Extreme complication is contrary to art.
- Claude Debussy, French composer
When a composer overcomplicates things, we hear it. When an architect overcomplicates things, we see it. When a chef overcomplicates things, we taste it.
Life is not so simple. When we overcomplicate things in our everyday lives, we don’t necessarily get immediate feedback. We might not know what we’re doing is overcomplicated until the damage is done.
The goal of simplicity is to achieve the lowest amount of complexity for the highest amount of fulfillment.
Here in this article, I want to tell you about 3 destructive ways that we overcomplicate things and how to avoid them:
1. We Try to Multitask
Trying to find someone who doesn’t multitask is like trying to find white teeth on a duck: You can’t do it.
Leo Widrich at the Buffer blog explains the effects of multitasking on our brains. For one thing, we feel like we are being more productive and making better decisions. In fact, it’s quite the opposite:
People who multitask a lot are in fact a lot worse at filtering irrelevant information and also perform significantly worse at switching between task, compared to singletaskers. Now most studies all point towards the fact that multitasking is very bad for us. We get less productive and skills like filtering out irrelevant information decline.
Why it’s Overcomplicated - Multitasking triggers certain reward systems in our brains that makes it feel like we are heroic overachievers. But multitasking, especially constant multitasking, is more likely a burnout symptom and a sign you’re on the road to burnout syndrome at your current job.
Killing distractions and singletasking may take more discipline, but it’s more effective.
It’s also simpler.
2. We Think Money Can Buy Happiness
Studies show that after about $75,000 in annual income, emotional well-being stops increasing with the amount of money earned:
Emotional well-being also rises with … income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of ~$75,000. …We conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness …
But even if you’re fortunate enough to have a good income, how you spend your money has a strong influence on how happy – or unhappy – it will make you.
Why it’s Overcomplicated - The pursuit of money for money’s sake increases the complexity in your life. It means longer hours, more job responsibilities you might not find meaningful or be any good at, and more struggle to find time for reflection and internal feedback.
What you can do is simplify your financial ambitions. The observations above point to two conclusions:
- You don’t need to earn so much money
- You can do a better job of spending what you currently earn
That means investing in yourself instead of investing in junk. It means spending money on experiences instead of things. It means revising your spending habits so you spend a smaller amount on more frequent purchases, instead of large amounts on whopping expenses (like homeownership, one of the sure-fire ways to ruin your agility).
There are reasons to be ambitious, to climb the corporate ladder, or make million dollar companies. But happiness isn’t one of them.
Know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You’re more likely to be at the “right” complexity level instead of overcomplicating things.
3. We Create False Dichotomies
We overcomplicate things, bizarrely enough, by restricting our options to only two. We generate tension by creating false, all-or-nothing dichotomies. Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, has a fantastic post on why there are always more than two options:
When they say they only have two options, beware. It means they got stuck. Once people get two options, they start comparing the pros and cons of those two, and forget to think of more options.
Creating false dichotomies ties in nicely with a national conversation we’ve been having recently in the States about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic. Slaughter discusses why women still can’t “have it all” meaning both a fully-attentive relationship with a child and a high-powered career.
There’s a lot to say about this article and the attitude it represents. It’s been hashed and rehashed repeatedly so I won’t go into it here.
Again, Slaughter did not choose to work less. She worked differently. There’s no reason a man couldn’t do the same. But in the “all work” or “no work” trap it’s impossible to stay in the grey zone of work+life possibility for all.
It’s the “grey zone” or continuum of experience that exists between two options that both Sivers and Yost are pointing to.
Why it’s Overcomplicated - Forcing yourself to choose between a false set of choices creates anxiety. It creates analysis paralysis. It prevents you from taking action because all-or-nothing choices feel like ultimatums. We’ve learned to fear ultimatums because they represent finality. No course corrections, no takebacks.
Don’t overcomplicate things by creating dilemmas for yourself. Choose low-cost, easy-to-back-out-of options at first until you learn more about what you want. You don’t know unless you try, and trying means experimenting. Implement now, perfect later.
What we want is simplicity, and the simplest solution is often to find a third way.
Don’t Overcomplicate Things: The Agile Prescription
Living agile is about being responsive to change.
Simplicity prepares you for change, because it gets rid of unnecessary complexity. Simplicity makes you lean, agile, and ready to pivot.
When we overcomplicate things, even in small ways, that complexity adds up. Pretty soon we are bloated, rigid, and unable to adapt to change.
So tell me, when was the last time you caught yourself overcomplicating things and what did you do?
Image by rustemgurler.