“Keep it simple, stupid!”
I still remember my Year 7 Maths teacher’s words as he broke down an impossible-looking equation on the board, bit by bit until it suddenly made perfect sense.
I don’t remember his name (sorry, Sir!) but his ability to break down complexity into something small and manageable, until it seemed absolutely obvious and simple has stayed with me.
20 odd years later and I’m still using the phrase, although I tend to go the gentler route of “keep it super simple” as not everyone appreciates the “stupid” part.
Finding simplicity in seemingly complex situations is one of the key things I do for the lovely humans I work with. Stripping away noise from big projects or challenges and breaking them down into clear, bite-sized pieces is the key to reducing overwhelm so we can live and work as stress-free as possible.
I LOVE finding ways to make life and work simpler so you can imagine my delight when I discovered there was a whole day dedicated to SIMPLICITY.
It happens every year on July 12th in honour of Henry David Thoreau, who was an advocate of simple living.
Thoreau was a jack-of-all-trades, a generalist or a multi-hyphenate, if you will. An author, environmentalist, poet… but he was most famous for being a transcendentalist.
Put simply (pun intended) he believed that people have knowledge about themselves that goes waaaaay beyond the external factors in their lives. He advocated that living simply helps us to bypass daily distractions so we can get in touch with our intuitive knowledge.
It might already sound a little bit woo-woo but wait, there’s more…
He also believed that simplicity is the key to achieving true happiness.
True happiness! That’s pretty BIG, right?
Simplicity and Happiness
Now, I can’t confirm that I have 100% achieved TRUE HAPPINESS, I most definitely have wobbly days, but I can tell you that over the last few years I’ve simplified my life massively, breaking things down, bit by bit, until what I’m left with makes sense.
Now, sense will mean something different to everyone.
To me, it means that there is a lot more ease and structure. It also means that everything I do is connected to a bigger purpose. That could be improving my finances to feel more secure or spending time with friends and family to feel more connected and supported.
Regardless of what it means to you, the important thing is that your actions are considered and intentional.
This will help you to feel like you are in control, moving forward and that your energy is bringing you results that you want, rather than being left to fate.
Control and steady progress are really important facets of good wellbeing and help us avoid burnout.
Now, you don’t have to live frugally or remove things that bring you joy, it’s a case of defining what is really important to you and your needs and slowly but steadily hacking away at anything that isn’t.
Simplifying = Cutting Back
For me, one of the first big steps I took in simplifying my life was when I donated/sold/recycled about 50% of my possessions as part of a house move.
Despite the chaos of a new job, city and house my life actually became immediately simpler.
Less clothes to choose from and less things to organise meant more space – physical and mental – more time and more calm.
I was hooked.
I stuck with it, committing to not buy anything that wasn’t essential, getting rid of anything that wasn’t practical, loved or used frequently.
This spilt over into the way I planned and prepared food, how I spent my time (see ya later FOMO socials and endless meetings) how I managed money (FYI, simple living is cheaper), how I travelled, how I set up my business, everything…
Almost 5 years later and I can confirm that my life is way simpler, my possession and my time make far more sense and I’M MOST DEFINITELY HAPPIER
Thoreau was onto something.
The benefits of simplicity
By stripping away everything that wasn’t truly necessary, it became very clear what was important to me. It gave me time and space to focus my efforts on those things. The things that really mattered.
It allowed me to untangle the gazillion thoughts and ideas about where I was going and why.
It gave me the confidence to take big decisions that I had been putting off for a long time.
It gave me space to start conversations with myself and others that I’d previously been “too busy” to get into.
It helped me get my head around seemingly gigantic projects that felt like they would bury me and my team.
Stripping things back to basics helped me keep myself stable in the moments when I would have previously been running to the nearest cubicle for a good old cry/silent scream.
How to live more simply
I know that real life throws can throw you complex curve balls that you can’t avoid (hello, global pandemic!).
But there are plenty of things you can do (or stop doing) to help make your personal and professional life simpler, which ultimately makes those curve balls easier to tackle.
The very first simple steps I recommend are…
1. Have less stuff
And by “stuff” I basically mean everything. Clothes, kitchen appliances, screens, papers sprawled over your desks, the million tabs you have open. Declutter it all!
Less stuff → less distractions → more space → more focus → happier, calmer, simpler life.
Even if you just box it up and throw it in the garage or under your desk for a few weeks, a sort of non-committal-simple-living. If you don’t think about it or go to retrieve it during that time, it’s safe to say it can go for good. I’m sure you’ll find you have more time and more calm in your days.
2. Write things down
And I don’t mean in a heap of different places, or on scraps of paper, or in multiple calendars.
Put things, work and pleasure, in one place – be it on paper or in an app – and only keep one calendar.
You can colour code, label, whatever you need to do to distinguish and prioritise but having things sprawled across multiple spaces is a sure-fire way to complicate your day, double book and overstretch yourself.
Everything is simpler when we are well-rested. We aren’t designed to have positive emotions nor be on the go for long periods of time. We need rest to be happy and calm.
Be sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep for you. Take breaks during the day. Don’t let work spill into your personal time. Be sure to book in longer breaks and take holidays where you totally disconnect.
We all deserve and need frequent periods of rest so please don’t let yourself get exhausted before you take a pause. If you do, that pause will not longer be rest, it will be recovery!
These three tips could be dissected and added to but as this whole post is about simplicity, I’ll stop here.
If you’re interested in applying my old maths teacher’s principle to the way you work and live, book a free call with me . I’d love to help you simplify the big things and bring some calm to this chaotic world for you.