When I started this column two years ago, I had no idea if it would work.
I knew we were heading off together toward the elusive goal of “simplicity”, but beyond that, I had no idea where it would take us. Or, more to the point, me. (No offense.)
I certainly didn’t expect to achieve total simplicity in two short years. Which is good, because I certainly did not. But I have made progress, and often as a direct result of having this opportunity to shine a light on the main problem areas in my quest for a simple life.
Here’s a look at my progress on some of the primary anti-simplicity demons that I’ve been trying to tame since I began searching for a simpler life, many years ago…
Procrastination & Self-Sabotage
Just last week someone said to me, “I think things could happen easier for you if you could get out of your own way. I’m certain you have no idea what I’m talking about.”
Yeah, person who tried to reach out and help, so there! I know so much about how I’m interfering with my own progress that I can write three columns about it and STILL have no idea how to stop doing it. Ha! In your face!
Still got some work to do on this one. I’ll get around to it eventually.
On January 1st of this year, at 7 minutes before midnight (a.k.a. Procrastinator’s New Year’s Eve), I got my email inbox down to zero items—for the first time since I’ve had an email inbox, in 1996. And just to show it wasn’t a fluke, I’m going to get it back down to zero right now. Hang on.
There. Empty again. I’m not happy that it took me 15 years to get to this state, but I’m thrilled to finally be here. For most of that time, dealing with my inbox has felt like trying to stop a waterfall with my hands. But, even more problematically, it had become my taskmaster—serving as the main place I’d look to see what I should be doing next. And that’s not what an email inbox is for. (A fact that only truly becomes clear once your inbox is completely empty.)
I’ve been in an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with my inbox for so long that I really don’t know what life will be like now that that’s over with. But I’m really looking forward to finding out.
Papers & Stuff
Switching my perspective on all that stuff—from “ever-looming overdue dark cloud from the past” to “just a regular current/future to-do item” made a huge difference. If I hadn’t spent half of the year since then moving from place to place, I’d probably have it all winnowed down to ideal levels by now. But even without reaching that nirvana, I have found a certain level of peace just by taking away the power I had granted to those dumb inanimate objects.
The task of “taming the dreaded Backlog” is neither as awful nor as big nor as important as I had been making myself believe, and just recognizing that fact has been one of the biggest stress relievers of my whole life.
Another giant turn-around in the stuff department has been in the acquisition side of things. I had been a “pack rat” since I could remember, and until just a couple years ago, every place I had lived by myself had become packed wall-to-wall with, to use the scientific term, crapola.
I can honestly report that those days are over, at least as far as I can see. I’ve developed a much more stringent approach toward taking on new things—and this is probably the 5th year in a row that has shown a net decrease in my number of possessions. Very little new comes in—and only after it has firmly justified itself.
I can picture four different places I’ve lived that you had to be careful walking through because parts of them were so crowded with stuff. (I wasn’t kidding when I said at the outset of this journey that I would’ve almost qualified to be on Hoarders.)
In contrast, the place I’m living at now could legitimately be called “Spartan”. Every hallway is clear, two rooms are essentially empty, the majority of closet space is unused, and I barely have any furniture. And I couldn’t care less.
Whatever it was that had me thinking stuff could solve things somehow is gone, or at least deeply dormant. This is probably my greatest victory so far.
Getting Things Done / To-Do List & Mind Map / Getting Help
I must confess I never ended up turning my life into a TV schedule, as I discussed doing in late 2010. As regular readers know, I had a tree disaster early in the year, and spent much of my time and energy in 2011 on moving and re-establishing myself.
But one major thing has turned around since back in the old days: tasks and to-do items are no longer my main controlling force. Which is pretty huge.
If you make your to-do list your top priority, and then you make a to-do list so huge that you only have .01% of the resources needed to get it done…well then, you’re very likely to burn yourself out from stress and over-commitment, like I did.
Out of necessity and, let’s call it “wisdom”, I’ve changed my whole approach to life, so that my to-do list is not my dominant priority. Happiness, and feeling good about the actual moments that I’m living in is instead.
Feeling a certain way—a good, healthy, simplified, in-control way—is now my top priority. And it turns out it’s much easier to focus on that than constantly trying to conquer a to-do list that can’t be conquered.
Or I should say, a to-do list that can’t be conquered without a lot of help. My quest for an assistant who can survive in my alien atmosphere continues, but I still count a victory on that front, just in my fundamental recognition that I do need help to get where I want to go. Lance of the Early 2000’s had not accepted that fact. (Which is why that Lance unceremoniously crashed and burned.)
Spawning New Projects / Voice Recordings
Purchasing a digital voice recorder and working it into my daily routine has been a blessing and a curse for sure. On the one hand, I’ve been blessed with a means to draw more than 9,000 recorded notes out of my crowded head—everything from song lyrics to grand plans to product ideas that will never come to light (and shouldn’t). Not to mention hundreds of jokes for my comedy routine, hundreds of story and screenplay ideas…and hundreds of dizzying folders and subfolders in an ever-growing area of my computer’s hard drive.
Which is to say, I haven’t entirely solved the voice recorder problem. But I have made leaps and bounds in the right direction—and I can report here that in the time since this column started 2 years ago, I have turned the tide on organizing my massive archive of recorded notes. The bulk of them are sorted out to some extent, and the top task of sorting through my “Creative” folders so I can get at all the notes that have been holding up my writing projects will be done by the end of this month. That is HUGE.
Perhaps even more importantly, I’ve gotten a handle(-ish) on my tendency to constantly spawn whole new projects. I have a natural tendency toward workaholism, in the form of a never-ending desire to be creating, producing, learning, and growing. I don’t think that’s going away. And until I finish finding the way to truly serve that desire in the best possible way, I need to make sure it doesn’t drown me in new responsibilities. I now have a sort of “idea triage” system that only lets truly critical ideas through, and keeps the others sitting out in the proverbial lobby until I have the staff available to deal with them.
The system still needs improvement, in order to better serve my ideas and help me manifest them. But the most important thing is protecting me from the onslaught of new potential projects, and I’m having real success there. That’s not a problem anymore. Mostly.
Do I still have a long way to go to achieve “the simple life”? Is that a real question? Of course I do! I may very well end up chasing after simplicity for the rest of my life, as I said in my previous column. But as I also said there, and in the related podcast discussion with Shawn Tuttle, the important thing is trying, and doing good work, and making whatever progress you can toward your goals. And when it comes to the goal of simplicity, I’ve made so much progress since I began my quest in 2005 that I barely recognize myself as compared to the guy from back then.
While it’s always easy to judge myself harshly, and find elements of my quest for simplicity that seem too daunting to overcome (I’m looking at you, procrastination, and you self-sabotage—you big jerk), it’s also easier and easier to find victories and ways that I have been able to turn things around completely. Change hasn’t come easily, or quickly, but it has most definitely come about, in dramatic and very satisfying ways.
Thanks for joining me on the journey!