From 2016 to 2018, 90 percent of all the data that existed at the end of 2018 was created. In other words, information is cascading into our lives, through voice speakers, smartphones, fitness trackers, and social media, to name a few.
From certain perspectives, this is an incredible thing. It leads to new innovations and insights and creates entirely new businesses… but this massive influx of new information also threatens to drown out simple, solid wisdom. Especially when anyone with an Instagram account can call themselves a “self-help guru.”
The truth is, though I won’t claim it’s easy, the key to a successful, uncomplicated life is pretty simple.
Cut the Clutter, Embrace Invention, and Channel Your Efforts
As someone who has worked in a competitive industry (finance) in a competitive city (New York City), while juggling a side hobby as a landscape photographer and volunteer hours, I try to focus on these three ideas: cutting the clutter, embracing invention, and channeling my efforts.
These ideas might not guarantee success, but they put me in the best position to achieve what I want to and be happy while I’m doing it. They can do the same for you. So let’s go a little deeper into each idea so you can understand where I’m coming from when I suggest building on these three ideas for a simpler, more successful life.
Cutting the Clutter: Removing Distractions
No one wants to feel cluttered, mentally or physically. But almost all of us are extremely mentally cluttered. By that I mean we’re being pulled into tons of different directions by people as well as notifications on our phone and emails popping into our inbox. Fortunately, there are so many small things we can do to cut out some of these distractions. In fact, the problem isn’t usually that there aren’t solutions to the problem of distraction… it’s that we tend to accept that distraction is the natural state of things.
Don’t accept this. Stop leaving your email application open so every email that comes through takes you away from what you’re doing. Use the settings on your phone to disable notifications for apps you don’t need notifications for. These are just a couple of steps you can easily take today to remove distractions. But keep looking for ways to cut out distractions; for example, I use my subway ride into work to read and answer emails so when I arrive at work I can dive deep into whatever it is I’m working on. I also avoid immediately buying new gadgets before I have a chance to truly evaluate what they’re adding to my life or business. And if they don’t add anything, even if that means I still use an iPod from 2007, then I avoid buying them.
By cutting out the mental clutter, you will leave more room for times of deep concentration. Whatever you do, whether you are an artist, a financial analyst, or a salesperson, you need the ability to concentrate deeply for extended periods of time. And that’s not just because it’ll make you more productive. As the Atlantic puts it, “Better concentration makes life easier and less stressful.”
Embracing Invention: Removing the Fear of Discovery
Maybe it’s a product of the our education system, but too often I notice that people approach a problem as if they could look up the solution to that problem in a book somewhere. They want instruction. They want to be told what to do and how to do it. But this hampers their ability to discover a solution.
To be clear, I’m not advocating that you don’t use the wisdom and tools created by others to solve problems. Rather, I’m suggesting that you avoid approaching problems as if there is a textbook solution. Doing so puts you in a mental box and prevents you from entering into a unique place between research and deliverable where discovery happens. Embrace ambiguity and the unknown and have faith in yourself to come out the other side with a solution.
Channel Your Efforts
Just as there is essentially an infinite amount of information beamed into us every day, there is are an infinite number of things that we can pursue in the world. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Where just half a century ago only a small portion of the population even had access to an education, an increasing number of people now have access to an increasing opportunity set.
To be sure, this is a great thing. But it also comes with its challenges. Where our ancestors may have had a narrow set of choices, we now have many. And for many of us, paralysis can set in and we find it hard to know how or when to move forward.
To that end, it’s increasingly critical that we channel our efforts into the things that bring us closer to our goals. After all, while we might not know exactly what we want to do with the rest of our lives, we can at least come close to understanding what we want out of life. And by working towards those things, even if it’s not in a traditional way, we can find our way back to discover exactly what it is we want to do with our everyday life.
Not to mention, by channeling your efforts in this way, you’re making the best use of the limited amount of time and resources that you have at your disposal. For example, I know that at my job most of my superiors aren’t fully aware of what I do every day. However, I do give presentations to those people and in those moments, they are very aware of what I’m doing.
For that reason, I channel my efforts very strongly into making the most of those presentations. I prioritize preparation for those presentations because I know those opportunities are unique ones where I can demonstrate my work product. In life and your career, I believe it is important to find leverageable moments like these.