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Why Simple Wins in This Complicated World

Why Simple Wins in This Complicated World

There are two kinds of people in the world: simplifiers, and complicators.

Complicators, they seem blind or fearful of simple solutions. Everything they do, they do it in the most difficult and complex manner. From a distance, this looks like they thrive on challenges.

Simplifiers, on the other hand, are the opposite. They avoid complications of any kind. They can be mistaken for people who only do the minimum amount of work needed to get by.

The difference between these two kinds of people becomes obvious when they are required to write an essay or report. Even if they are writing about the exact same thing, the complicator will write far more than the simplifier. From a distance it will look like the complicator wrote the better piece, after all, its longer, and possibly more detailed.

    However, it needs to be asked, does more automatically mean better?

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    More + Complex = Better?

    It’s human nature to want more, we find interest in the difficult and complex. When we get more of something, we feel it is strangely worthwhile.

    Our technological progress focuses a lot on more. For decades a phone was something used to call people. Now our phones are web browsers, cameras, gaming devices… When we see something that has many different uses and functions, we assume it is better than similar items.

    For example, would you buy a pencil that is great for drawing and writing, and comes with no other features, or a pencil that comes with lots of other features?

      Most of us would go with the second option, even though in many ways its the inferior.

      Complexity Is Appealing but Not Practical

      Complexity might make something seem more attractive, but the complications may actually subtract from something rather than add. It doesn’t help to make something effective. But complexity is easy, simple can be difficult to achieve.

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      Edsger W. Dijkstra, one of the founding fathers of modern computer programming said,

      “Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it. And to make matters worse: complexity sells better.”

      Great pieces of work only emerge when you take things away from it. For example, the Declaration of Independence was heavily edited by Benjamin Franklin before he officially released it.

      The first line originally read: “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable…” 

      This is close to it, but there is something lacking. So Benjamin Franklin got rid of the last three words and replaced them with two.

      Soon it read: “We hold these truths to be self-evident”

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        The difference is immediate and striking in its precision.

        Simplicity Gets More Things Done

        If you begin to see the beauty and efficiency in simplicity, you’ll be clearer about the purpose of something and find problems less overwhelming.

        Think about that multi-feature pencil again, do we really need that many functions out of a pencil? No. What we truly need is a pencil that makes writing and drawing easy. It’s that simple.

          Simplifiers always look into seemingly complex problems, interpret them, break them into smaller parts and re-organize them.They are aware of unnecessary input of their work which may complicate anything. Their goal is to simplify a problem in order to be clear about the root cause of it and solve them in the simplest way, which saves cost and effort.

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          When you start to make things simple, you can improve your productivity and get closer to success. It all boils down to trimming away unnecessary weight and baggage from your life which slows you down.

          Make It Simple, but Significant

          So ask yourself: are you a simplifier or a complicator? If you think that you lean towards being a complicator, don’t worry, it’s not something permanent. It can be useful to go from a complicator to a simplifier. All you need to do is follow two core rules:

          1. A Clear Intention

          This might be obvious, but before you set out to do something, you should be 100% certain about exactly what it is you want to do. If there is any uncertainty, your lack of understanding will be manifested in useless extras and complications.

          2. Kill your Darlings

          The name of this comes from the great writer (and master simplifier) William Falkner. It boils down to this.

          If you’re working on something, and you do something great (perhaps write a fantastic sentence) in a project, and it doesn’t work with the rest, then you must get rid of it. Essentially, it doesn’t matter how you feel about something, if it doesn’t work with the core idea, you must get rid of it. Getting rid of bad stuff is easy, but it takes a pro to see great stuff and remove it for the greater good.

          Use this simple trick to decide what to keep and what to ditch: Must Have, Should Have, Good to Have. If it’s a must-have item, keep it; a should-have one, trim it; a good-to-have one only, consider deleting it.

          Simplification can massively increase your productivity, but this takes practice. If you want to learn more about simplifying, I recommend this article: How Being A Minimalist At Work Can Make You More Successful

          More by this author

          Leon Ho

          Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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          Last Updated on October 22, 2020

          How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

          How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

          Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed, and exhausted. Therefore, if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s time to do something about it.

          Here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm, leaving you calmer, in control, and a lot less stressed at work.

          1. Write Everything Down to Offload Your Mind

          The first thing you can do when work feels overwhelming is to write everything down that is on your mind.

          Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s occupying your thoughts[1].

          For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind, write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind.”

          The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will help you stop feeling overwhelmed at work. Writing things down can really change your life.

          2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

          Once you have emptied your head, go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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          As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

          Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. You can learn how to create a more meaningful to-do list here.

          3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

          Here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago to help when work feels overwhelming. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and we humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take[2]:

          When feeling overwhelmed at work, use Parkinson's Law.

            This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad. It’s more wishful thinking than bad judgment.

            We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage when we’re feeling overwhelmed at work. If you have estimated that to write five important emails will take ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

            Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is that you put yourself under a little time pressure, and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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            When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time, so it plays tricks on us, and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our team members to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

            Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening, and we get more focused and more work done. This will help when work feels overwhelming.

            4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

            Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos to avoid getting overwhelmed at work. Schedule time for each task, especially high priority tasks, while also grouping together similar tasks. This will help relieve stress and anxiety in your daily work life.

            For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

            Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done, and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer, and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

            5. Make Decisions

            For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one[3]. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

            If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend, or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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            If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss or a colleague and get advice.

            Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and will only make you feel more overwhelmed at work. You need to make a decision to deal with it, and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved.

            I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed, and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend about the problem.

            He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem, and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I pay a smaller amount for a couple of months.

            This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

            The first was: don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second: there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

            6. Take Some Form of Action

            Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we are feeling overwhelmed at work (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

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            The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

            It also means that, rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible, and you can make decisions about what to do about them.

            Often, it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be that you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

            When work feels overwhelming, it’s not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work. It can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

            The Bottom Line

            It’s easy to feel like you have too much on your plate, but there are things you do to make it more manageable. 

            Make a decision, even if it’s just talking to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution.

            When you follow these strategies, you can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

            More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

            Featured photo credit: Josefa nDiaz via unsplash.com

            Reference

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