To minimize your life is choosing to live by design, not by default. You decide where to allocate your time, focus, and efforts.
I read Essentialism months ago. But a quote in the book stayed on my mind:
“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”― John Maxwell
Days passed and I kept pondering this simple sentence.
In the beginning, I thought about possessions, such as clothes or furniture. And then I realized it also applies to work and productivity. Coming back to it time and time again made me question almost all areas of life.
The “unimportance of practically everything” can be seen in both our personal — possessions, commitments, relationships— and professional — to-dos, projects, careers — lives.
From early on we are scripted to believe the 1:1 ratio. But life in nonlinear. It’s skewed. Very skewed.
Vilfredo Pareto was the first to stumble upon this nonlinearity when observing peapods in his garden. And then he kept seeing the same pattern everywhere else. The 80/20 rule was born:
Almost everything is worthless and very few things are exceptionally valuable. Less is more.
To minimize your life you’ll need a new script: everything is irrelevant but for a few things.
Why You Must Minimize Your Life
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” — Socrates
To make a permanent change in paradigm and effectively rescript our life, we must start at the beginning. We must start at the why.
Here’s what minimizing your life will bring you:
- More Efficient: a cleaner space and schedule gives you a sense of tranquility. You finally have enough time to do what’s truly important
- More Time: owning and doing things carry high costs. Stuff has maintenance costs: to care for them, move around, store. Doing less frees up your time to focus on the essential few
- Less Stress: no more overloaded schedules, running from one place to the next, always rushing. It also removes visual distractions and mental stress
- Better Health: having and doing less calms your mind and brings clarity, as well as improves your memory as your brain carries less
- Freedom: things don’t own you anymore, you only own things you love. And as you design your life, you live by your own priorities rather than someone else’s agenda
The 1% knows this all too well: the secret to genius is not complexity, it’s simplicity.
How to Minimize Your Life
“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” — Bruce Lee
To minimize your life, you must change your mindset to embrace less.
To simplify think what can you remove before asking what you must add. Only when you systematically focus on a few things you realize what’s missing.
Here’s the three-step plan to minimize your life:
- Decide What’s Unimportant
- Know What’s Important
- Question Everything, Constantly
First, we will cover the low priorities of your life. You might discover you are focusing on the wrong priorities and cluttering your brain and wasting your time.
Then, we will move to what’s really important to you. These are the things you love, bringing you joy.
Finally, we will adopt a new mentally of simplification, questioning ourselves constantly if we are allocating our time, attention, and money, wisely.
Importance is relative so you are the best judge of the plan to minimize your life. What’s important to me might be irrelevant for you, and vice-versa.
Make your own choices.
Only you know the script you need.
Step 1: Decide What’s Unimportant
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”― Steve Jobs
As a first step, we will decide on the 99% of things that do not matter. Rather than try to focus on everything, we will consciously leave a lot of parts of our lives blank.
Here’s the exercise:
Make a list of things that you consider low priorities. What are you willing to fail at that wouldn’t make much of a difference to you?
Here’s are some of the things on my list:
- Following the news
- Politics (beyond basic issues)
- Watching television
- Being fashionable (beyond the baseline)
- What other people are doing
- Games of all sorts
Before judging me, let’s be clear that I do not dream of living in a cave wearing a toga. I just consciously decide to not focus on these areas and instead direct my attention to what’s truly important to me.
I’m happy to be less than fashionable as long as I succeed in helping people be more productive. Because the latter is more important to me than the former.
Come up with your own list.
Make it as long as you possibly can.
This is essential to discern the “trivial many” from the “essential few”.
Step 2: Know What’s Important
“Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.” — Stephen Covey
Now make a list of everything that you love.
Start with what you own — clothes, gadgets, collections, etc. — and then move to activities and relationships.
Here’s a snippet of mine as an example:
- MacBook Pro (everything on a Mac just “works”)
- My guitar (it never lets me down)
- Blue Asics shoes (seriously, they are ridiculously comfortable)
- Bose Headphones (a blessing to work)
- Sleeping well every day (I bought a new bed last year, best investment ever)
- Taking care of my body and weight (which lead to an interesting experiment)
- Reading books on topics that fascinate me
- Watching concerts, theater, and shows (even when they’re not so great I have fun)
- Getting lunch/dinner with friends (I work from a home office and it’s a great way to get some social interaction with people I enjoy being with)
For you, this could mean those awesome leggings that are super comfortable, playing basketball with friends, or spending time with your significant other.
Write down everything that brings you joy in life.
Maybe you’ve been neglecting some of those things. This list will put them back to your top priorities.
From Cal Newport’s Deep Work: “Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”
Step 3: Question Everything, Constantly
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” — Albert Einstein
Once we understand the non-linearity of life, new behaviors become instinctive. Our brain constantly scans our environment to determine what’s really essential and eliminate everything else.
And that’s the last step to minimize your life: constantly question the value of your actions, commitments, relationships, habits, things.
Do I really need to use shampoo? Why?
Are more clothes giving me more happiness? What if I only keep the ones I love and donate everything else?
Is email really necessary? If yes: can I deal with just the 1% of what’s truly important in email?
Do I even like coffee or am I drinking out of habit?
Why am I going to the gym if I don’t love it? Can I find an activity that I love that will also keep me in shape?
Am I focusing on the right projects at work? Or am I letting other people dictate my priorities?
Why can’t I get anything done in the morning? I need to schedule Deep Work time and block people and distractions before moving to anything else.
If I delete Facebook will anybody even care/notice? Do I even like Facebook?
By constantly questioning assumptions, you’ll find new answers in your life. And that, ultimately, leads to a better, happier life.
A life that’s designed by you, for you.