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A few days ago, Dustin suggested that I write a post about “ways to use ___” to kick off the new year. At first, I was at a loss to fill in that blank. I couldn’t think of any gadget, program or trick that was important enough to make a year-long impact.

Then it hit me. Maybe the reason I was having trouble coming up with a tool that would make an impact is because I was looking at the question the wrong way. Perhaps the problem with many New Year’s Resolutions, gadgets and the latest GTD hack is that there are too many of them. Simplifying your goals, to-do lists and gadgets you use might have a better impact than adding more to the pile.

Simplicity Saves More than Time or Money

A simpler lifestyle is easier on your wallet and schedule. But probably the biggest benefit of using less is your ability to pay attention. If you clutter up your environment with objects, tasks or gadgets that aren’t really important, you steal attention away from those that do.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who wants to do more, accomplish more and be more in the next year. Here’s a few ways you can do that by actually using less:

  1. One Book at a Time. How many bookmarks do you have, scattered in half-finished textbooks, guides and novels? Reading only one book at a time does two things. First, it forces you to finish books instead of just starting another. Second, it forces you to abandon bad books instead of leaving them in your bookshelf purgatory.
  2. Eat Simpler Foods. Meals at the latest restaurants or even your regular breakfast snack at a fast food joint can add up the cost to both your bank account and your body. Try preparing simpler foods in advance so you need to eat out less. Brown rice and homemade stir-fry can be cooked in a large batch once a week, providing healthy, cheap and simple meals.
  3. Use a Simple Exercise Plan. Neon leotards and a 40 GB iPod aren’t core requirements for a workout. If you’re just starting to get back into the gym this year, I suggest taking a simpler approach. Try jogging, push-ups or sit-ups for 30 minutes each morning. Complex exercise plans with long commutes and classes can’t complete with a plan that sticks.
  4. Simplify Your Planners. I don’t use the full-version of GTD. Although having dozens of folders, lists and project planners for every possible task may be useful for corporate executives, as a student, I find it unnecessary. One of the best changes I made in 2007 was to simplify all my lists and folders into just a calendar, to-do list and notepad. Excessive productivity tools can actually slow you down.
  5. Squeeze Your RSS Reader. What’s the point of scanning 100 feeds if you can only read 10? Quality is more important than quantity. I’d rather carefully read one good article than skim over two good articles.
  6. Focus Your Goals. What aren’t you going to accomplish in the next year? It’s easy to set ten super-important goals and accomplish nothing all year. I think it is far better to set one challenging, but realistic goal and work towards it. A friend of mine who is a published author gave this advice, “You’ve got your whole life to learn to write.” Trying to do everything at once is a recipe for completing nothing at all.
  7. Slow Down Your Morning Routine. Are mornings for you a hasty scramble from the alarm clock, chugging down a cup of coffee before a rushed getaway to work or school? I recently added reading for an hour and a half to my 5:30 wake-up time. Waking up earlier and inserting a quiet activity into your morning can give you a relaxed focus for the rest of the day.
  8. Take One Day Off Per Week. For many of you, myself included, this is probably the hardest one on this list to accomplish. Taking a day off might seem suicidal when working non-stop still doesn’t seem to get everything done. However, giving yourself some time to rest can give you more energy to take on the world for the rest of the week.
  9. Watch Less Television. Do you really need more noise in your life? I’ll be the first to admit that a bit of television can be great. But a few shows a week can quickly turn into a continuous flood, distracting you from goals, work or meaningful entertainment. If you can’t find something more fun than television, perhaps you have a different problem.
  10. Cut Down on Internet Consumption. A little surfing can soon turn into a tidal wave. Last year I batched all my internet and e-mail usage down to just thirty minutes every morning. Keeping myself unplugged for the rest of the day ensures I don’t use the net as a crutch for reading real books, having real conversations and accomplishing real work.
  11. Live a More Frugal Lifestyle. The difference, in my opinion, between being frugal and being cheap is realizing the value of money. Frugality means you save your money carefully so you can invest in the future and spend it on things that will give a lot of value. Cutting down expenses that don’t matter can help you pay down debts, invest and buy things that are important to you.

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