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Keeping It Simple

Henry David Thoreau said in Walden, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

How do we begin to simplify our lives?

We begin with being aware of what we are doing and why.

We ask:  Towards what and to whom am I putting my energy?

We then ask:  What drives me to do these activities?  What beliefs and values lie beneath my decisions and actions?

We can simplify our choices in what we do by …  Doing What is Important

Stephen Covey outlines in the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” that life’s tasks can be organized into four areas or quadrants: important and urgent (e.g., deadline-driven work), important and non-urgent (e.g., preventative tasks, relationship building, recreation, seeking new opportunities), not important and urgent (e.g., non-crisis interruptions, calls, chores) and not important and not urgent (e.g., trivial time-wasting tasks).

Where do you spent most of your time? We may spend hours each day cleaning/sorting the house or Googling, and yet wonder why bills have not been attended to or why life feels boring or lacks meaning despite having “filled” our days.

Applying Covey’s ‘80/20 Rule,’ it suggests that few (20%) tasks are vital or matter and many (80%) are trivial. If we are spending close to 80% of our time involved in non-urgent not important tasks, no wonder we are finding life meaningless.

As Goethe advised, “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

Carve out quality ‘quadrant two’ time by setting boundaries … blocks of time (time-outs) away from others, screen time, noise, etc. so you can focus on what matters most.

Identify what ‘matter most’

“Keep it simple and focus on what matters.”    Confucius

James Hollis suggests in “What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life,” there exists a necessity “to become more and more of ourselves.”  If what matters most is living according to our true selves, then why the avoidance?  Why aren’t we doing what our soul truly desires?

Begin by isolating what actually you are avoiding? If you were not partaking in non-urgent not important tasks, what would you be doing or feeling instead? For example, if you were not cleaning so much you might have time to volunteer. If you did not shop as much you might not be distracted from feeling grief or boredom.

We may have become so distanced from what we truly want that the answer to “What matters most?” does not come easily. Further, when the answer does come it often challenges us to make changes we are not willing to take. This is the crux of our unfocused, unfulfilled and addictive ways – avoiding our fears, feelings and wounds, as well as avoiding our many unlived possibilities.

Speaking of being unfocussed …Keep in the Moment 

Are we enjoying the here and now?  Create focus … mood, space, and intent when doing something.

Monotasking involves concentrating on doing one thing (and one thing only) until finished. The concept has its roots in mindfulness — paying attention to the current moment. But while the goal of mindfulness in the traditional sense is relaxation, monotasking is all about getting tasks done. By maintaining conscious focus on each task, one is able to get more done in a shorter period of time.

And, it can actually make work more enjoyable. This is because people get the same dopamine rush when ticking things off our to-do list one by one that we get when multi-tasking.  And, because we are not draining our brain’s finite resources by multi-tasking, we don’t get the same cognitive and psychological stress.

However, there are certain circumstances in which we are better at multi-tasking – when we feel relaxed and when we’ve been doing a mentally creative exercise which encourages us to think broadly.  Ironically, when people are stressed, and thus, more likely to multi-task, their multi-tasking abilities decrease.

Avoid the Urge (or compulsion) to Complicate Matters

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”     Confucius

One must be careful and aware of a part of us wanting to make things complicated.  One might even believe when situations are simple that this is somehow wrong or boring. We can reframe simplicity using Leonardo da Vinci’s statement, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

We may be unconsciously creating chaos – adding drama – in our lives, by worrying, what-iffing, futurizing, catastrophizing, looking for solutions, etc., when we really do not need to.

We may be familiar with Rube Goldberg’s machines – those intentionally overly-complex, multi-step devices designed to achieve one task. For some lightness, and yet, a symbolic visual of how our minds (all those twisting and connecting neural pathways!) can complicate circumstances, instead of applying a “this too shall pass” approach, view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qybUFnY7Y8w [if you’d like, mute and mindfully view, however there are lovely glass chimes at 1:20].

Simple, our task is to  … Create days and moments that are FULL (of moments/times of meaning, connection, joy, peace, kindness … whatever is important to you) rather than busy.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.