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7 Ways Minimalist Living Improves Your Productivity

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7 Ways Minimalist Living Improves Your Productivity

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 October 7, 2021

Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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Are You Addicted to Productivity?

“It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

“Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

“The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

This is my mantra:

I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

Addiction to Productivity is Real

Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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“A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

“It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

“A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

“There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

“For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

  • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
  • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
  • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
  • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
  • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
  • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
  • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

1. Set Limits

Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

2. Create a Not-to-Do List

Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

3. Be Vulnerable

By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

5. Don’t Be a Copycat

Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

6. Say Yes to Less

Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

“In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

“That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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  • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
  • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
  • Establish realistic goals.
  • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
  • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
  • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

8. Simplify

Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

9. Learn How to Relax

“Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

“But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

“And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

  • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
  • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
  • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
  • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
  • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
  • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
  • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
  • Visit a massage therapist.
  • Just breathe.

“Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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