In my daily life, I help others practice the art of simplicity, achieving goals, and following their passions. As I teach on the art of simplicity for starting a company, developing customers, creating a product, designing the world, or defining a dreamline, I can see others making mistakes I’ve made in the past.
I want to gently say to them — and to my self — “Stop making things so complicated!”
I’m not going to criticize how other people do things, but rather talk about things I did wrong in the past.
The biggest problem came when starting a new endeavor — starting a new project, a design, a new company, a new exercise routine, trying to get organized or productive, starting a blog, getting out of debt, even the act of simplifying itself. For creatives like myself, simplicity is productivity, and a healthy dose of productive creativity will keep you on the tack of lifestyle design.
I always had way of making things more complicated in order to simplify them. In looking back on it, I either want to cringe or laugh. And yet, I know that life is a learning process, and those early mistakes helped me to get to where I am. Even now, I make tons of mistakes, learning as I go.
Example 1: I wanted to be more productive, so I learned GTD (Getting Things Done, an excellent book by David Allen). I bought tools that other GTD and life hackers recommended, set up a series of lists, tried out a couple dozen different software (and paper) approaches to lists. Every GTD aficionado knows this problem. GTD, and many other productivity systems, can end up being complicated. In areas of my career, I learned to master the art of Getting Real, Agile craftsmanship, Scrum, Lean, Action Method and a few other methodology driven techniques.
“The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today, my advice to my former self is: stop making it complicated. Productivity, such as I care about it today, is simple. You pick the most important thing you want to do today, clear distractions, and start on it. You don’t even need a list, though having a list for remembering what else needs to be done later is fine. Have one list, but don’t fiddle with it. Just pick one thing, and start working.
Example 2: When I wanted to get out of debt, I tried various financial software, I made spreadsheets, I made schedules for payments, I tracked everything, and so on. It was complicated, very complicated.
Now I know it’s simple. First, stop the unnecessary spending (I know, easier said than done, but once you learn to recognize it and stop your impulse urges, it’s not complicated). Second, put everything you can to one debt at a time (first creating an emergency fund of at least $500), pay off that one debt, then pay off the next.
Example 3: When I started blogging, I looked at dozens of different blogging platforms/software, themes, ad platforms, ebooks, articles on every possible blogging topic. This is natural, as I was just learning the field. I started and stopped several times because I made it too complicated.
But today, I know it’s simple: you pick a topic, and write. Then hit publish. Share it if you like, but don’t worry so much about that. Just write interesting and/or useful stuff, and people will find you eventually. Just write, and publish.
When you start something new, sure, there’s a learning process. But also realize that while the learning is good, the doing doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Find the simplest way to do things, and just start doing it. You’ll learn by doing.
“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
– Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics