The ways to simplify your life popularized by bloggers can be bleak.
Living out of your backpack with only 100 things in a spartan room in Portland, Oregon?
I can see why it’s not everyone’s idea of The Good Life.
At the same time, we know we’re living overextended lifestyles with too much clutter and too many commitments.
Agile and simplicity go hand in hand. The secret to agile success is often knowing what you shouldn’t spend your time on.
But simplifying your projects is different from simplifying your life. Simplifying your life is more painful and more difficult.
Or is it?
There are ways to simplify your life that aren’t painful. There are ways to simplify your life that are downright pleasant.
They don’t involve throwing out all your belongings or overcoming difficult psychological barriers.
Here are 5 painless ways to simplify your life today:
#1: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
I am embarrassed and saddened that comparison was such a huge part of my life, but the interesting part is that I didn’t know it was so prevalent until it wasn’t. I didn’t know that I was driven by being better, faster, smarter, more liked, and more stylish. I wasn’t outwardly greedy or aggressive, but inside I was striving for the wrong things.
Everyone is on a different journey.
Everyone, whether they acknowledge it or not, is rapidly iterating different aspects of their lives: their personality, their clothes, their values, their interests, etc. Even your closest friends, the ones you’ve known your entire life, are probably different from who they were 5 or 10 years ago.
So comparing yourself to other people is a fruitless task.
What you are doing is taking one snapshot understanding of another person at a particular time and comparing it to yourself.
“This person is more successful than me.”
“Or that person has a better relationship with their spouse.”
The reality is, that person you’re comparing yourself to could get laid off tomorrow. Or has already separated with their significant other and is just keeping it a secret.
Don’t fall into the trap of comparing.
Even if the destination is the same, everyone has their own journey to take.
#2: Burn Your 5 Year Plan
You don’t need it. No life plan survives contact with reality anyway.
And in all likelihood, that 5 year plan is an obstacle on your path to simplify life.
Commit to living agile and being responsive to change.
You can wipe away all the external and internal expectations that are adding psychic drag and clutter to your life.
#3: Minimize Task-Switching
A study by UC Irvine and the U.S. Army revealed that workers who constantly checked email were likely to check themselves into a hospital:
People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.
Aside from the health benefits of avoiding a constant state of cat-like readiness, you can simplify life greatly by doing a better job of conserving your brainpower.
Devote your attention to the singular task in front of you.
Banish distractions by closing your email/Twitter/Facebook window.
Close the door if you have an office, or put in earbuds. I listen to classical music or dubstep, because there’s rarely any lyrics to distract me from what I’m doing.
What you’re actually doing when you’re “multitasking” is single-tasking and task-switching quickly. Except we overestimate how well we can task-switch and underestimate the negative effects that task-switching has on our minds, our willpower, and our health.
You’re a human being, not a computer. You can’t parallel process, so stop trying.
#4: Only Work During Your Peak Productivity Times
If you haven’t already, set aside a week to discover your Peak Productivity Time. Then resolve only to work during those times.
And once you factor in how much time you spend today procrastinating, chatting with your coworkers, or surfing the web, it’s practically guaranteed that half of your time at the office is wasted.
Simplify life. Work during your Peak Productivity Times. Then go home.
#5: Stop Trying to Earn More Money
Whichever turns out to be right (and a lot depends on where you’re living and how many people you have to support), it’s clear that you need a lot less money than you think to be happy.
There are plenty of financial advisors, investment managers, and scam artists out there trying to convince you that you need to earn millions of dollars to be happy.
If you’re earning between $50,000 and $75,000 today, you’re in the sweet spot of salary. Earning more money won’t make you any happier. You can safely stop striving for that promotion or working extra hours to get those bonuses.
If you’re earning over $75,000, there’s a very good chance you are working too hard. The income above $75,000 isn’t doing you any extra good in terms of life satisfaction. Look to cut back hours or convert your job to remote work.
Time to Simplify Your Life
Don’t discount small steps.
Small successes can lead to big progress over time.
These painless ways to simplify your life can lead you to taking bigger actions on your quest to live agile.
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Image by Dirk Beyer.