If you want to have a real, felt sense of achievement at the end of the day, productivity tweaks are not the answer, choosing simplicity is.
We exhaust ourselves trying to be more productive, finding ways to squeeze more and more juice out of ourselves and forget that one act completed per day is enough.
I remember a friend of mine told me how he’d read a book that helped him master his in-box and improve his productivity. He was delighted with his system that allowed him to move e-mails into various sub-in-boxes to prioritise, action and delete…. his troubles were over.
Until his productivity increased the flow, which stretched and stressed his system. He was now back running flat out again, achieving more, churning through the e-mails rapidly but completely frazzled as the deluge increased.
Our world seems to conspire against us. Every time we create more capacity to create more breathing space, that capacity gets used up and we find ourselves running faster than before.
We need to accept that the answer to our problems is not going to come from increasing capacity but from an acceptance that we all have limited capacity and therefore need to use it wisely each day.
All too often our capacity is pretty much maxed out and we are stuck in ‘busyness’ and as a consequence we spread ourselves thin, we allow ourselves to be distracted by competing priorities and we believe our to-do lists are sacrosanct, like some divine being wrote them and therefore they must be obeyed.
This collective addiction to busyness has become a norm and has spawned a whole industry called ‘personal productivity’. An industry that has legitimized busyness under the guise of getting stuff done. But I bet that if I asked you right now, what is the one thing you really want to get done today, how often does that happen? Once a week, once a month, rarely?
Busyness has its up-side though. When we’re busy we don’t really have to think, we just react and do. We don’t have to live deliberately but instead live accidentally, blown to and fro by whatever crosses our path that day. Busyness is a great excuse to not get stuff done AND it’s a great excuse to avoid the tough stuff, the conflicts, the challenges, the hurdles of life that are then avoided.
And its corrosive. It may be easier to be busy but as we know it doesn’t necessarily make it pleasant. It’s stressful, it takes its toll on our zest for life, it reduces the pleasure of living and it just makes us downright unhappy.
I read somewhere that Arianna said we are all ‘pretending at life’ being busy but not really being here, in the now. So what is the antidote, how can we live with a little more peace, a little more sense of accomplishment and a lot less stress?
Well, taking a vow of simplicity is an easy but powerful daily action that can help. That vow of simplicity is for me, making a personal commitment to getting one thing done today. That’s it. No explainers, no set rules and boundaries, just that one simple commitment.
Why does this work?
Firstly, we now know that big life changes, or kicking big goals begins with small, consistent, incremental steps. It is no surprise that every successful rock star, mom, dad, business person or scientist got there through a series of small steps. Every overnight success story has a 10 year history.
Secondly, your busyness today, your priorities are NOT that important in the grand scheme of your life but getting one thing achieved has a significant beneficial effect on your mental and physical well-being. Darryl Bem’s ‘self-perception theory’ suggest that we create beliefs and attitudes about ourselves based on our behaviour. So if you suddenly see yourself as a person who gets things done, rather than a rat racer always trying to keep up, clearly that has a positive effect on your self regard and self esteem.
Finally, just getting stuff done improves your overall sense of accomplishment, sense of achievement and reduces your levels of stress and anxiety.
So there are no hard and fast rules about this vow of simplicity, I just make one each morning and tune out the distractions until I’m done.
It could be, ‘today I will spend 60 minutes of quality time with my kids. I will be fully present and fully immersed in them’. Or it could be ‘today I will finish the report I’ve been half way through for the last two weeks. No calls, no e-mails, just the report’. Or ‘today I’ll send that note to my old school friend to say I’m sorry to hear about the death in her family’.
This does not mean that other stuff needs to be ignored, it simply means that the most important thing (as defined by you) takes priority and gets completed.
The vow of simplicity is a recognition that we are amazing when we focus on one thing at a time (and a neurological truth). It recognises that mastery is a step by step process, not a leap by leap process (also a neurological truth). And finally it recognises that we are human and that one small step is a major achievement in a world obsessed with the myth of multi-tasking and the overnight success.
So, I encourage you to take the vow and if you feel moved to share it, please do, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And if you just can’t see how on earth you can make this happen in your life, let me know, I’ll see how I can help.
Grab your pen and paper, I’ll leave the rest to you 🙂
Originally published at medium.com