than be set free to go home or do what they want, you better believe that 4-hour task will take 8 and a half hours.

The reward for good work should not be more (less interesting) work, but rather more time and freedom. Google figured this out years ago with their famous “20% rule“.

From a minimalist perspective, the world over-complicates productivity. Ironically, productivity is over-complicated in the name of efficiency! “I’m a great multi-tasker,” potential hires will tell me during an interview. That is a sure sign to me they are not good at being productive.

Nobody needs great multi-taskers. We need great simplifiers.

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How Many Shows Do You Watch?

Each day I figure out what life lesson I have learned. I share each day’s lesson with you.

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Nicole and I counted the number of television series we are in the middle of or about to start watching: fifteen. That seems like a lot to us, especially since we do not own a television! I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime so there is plenty of content at my fingertips (Netflix is basically only for the Marvel content now, like Daredevil–big fan). Typically, we will watch our shows together, cuddled around a laptop or tablet in bed. It’s a nice way to zone out for an hour.

Fifteen shows is a surprising number for us. Between those fifteen shows, we watch maybe 6 hours of content per week. Typically, we binge watch a season and then we have nothing to watch for 11 months.

I don’t think we are going to give up any shows yet but eventually that number is going to drop as some shows have already completed their run. The trick will be not to replace them.

Television is interesting as art, but spending too much time in front of the TV has the same issues as spending too much time staring at a painting. While you are sitting and staring, you are not doing. It is good to take a break once in a while, and let your mind wander, but it is not good to spend more time doing that than actually contributing to the world.

Fifteen shows is too many for me. I think ten might be okay. Three would be ideal, but I am only saying that based on personal feelings. How many shows do you watch? What ones contribute value to you and what ones can you let go without really missing them? Most importantly, what will you do with that time to contribute to yourself, your friends, your family, or the world instead?

 

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Drop Your Pants!

Each day I look back and figure out what lesson I learned. Then, because I am slightly crazy, I broadcast it to the world via this blog.

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I like to experiment. That has led me to embrace some seemingly silly things that have had profound effects, and I am adding another one to the list: giving up my belt.

I have been belt free for a couple weeks now, actually, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to stick (I’m still not sure but I figure I can’t ignore it here since I write about my other experiments).

It turns out not wearing a belt might have some interesting effects, mostly for men. Belts tighten around the waist and constrict the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (yeah, I had to look that up, too–it’s a real thing). For some people, wearing a belt each day can actually cause permanent nerve damage.

I don’t have lateral femor-whatever nerve damage I am aware of. I am giving up my belt because it is one less thing I have to think about each day. I don’t have to pick what belt to wear and I don’t have to loop it through my pants or wrestle with how tight to cinch it today. It probably saves me no more than 10 seconds each day, but times seven, that is 1 minute and 10 seconds per week for the remainder of my life. If I live another 50 years (to a conservative 92 years old)… I just gave myself an additional 50.6 hours (or a little more than 2 days) of productive time for living!

The only practical reason for wearing a belt at all is to keep my pants up but I can not remember the last time my pants actually fell down and my belt saved the day. I think I would rather take my chances and have an extra 2 days of life.

Just in case, though, I tossed a belt into my work bag (but I haven’t needed it yet!).

All in all, I have to say… I think I feel a little more comfortable and a little more vulnerable (naked even) without it, but only when I notice it is not there. Funnily enough, no one else seems to have noticed it isn’t there either, which tells me I worried too much about the fashionability of my belts–apparently nobody cares.

Going belt free is working for me. What can you give up to make your life just 10 seconds easier each day, for an extra few days of living?

 

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Make More Time To Think

I look back at what happened each day to figure out one lesson I learned. I share each day’s lesson with you.

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I like the Tim Ferriss podcast. It is almost always informative, has great guests, and provides insight into the minds of successful people. It is also an hour-long, often closer to two hours. I had to give it the axe and remove the Tim Ferriss show from my roster of podcasts.

With a long drive to work, I have the time to listen to it, but I am cutting a lot of podcasts from my stream and making other changes to give myself more time to think. I realized I am always drowning in information. I love knowledge so there is always a podcast playing, half-read books lying around, and documentaries clogging up my Netflix queue.

What is missing is space. Before I could bury myself with inputs, I had to spend my time on output. I had to think instead of just listen or watch. My drive to work used to be silent other than the conversations going in my head. It might sound funny, but most of us could probably use more of that.

Instead of music, podcasts, background television, etc., try silence. It turns out, I have a few good ideas of my own if I just stop and listen… to myself.

 

 

 

 

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How To Have Nice Things

Every day I reflect on my life to figure out what lesson I learned that day. Then, I share that lesson with you.

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I have really nice things. I carry one of the best smartphones, all my clothes are expensive (compared to most big box/mall brands) and fit my exacting needs. I eat organic, healthy foods and I drive a nice car.

I am not bragging. Less than 10 years ago, I lost everything. I was living paycheck to paycheck, wondering how I was going to survive a divorce, a new career, and a new life in a new city on less than half my former salary. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I had no friends, no family nearby. It was just me and my misery for a long time.

I am not looking for kudos or empathy. I know you have probably been there, or at least felt like you have at times. Maybe you are in a tough spot now. I thought you might like to know how I rebuilt, and ended up with even nicer stuff, in 3 easy-sounding (but immensely difficult) steps:

     1.  I singled out the real, true essentials. I turned to a minimalist lifestyle. I threw out every thing I did not need. I mean everything from old year books to pots and pans to clothes to furniture to towels to books. If I did not use it, touch it, look at it, or notice it over the course of a year, then I decided it must not be as important to me as I thought. I tossed it, whatever it was. Soon, I only had what I truly needed, with very few exceptions.

     2. If I could not afford it, then I did not buy it. Money was tight. I might have wanted a new (blank) to replace my old (blank) but if I did not have the money in hand, I simply could not buy it, just like when I was a kid looking at the candy in a grocery store. Sure, I wanted it all but if I only had 50 cents, then all I could afford was a couple of suckers, and that was better than nothing. No credit, no borrowing, no creative financing. The fun ran out when the money did and that was that.

     3. When I did buy it, I bought the best one I could afford. I needed jeans for a long time but I did not buy a pair until I had saved enough to buy the only pair I wanted–the vegan friendly Prana Axiom jeans with gusseted inseams and rugged stretch fabric. They were (and still are) the gold standard to me and the funny thing is, they were worth every penny. They still look like new and fit like a charm, plus I can sit cross-legged in them without any worry of tearing the fabric. I bought one pair. It was another year before I could buy a second pair. The same went for every product I now own. Until I could afford the one I wanted, I either bought nothing or the absolute cheapest piece of junk that would help me get by.

 

I still live small but everything I own is the thing I chose. I went from zero to luxury in less than a decade and you can, too. I had no idea how little I actually need and how much better I can live, when I think small, live without owing, and pay the most I can afford for the best I can afford.

For me, it is the tale of two worlds, and frankly, I like the world I live in now better.

 

 

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Are Your Weekends Getting Better?

The only way I know to improve is to assess, then practice, then assess, then practice.

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“How did we do today?” I asked Nicole as we settled in for the evening and reviewed our Sunday. “Was it relaxing?”

I don’t know about you but our weekends seem packed with shopping, chores, and tasks (groceries, cleaning, laundry, clothes shopping, grabbing food on the go, etc.). By the time Sunday night rolls around, we are ready to start our weekend! The problem, of course, is even when we plan relaxing things (like catching a movie or going to the beach), they turn into another task on the checklist. Even our relaxing becomes a chore.

We have been working to break that cycle, trying things like moving some of our weekend chores to weeknights (which packs weeknights but frees up swaths of time on the weekends–it’s a work in progress). The idea is to actually have freedom to do things we truly love on the weekends–like nap, paddleboard, and spend a day at the beach rather than a couple hours.

The biggest challenge is to protect the newly opened time. When I create space, I tend to fill it, but that is not the point of having time off together. The point is to finish the day with more energy than we started with while enjoying being together.

We assess our day now, reflecting on what worked and what we can do better next time. Often, it is as simple as, “We probably should have skipped the last two stores we visited and just bought those things from Amazon.” It is surprising how draining a day can become when you overextend just a little.

Nicole thought about it. “Yes,” she said. “Today was a really good day.”

 

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10 Moving Decisions I Hope Are Smart

Life is best when you court adventure and learning together.

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Moving from Grand Rapids to Tampa is a big change, but because Nicole and I value living an experimental life, we are also taking advantage of the experience to try a few crazy things. I am not sure if it will all work out for the best, but we will definitely learn from our little experiments and be able to apply the lessons to other areas of our lives.

A couple of the decisions listed we already know worked out well (or did not work out well) but I included them because we had no idea if they would when we tried them. So, here are 10 decisions we made before moving across the country that we hope turn out to be smart decisions.

1.  Get a local address. This was definitely risky. We sent Nicole down there with six months of savings. She found a roommate who was willing to rent half an apartment on a month-to-month basis. Although all signs pointed to her being a good roommate, we did not know until Nicole actually arrived there. However, within two weeks of job searching with a local address, Nicole landed a great job.

2. Leave (almost) everything behind. Because we try to live simply, we do not own a lot of furniture, trinkets, or items full of sentimental value. Nonetheless, when we did the math on the cost to move all of our stuff, it was nearly the same or more than it would be to buy everything again. So we fit what we could in her car and mine and nearly everything else is being given away or tossed out.

3.  Buy all new stuff. Most of our furniture was nice looking but relatively cheap, Ikea-style stuff. The cost of replacing most of it is the less than the cost to take it all. The best part, though, is we do not need to replace all of it.

4.  Replace only what you miss. Of course, we do not have to buy one-for-one replacements for every item we leave behind. We might end up actually saving considerable money by only replacing what it turns out we really need or miss.

5.  You mail instead of U-Haul. What I can not fit in my car, I am shipping to us via UPS, FedEx, or postal mail. I am taking the heaviest stuff in my car and the light stuff will probably arrive a day or two after I do (about 10 boxes of varying sizes total). Even if the shipping costs $500 ($50 per box and most will cost less than that) it will still be a significant savings over moving everything (which ranged from $3,000 to $4,500)!

6. Taking my cat. Rainee, my one-eyed furry friend who I have taken care of for roughly 14 years now, hates cars. I mean, like, REALLY hates cars. She is terrified to leave our apartment and usually releases all of her bodily fluids and solids on me when I attempt to take her to the vet (she is even worse if I put her in a carrier). I am choosing to take her with me, not sedated, in the car. I could ship her, but she would not have the comfort of my presence, which is at least some comfort to her. I could give her away but we have been companions for too long and she is my responsibility (plus, she is really cute… sometimes). So we are just going to tough it out and I have no doubt it will build character for both of us.

7.  Donation over profit. We are giving nearly everything we own away, not selling it. I am ambivalent toward most charities so this is not an altruistic decision for me. I am happy, though, to offer something that was of value to me, to someone else in hopes they will find value in it, too. The other reason is simply because I hope it will expedite the move. I do not want to spend days watching eBay bidding or waiting for people to show up and browse my life’s belongings.

8.  Renting a luxury apartment. In our new home city, we are choosing to pay double the rent we are paying in Grand Rapids. This means, of course, less going out and being a little more budget conscious but (and I know this sounds cheesy) our favorite place is with each other, curled up in bed or enjoying a nice walk. It makes more sense to have more luxury at home and less outside of it.

9.  Upgrading everything new. As I mentioned, we do not have to replace everything we leave behind. That means we will need fewer things so we might be willing to spend a little more for better, fewer things. The idea, for us, is to have more space and fewer things, but the things we will have will be stuff we really want, not just stuff to fill the space for now.

10.  Living closer to work. We chose our new city strategically. We know the traffic in Tampa is ten times worse than traffic in Grand Rapids. We deliberated quite a bit over whether it would be better to live closer to the things we love to do (like the beach), or closer to where we go the most (like work), or closer to where we shop the most (wherever we can find a great vegan selection). In the end, we leaned toward being closer to Nicole’s work (because she landed a job first) but still within 20-30 minutes of everything else we think we will love.

 

So there you have it. If you are considering moving, maybe that list will help you. If not, I think there is still value in some of those decisions. I’ll let you know in future posts what panned out and what ended up being a bad idea.

 

Today’s Lesson: You can’t know the future but you can certainly plan for having one. Might as well set it up to be a great one!

 

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Space For Living

When in doubt, throw it out!

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Part of simplifying my life means ridding myself of non-essential things I carry around that do not contribute value to my life.

I tossed out my old journals along with a lot of bad poetry I have held onto since I was a kid. I did keep one or two good(-ish) pieces, though. Maybe I will tidy them up and share them later.

I also went through my library of books, which I already pared to my 50 or so “essentials”. Still, there were a lot of books I have not read for years. Some of them I have not read at all. I have been saving them for when I have time to pick them up. Of course, when I do make time to read, I choose other books anyway. I have merely been saving them for the sake of saving them, it seems. Same for audio books and music CD’s.

I can buy new books or buy again the old ones I meant to read but never have (and probably never will) and it will be cheaper than storing them for decades and lugging them around wherever I move. With CD’s, outside of a few rare singles, local artists, or hard-to-find albums, most of my music is available online (which means it does not have to take up space in my apartment–less cleaning, storing, and clutter to move around).

If I do actually miss anything, I can always buy it again, but I usually find I do not miss things that much. There is so much new music, new books, and new gizmos and gadgets produced that there is no need to hold onto things for the sake of holding onto them.

Today’s Lesson: The less clutter you keep, the more space you create for living. That’s why we call it “living space” instead of “clutter space”.

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Indisposable Income

When everything is virtually free, what is actually valuable?

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Giving nearly everything I own away has been an interesting experiment so far. It turns out much of the things I thought I valued are actually not that valuable to me or anyone else.

Being a practicing minimalist (-ish), I have fewer possessions than most people I know, but like most people, that is still a lot of things. Cleaning supplies, for example, unopened groceries, cooking utensils, kitchen appliances, silverware and dinnerware, which is to say nothing for the many pieces of furniture in the apartment (tables, chairs, desks, dressers, bookcases, etc. for two).

It has been difficult to give most of it away for free.

When I was just starting out in my first flat, I needed everything. I was happy to have any give-away decorations, furniture, eating utensils, and even unused groceries people were generous enough to give up. I think the world is a lot different now, though. Most do-it-yourself furniture is cheap. People do not need hand-me-downs when they can have brand new items at a decent price.

Walmart, Target, Ikea, and other big box stores have made most home needs accessible and affordable–a testament to Capitalist ingenuity. On the other hand, it seems the whole world is racing to zero. Google has nearly single-handedly transformed the world’s economy by trading services for personal privacy. For most people (including me), that seems like a fair trade (though it probably is not). Nonetheless, economies of scale and offering services without requiring payment directly from end-users has created a largely disposable world.

There are three ways to manage living in this new, bizarre economy, as I see it. The first, and most destructive, is ambivalence. Accept the world for what it is, buy whatever entices you and throw out the absurd amount of packaging provided with every item. When something breaks, do not fix it. Instead, toss it and buy a new one, which is probably cheaper and better anyway.

The second way to manage a disposable society is to decry it. Hold onto traditional values. Buy, and store, goods and services indefinitely. Fight an endless war of subtlety, trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle anything and everything. Use cloth diapers instead of disposable, glass instead of plastic, and never accept plastic shopping bags. This is a noble route, but it is also the most arduous.

Finally, we can embrace the new culture. Mark a line in the sand, toss out or give away everything you do not absolutely need and then, only accumulate things you need with few exceptions. For me, this is the best of all worlds. It allows the convenience of living as a modern citizen (albeit probably while stereotyped as a “hipster”) but still asks for responsibility for what you contribute (or do not contribute) to the rest of the world. This also ensures, while living in a disposable world, you are only burning your indisposable income, freeing your disposable income to focus on enjoying the experience of living rather than the products of living today.

 

Today’s Lesson: Since you can’t take it with you when you go, try not to accumulate it in the first place.

 

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Let It Go

It might be worth something someday, but today is never someday.

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Just leaving everything behind (which turns out to be a lot of work because, of course, I can’t just leave everything in my apartment when I move) is scary. I know I am going to lose a lot of valuable things that I have been holding onto, like my old comic books (which were old and valuable when I bought them) for example. I have been lugging them around for three decades, knowing I would one day turn them over to a collector and earn some dough for myself.

Part of my simplifying philosophy, though, is “if you haven’t touched it or missed it for a year, toss it out”. However, there are things like my comic books and music collection that have violated that guideline many times over. I am being ruthless this time, though.

I am just giving it all away. Sure, maybe the comic books or many of the DVD’s I owned are worth something. Let’s say, I could have made $2,000 selling them (which is highly unlikely–the “value” of a comic book and the price a collector will actually pay for it are often very different). How much have I paid in extra space to store them for 30 years? They have some sentimental value but considering that I have not opened them in years, they must not have that much sentimental value.

There are many things Nicole and I are leaving behind. Maybe someone else will waste their time reselling my mementos on eBay or something, but I will not miss them too much. It would not be worth the cost in time and effort for me to try to sell our stuff piecemeal, while still storing it and lugging it around.

I may lose a few hundred dollars (or even a few thousand) by giving up most of my furniture and keepsakes but I will gain that tenfold in freedom and simplicity of living in our new space.

 

Today’s Lesson: If it is not contributing to your life, then it is taking up living space. Let it go. It’s fine. If it turns out it was really important, you will find a way to replace it or learn to live without it.

 

 

 

 

 

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