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Last Updated on May 28, 2019

Less Is More: How to Adopt Simplicity and Become Productive with Less

Less Is More: How to Adopt Simplicity and Become Productive with Less

I’ve just spent the past two weeks in South Africa. I love South Africa, its people, its diversity, its beauty. But one thing that I am reminded of every time I visit is how life in Africa can be much simpler. Time moves more slowly and life takes on a different rhythm; the majority of African people have learnt to live with less. This is my goal and my current journey; to live life with more simplicity, to unburden myself and to eliminate the excess in all areas of my life.

In the first phase of my journey to become more productive. I sought ways to work faster, to do things in a more efficient manner. I never thought to rid myself of the excess, to eliminate the unnecessary or to minimize and simplify. Phase two of my journey is in progress and it’s focused on simplicity. I am actively trying to eliminate the excess in all areas of life which will create freedom from stress, complexity, and excess.

Here are the areas which I am currently working on:

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Less Information

We are constantly bombarded with information of all sorts from all realms of life, Modern life has been coined the “information age”. We have it at our fingertips, the phones which we carry in our pockets connect us to the answers of the Universe ( or rather will connect us when we find the answers). We can play a game, book a flight, call in dinner, buy a tree or anything else at the click of a button and all the information required to make those purchases lies in the palm of our hands. Fantastic yes, but overwhelming at times. One page or link leads to another and another. When is it enough information? When can we say stop?

Suggested Solutions

  1. Reduce the number of newsletter and websites you subscribe to, only subscribe to websites you can’t live without. Rather than let the information come to you, go to find the information on your own time and terms.
  2. Consume less media. Rather than reading a daily newspaper or watching the daily news try reducing it to once a week catching the highlights. (This won’t be possible for everybody in every country but for those who can, consider it)
  3. Reduce the number of meetings you attend, try to get summaries or minutes instead. Only go when your presence is totally necessary
  4. Introduce one low tech day a week. A day where you don’t use the internet, email, or electronic device. If this is impossible try it for just a morning. It’s an amazing way to reduce distractions and create an environment for focus.

Less Stuff

We all have too much stuff, too many clothes and shoes, CDs and DVDs. Excess goods tend to cause clutter and clutter is negative energy. Learning to live without too much stuff is a lesson everyone should learn early in life. Your things do not define you, who you are or who you intend to be.

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Suggested Solutions

Clean as you go

  1. Regularly de-clutter and donate or recycle your possessions you no longer use.
  2. Use the one in one out rule. Every time you make a purchase you must throw something out. This is a great habit for children to implement, it makes them aware of the value of the things they have and the things they want.
  3. Don’t go to shopping centers/malls unless you absolutely can’t buy something elsewhere. If you are in a mall you will always find something you think you need and most of the time you could actually live without it if you hadn’t seen it.

Less Work

Working too hard or too long is usually counter productive. If you are constantly overwhelmed with work the next step is illness or burnout. You need to take steps to eliminate time wasting activities and reduce your workload where possible

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Suggested Solutions

  1. Schedule your work. This will show you what can physically get done in the time you are prepared to spend working daily. Remember when you say “yes” in work what are you saying “no’ to in your personal life. Is your family suffering because you have agreed to take on extra work?
  2. Take regular stretch breaks, if you can go for a short walk or get some fresh air this will be even better. Do a yoga pose or simply breathe deeply. This will prevent muscular and mental fatigue which will help you stay alert and focused for longer.
  3. “Only do what only you can do” I don’t know where this quote comes from but I love it. A regular reminder to delegate and outsource where possible. Don’t try to do everything yourself. If you work for a company and can delegate do so. If you are self employed only do what you are good at, use your strengths and let the experts in other areas do what they are good at. And if you have no control over your workload, do your work to the best of your ability with the highest quality so that you can be proud of what you achieve in a day. As Robin Sharma would say “Be the Bono of the Mail room”
  4. And of course the most important suggestion of all. Take it easy – life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

The Bottom Line

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…” — Henry David Thorea

If you can reduce the noise and clutter in your life, and eliminate that which is unnecessary and excess you should be able to see through the woods to focus on what matters. In this way you will get more of the important work done in less time with less stress.

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Featured photo credit: Norbert Levajsics via unsplash.com

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Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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