M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
Here we go again. Another day, another frantic bolt from start to finish. Another baseline of anxiety, punctuated by stress, numbed by sporadic distraction.
Your treadmill is running too fast – so fast that rest, exercise, hobbies and time with your loved ones all feel like childhood fantasies. You’re busy, you’re always too busy.
“Why am I always behind? Why does each day feel too short?” you wonder helplessly, “Why can’t life just be simple?”
And yet life can be simple. Your life can be simple. And you already have everything needed to get there.
“But how?” I hear you ask. The path to simplicity is simple itself:
- Identify the most important things to you in life; and
- Eliminate, automate or say no to everything else.
“But how?!” I hear you cry, “How can we buy ourselves time and energy to take back control? What can we do, right now, to get started?”
THREE SHORTCUTS TO SIMPLICITY
There are two tried and tested ways to almost magically simplify your life:
- Have a very serious health scare; or
- Take a very long trip (~6 months or more).
Fortunately, many are mostly spared the pains of the first. Unfortunately, even fewer experience the joys of the second.
But there’s also a less extreme way to cut through the noise and return to what matters:
- The Simplervention – a 5 step, 30-day intervention to a simpler, happier life.
The process is (unsurprisingly) simple:
- Stop the supply – Put a hard, temporary stop to anything adding complexity.
- Fix the basics – Use your new found time to sleep, exercise, eat well and slow down.
- Discover your baseline – Work out exactly where your time and energy go.
- Reflect and simplify – Identify then start or do more of what matters. Stop or do less of what doesn’t.
- Improve yourself – Get better at playing the game. Life is as complex as your ability to meet it.
Some of the challenges ahead may scare you. Others may feel impossible. Good. The more resistance you feel, the more you should force yourself to confront those dependencies.
Nothing proposed is permanent and the challenge lasts just 30 days. So approach the Simplervention with playful curiosity, and challenge yourself.
In the worst case, you’ll end up where you started. And the best case? You might just transform your life.
1 – STOP THE SUPPLY. (WEEKS 1+)
The first step to fixing a busted pipe that’s flooding your home is turning off the supply. The same basic principle applies to a Simplervention. Step one is to disconnect you from the mains. Only then can we sort through the wreckage of life, fix the plumbing and get your supply back to normal.
To stop your supply, you must commit seriously to each of the following measures for the next 30 days.
- Block time-sink websites;
- Delete time-sink apps;
- Disable all notifications;
- Unsubscribe from everything;
- Unplug your TV;
- Stop drinking;
- Buy nothing; and
- Start saying “No”.
Steps 1 through 5 need only be done once. Doing so should take no more than a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Steps 6 through 8 will demand light, firm and regular doses of discipline over the course of your 30-day Simplervention.
Remember, the more resistance you feel, the more you should force yourself to confront those dependencies.
You’re not giving these things up forever, you’re taking 30 days to remember you don’t need them.
i – BLOCK TIME-SINK WEBSITES.
Make a list of any websites you’ve spent time on in the last few weeks.
The list should cover everything, from social media, entertainment and news to shopping and porn.
Now, block all sites you’ve listed on all your devices for the next 30 days (click here for simple instructions).
If you catch yourself browsing substitutes during the Simplervention, add these to your list and block them too.
The only exceptions here are sites absolutely vital to your livelihood.
ii – DELETE TIME-SINK APPS.
Delete every non-critical app you’ve downloaded on all your computers and devices.
That includes all social media, entertainment, news or shopping apps. It also includes all deletable messaging apps and anything remotely game-like.
For extra points, temporarily block your ability to (re)install apps using your device’s parental control features.
iii – DISABLE ALL NOTIFICATIONS.
Disable all notifications for every remaining app on all your devices.
That means turning off badges, popups, pop downs, noises, lights, vibrations – everything.
The only exception is for incoming phone calls. If people are calling it’s possibly urgent – you can always decline if it’s not.
iv – UNSUBSCRIBE FROM EVERYTHING.
Unsubscribe from everything you’re not actively seeking.
That means all news and magazine subscriptions, email updates, newsletters – everything.
Search your inbox for “Unsubscribe” and opt-out of every newsletter or update you’re currently getting.
As for all these steps, make a note of everything you’re eliminating so you can optionally reactivate it later.
v – UNPLUG YOUR TV.
Unplug every TV in your home and store the power cables somewhere you can’t see or easily reach them.
You should already have blocked sites like Netflix and YouTube across all your devices in step (i).
vi – STOP DRINKING.
Go teetotal for 30-days.
If all you like is the taste of alcohol, it should be easy to give up for a month – just tell your friends you’re “detoxing”.
If you struggle to relax, be yourself or function without alcohol, you have bigger problems to deal with – problems that drinking won’t solve.
vii – BUY NOTHING.
Buy absolutely nothing new for the next 30 days.
That means no clothes, no gadgets, no subscriptions, no books, no tools, no toys – no anything. And that includes spending money on other people.
Instead, limit spending to nothing but food, transportation, bills, basic sanitary goods and urgent healthcare.
Reread your old books, re-wear your old clothes and if something breaks, repair it. In every other case, whatever it is can wait until next month.
viii – START SAYING “NO”.
Say no to everything and everyone for the next 30 days that doesn’t directly lead to quality time with your partner, family or 3 – 5 closest friends.
Say no to new commitments, projects, meetings and opportunities. Say no to lunches, dinners, drinks or even just people stopping by for a chat.
Either stick to a simple “No, I’m really sorry I’ve got something else on” or have fun coming up with outlandish excuses.
The only exceptions are genuine emergencies or otherwise immediately career-ending requests at work.
2 – FIX THE BASICS. (WEEKS 1+)
Following the steps above will unlock a glut of time, space and energy in your life.
Your job in week 1 is to use this new space to get your basics in order:
- REST – Sleep at least 7 – 9 hours each night. If you haven’t had a long vacation in a while aim for 8 – 10 hours.
- MOVEMENT – Do at least 45 minutes of strenuous exercise as many days of the week as possible.
- FUEL – Eat a varied diet (colour, food groups) and avoid processed sugars (soft drinks, snacks).
- SLOWING DOWN – Stop as often as 10 times each day to just be. Breathe, connect to your senses, really look at and listen to your loved ones and the world around you.
Whenever you’re lost or craving something you’ve given up in step 1, come back to and work on one of these four fundamentals.
Any time and energy you invest getting back to basics is always time and energy well spent.
3 – DISCOVER YOUR BASELINE. (WEEK 2+)
There are few keystone habits with impacts as immediate and profound as tracking your time.
From the start of week 2, use your calendar or journal to keep an honest and detailed record of what you get up to each day.
Next, schedule at least 10 minutes each evening to review that record and ask yourself:
- What went well? How long did you spend on things or with people that are really important to you?
- What lessons did you learn? How long were you lost in shallow work? Why?
- How can you make tomorrow 1% better?
Finally, take 5 minutes to visualise and plan tomorrow. Then, at your next review, compare your plan with your actuals for even more insight.
That’s all there is to it! Tracking your time in this way will make you automatically and acutely aware of opportunities to make your life simpler.
4 – REFLECT AND SIMPLIFY. (WEEK 3+)
With your headspace uncluttered, basics in order and baseline established, it’s time to simplify what’s left.
To do so, find 30 minutes each day of week 3 to list, examine and evaluate all your outstanding commitments.
Make a long list of every hobby, activity, possession, membership, subscription, organisation, project and relationship that makes demands on your time and your energy.
Next, take each one in turn and ask yourself: “Knowing what I now know, would I take on this commitment again today if I had the choice?”
Whenever your answer is “No” start taking steps right away to wind up that commitment, no matter how painful or daunting that seems.
To do so, either look for ways to automate or delegate your involvement OR put the commitment on hold for 30 days then eliminate it entirely.
The decisions you make in week 3 won’t be easy, but each will bring you closer to a life that feels simpler, purer and more focused.
Getting into the habit of making regular time for this kind of “zero-based thinking” is the master-key to keeping life simple and happy.
5 – IMPROVE YOURSELF. (WEEK 4+)
The extent to which anything (including life) feels hard or easy depends on two things:
- The complexity of the task; and
- The skill of the person tackling it.
In steps 1 through 4 of the Simplervention we focussed mostly on pruning complexity.
Step 5 is all about making you awesome. It’s about bringing you one step closer to mastering life’s relentless concerto.
What can we learn to get better at meeting life’s challenges? And how should we go about learning it?
That’s pretty much the focus of this entire blog (and thousands of years of philosophy). For now, why not:
- Master your mornings;
- Implement a good productivity system;
- Master the art of deep work;
- Learn how to learn anything, fast;
- Improve your memory;
- Think about the bigger picture; or
- Start reading more.
Don’t just be awesome, become awesome and watch life become simpler in turn.
Life is as simple as you choose to make it for yourself.
You make the game. You create the rules. You are the judge, court and jury.
We feel happiest when life is simple enough to let us excel but not so simple that we don’t feel stretched.
To get there you can either reduce the demands you’re imposing on yourself or get better at meeting them.
But doing any of this is impossible when you’re drowning in the shallows of trivial time-sinks.
That’s why the Simplervention works. It forces radical simplification, fixes the basics, builds clarity and direction and helps you live life in crescendo.
Do it once in your life, once per year or as often as needed to battle creeping complexity. Each time you do, you’ll find yourself settling closer and closer to that perfect ideal.
But the most important time to stage a Simplervention is now, so block out a few hours this weekend to get started.
Because enjoying greater simplicity, clarity and happiness isn’t just possible, it’s essential.
And all it takes is 5 simple steps.