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7 Ways Minimalist Living Improves Your Productivity

7 Ways Minimalist Living Improves Your Productivity
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Last year, I saw the documentary film, The Minimalists. It’s a film that tells the story of two best friends, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus who had become trapped in the corporate rat-race desperately seeking happiness but instead feeling more and more overwhelmed, stressed and unhappy despite having very successful executive jobs.

Joshua and Ryan gave up successful careers to live a more minimalist lifestyle and learn to find happiness, calm and richness in having less. The film shares their story as they travel around the U.S promoting their book, Minimalism.

Joshua and Ryan’s story got me thinking about my own life and how, like most of my peers, it felt I was competing to own more, to have the latest and best phone, tablet and laptop. To buy more new clothes every season—whether I needed them or not— and to always be trying out the latest productivity, notes and calendar apps, never quite feeling satisfied with any of them.

As I discovered more about minimalism, I found myself looking at the way I managed my life and how I got my work done. I discovered that this obsession with having more had translated itself into the number of apps, subscriptions and tools I had. I had two computers, two iPads, three to-do list managers, four notes apps, three cloud drive services and for some reason, I was using Apple’s Pages, Keynote and Numbers as well as Google Docs and Sheets and Microsoft’s Word, PowerPoint and Excel! Why?

When I analyzed this, the only explanation I could come up with was “because I can have all these things”, which is a ridiculous reason for having so much stuff.

So, I began to reduce. I got rid of my desktop computer and started using only my laptop. I gave away one of my iPads and I went through all my apps and subscriptions and reduced them all down to the barest minimum. What happened next surprised me:

My overall productivity exploded!

I found myself being able to make decisions faster. There was a lot less procrastination and I had much more clarity. I begin each day with more clarity, focus and intention. It was hard to believe that having so much stuff had caused such a drag on my overall productivity but it had.

Here are 7 ways I have learned reducing stuff and embracing a more minimalist approach to productivity can improve your productivity and time management.

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1. Having less means decision making becomes much faster.

With only one writing app, when you need to write a report, prepare a presentation or any kind of document you know immediately which app to use. There’s no need to think about which app might be better or which app you would like to write with this time.

There is no choice.

You have a report to write? You open up your writing app. For me, being completely in the Apple eco-system, I chose Apple’s Pages. For you, you may want to choose Microsoft Word or Google Docs. The important thing is you choose one and stick to it.

In terms of my day to day productivity, it was having so many apps, and consequently so many choices, I could easily find myself wasting thirty or forty minutes trying to decide how I was going to write something, or whether I should use PowerPoint or Keynote for my next presentation.

Often, I found myself beginning in one app, changing my mind and restarting in another app later. All this was such a waste of time. Switching to only allowing myself one app for each area of my work enabled me to focus more on the work and less on the tools.

2. Having less means you have fewer places to store things.

In my coaching practice, I often come across people who struggle to develop a file storage system. When analyzed, the problem is often caused not by the system they use but by the number of storage places they have. We have Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud and OneDrive and it is so tempting to store things in the place we currently favor. As our favourite places change regularly, we end up with files all over the place making it much harder to find our stuff when we need it.

I know a lot of time is wasted just searching for files. Before we fully embraced the digital world, we used filing cabinets. Filing cabinets were great because there was very little variation or choice. Almost all filing systems used the same system—an alpha-numeric organization system. Files were organized by the letter they began with.

People also applied this to their personal papers. It was not uncommon to find a filing cabinet in a person’s home organised by letters. Banking documents were under “B”, insurance documents were stored under “I” and your car’s documentation were stored under “C”. It was simple, minimalist and we never had trouble finding anything as long as you put things away in their right place after we had used them.

You can save yourself a lot of time by just allowing yourself one storage place. Pick one and put all your files in there. Adopting a simple alpha-numeric folder system inside your cloud storage will help you find your documents and files whenever you need them.

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3. Having less gives you more focus.

When you begin the day with thirty to fifty things on your to-do list, it’s very hard to focus on anything. There is just too much going on. When you add that to the interruptions and distractions you will face each day, it becomes increasingly hard to focus on anything.

Humans are natural hunter-gatherers. We hunt for new stuff and new responsibilities. We gather all these things and responsibilities around us as if they were desired spoils of war.

The trouble with gathering all these things around us is they distract us from what is important. When you let go of these things you give yourself greater clarity. You have less to focus on and so what is left you can give much greater focus to.

I once had a language student who loved being involved in everything. If there was a new committee in her company, she had to be on it. If HR asked for volunteers to be involved in a new initiative, she would volunteer. She was on so many committees and involved in so many initiatives her work suffered and so did her health.

To stay on top of everything, she was working until ten or eleven PM every day. She had no time to eat properly and so she was always grabbing fast food. Her weight ballooned and in the end, she burnt herself out, being forced to take a six-month break and ultimately lost her job and many of her relationships.

When you reduce your commitments, your remaining commitments benefit from the increased focus you can give them. The quality of your work improves, the pleasure you get from your work increases and you reduce your stress and overwhelm.

4. Having less means you are committed to less.

A lot of the reasons why we struggle to get our work done is because we are overcommitting ourselves. Just looking at a person’s calendar often shows a schedule full of meetings and appointments. While it may feel good to always be interacting with other people, it also means you are not doing your work.

The problem here is you are not doing your work, you are building up a backlog. That backlog needs dealing with and that is usually after your regular working hours.

I know it can be very hard to decline invitations to be involved in meetings, we naturally want to be ‘in the know.’ But if you want to get full control of your time and be more productive, you need to decline invitations to meetings and appointments if they do not meet your needs and wants.

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Getting your work done, so you can spend more time doing the things you want to do with the people you want to do them with is your priority. Every time you accept another invitation or meeting, you are preventing yourself from doing this.

Once you free yourself from your desire to be involved in everything, you free yourself up to be able to do the things you want to do. You spend less time in your workplace and more time in places you want to be without being over-committed.

5. Having less improves the quality of the work you do.

There is a favorite quote of mine from Tony Robbins:

“Where your focus goes your energy flows.”

I love this quote because as I have reduced my commitments each day, I have found I have much more energy for the work I am doing. That increased energy has helped me improve the quality of my work.

When you are trying to do too many things each day, you are not able to give each piece of work your full focus and energy. That leads to increased mistakes, poor quality work and ultimately means you have to spend valuable time correcting and redoing the work.

Diluting your focus like this does not help you in your career, it prevents you from doing outstanding work. At best you will manage average work.

If you want to progress in your career, you need to be working at the outstanding spectrum, not the average spectrum. To do that, you need to be focused and energized on the important parts of your work and not allow yourself to dilute that focus and energy.

Being more minimalist with your time and commitments, you give yourself much more focus and energy.

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6. Having less means a lot less clutter.

When you sit down at your desk to begin a session of work and you first have to remove papers, files and other stuff, you are wasting time.

Being surrounded by stuff is also very distracting. This is why when you see motivating pictures of a person or people at work, they have beautiful clean desks, they are smiling and the sun is shining. When you see a picture of a person stressed out, overworked and overwhelmed, their desks are cluttered and it is dark.

If you want an instant boost to your productivity, clear all the stuff away from your desk and just have your computer and maybe a cup of coffee. You will surprise yourself with how this small act of minimalism immediately boosts your productivity. You also find yourself being much more focused on the work you are doing.

7. Having less means you have fewer decisions to make.

Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and many others discovered the secret art of wearing the same clothes every day. Why? It turns out when you reduce the number of decisions you need to make each day, you make better and more calculated decisions.

This means not having to decide what to wear each day is one less decision you need to make. This can also go for what food to eat, what jewellery to wear and what apps to use. When you use the same thing to do the same work, you no longer have to waste time and cognitive energy trying to decide what to use.

Having to make all these decisions day after day is stressful. You may not always be aware of it, but when you have less to decide, you have more energy and focus to do the things you want to do.

Where possible, try to create routines. For me, I start the week by writing my weekly blog post. I record my YouTube videos every Friday afternoon and I prepare my podcast scripts on a Tuesday morning. These tasks are scheduled in my calendar as recurring events. I do not need to try and decide when I will do them. Those decisions are already made.

Having fewer decisions to make each week, gives you more time and energy to focus on what you have identified as being important. It also helps you to build the right kind of routines so you make huge progress in your work.

Final Thoughts

Minimalism might have been a buzzword for the twenty-teens, but minimalism has been around for hundreds of years. The ancient Greek philosophers swore by living a minimalist life, the philosophy of Stoicism is built around a more minimalist, meaningful life and much of the eastern spiritual teaching, such as Buddhism and Taoism teach living a more purposeful minimalist life.

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If you want to feel more relaxed and live a more purposeful life, perhaps adopting a few of these minimalist practices will serve you as well in the future as it has served so many in the past.

More About Minimalism

Featured photo credit: Bench Accounting via unsplash.com

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Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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