Let’s do a thought experiment.
I want you to think of your life a little differently. Imagine for a moment that everything you choose brings personal value in some way. The decisions you make at work, in the shopping mall, at home: they are all value-adding choices.
How might you do things differently in your new life? What choices would, or wouldn’t you take?
At its heart, this is what minimalism is about. It’s taking a scattered, sporadic focus, littered with peripheral distractions, and honing it into a razor-sharp focus. And this newfound focus isn’t achieved by some dark magic; it’s achieved by focusing on what matters to you.
When we narrow our focus to this value-adding point, a natural consequence is that we generally confront less choices and take better decisions. With fewer choices, our minds are less cluttered and less distracted. Our energy levels soar. Minimising decisions, distractions and mind clutter becomes a productivity tool. We start to see it’s possible to do more with less.
Of course, that’s all well and good, but how does minimalism look in practice? What tangible actions can you take to experience these benefits for real?
The good news is that you don’t need to live your life from 20 items in a suitcase. My ask of you before we proceed is to get rid of that stereotype, if you ever had it. Think, instead, in the realms of our thought experiment. Think value-adding choices.
#1: Work smarter
Our relationship with work has changed considerably over the last century. We increasingly think of work as one part in a sum of two. And we even openly define this dichotomy in our explicit pursuit of ‘work-life’ balance.
Most of us are spending too long working each day in jobs we don’t really enjoy. And we enjoy them even less when we feel we’re working longer than we should be.
Getting control of an out-of-control work schedule is a crucial first step on the minimalism journey. That doesn’t mean doing less, but it does mean getting ruthless with your decisions and distractions to get more done in less time.
Remember the thought experiment. Optimising your time at work is about cutting out the junk that doesn’t add value. And that means consciously considering where you can reduce your number of decisions to free up your time for value-adding work.
Think about how you manage meetings. We’ve all sat in a meeting where we feel we’re not adding value. Why not politely decline on this basis, offering your contribution as required thereafter? And even if you find yourself in the meeting, why not politely step out if you’re not adding value?
Think about streamlining processes. Where can you win back time? Which clunky process is eating up your days? Dedicate non-negotiable time each week towards improving processes to save you time at work.
Granted, these aren’t always possible. Sometimes we can’t decline a meeting, even if we aren’t adding value in them. Sometimes we can’t change a process for the better without considerable investment and resource support. But one thing is certain: there are always realisable opportunities to save time at work.
#2: Stop buying things you don’t need
Getting a grip on your spending is central to the financial independence pursuit. As I’ve doubled down on my own efforts here, it’s been critical to recognise the things I buy that bring me value, and the things that don’t.
This is a central principle of minimalism. Spend intentionally. Focus on things that truly bring you value. Eliminate the things that don’t.
Not only will you save substantial amounts of money in doing so, but you’ll have fewer accumulating distractions around you. There will be less noise to pull your focus away from what matters.
And as you realise that this minimalist spending mindset doesn’t make you any less happy – in fact, it probably makes you happier – it can revolutionise your whole approach to your personal finances.
#3: Say more with less
Concision speaks volumes. The ability to be concise with language is getting lost in a world of noise and distraction. And this world of noise and distraction is paradoxically the very reason we need to be more concise now than ever before.
In the modern work environment, where email dominants our day-to-day communications, brevity is hugely important. Training ourselves (and others) to be clear and succinct in our emails can save businesses huge chunks of time.
“Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.”Alexander Pope
And the truth, too, is that long emails aren’t impressive. In most cases, they are a pain in the backside. They often leave us scrolling through countless words to find the one answer we actually need.
Indeed, I testify for both sides, because that person was me when I started out with my career. In my keenness to impress, I misunderstood what my audience needed. Somewhere within my long, convoluted explanations I’d provide an answer. But I was wasting my time and others’ time with all the extras.
The upshot? Be succinct. Tailor emails for your audience and get to the point. But don’t limit conciseness to email. Be efficient with language wherever you can. Not only will you save huge amounts of time, but you’ll realise the growing respect out there for concision.
#4: Get ruthless with distractions
Throughout the day, we face a growing number of interruptions and distractions. These distractions harm our productivity.
Distractions, such as mobile notifications, break our flow of concentration. And even after the distraction, our performance on work tasks is affected. Research has shown just the mere noise or suggestion of a notification in our pockets or on our desks is enough to break our concentration. This then has an extended impact on our performance and productivity.
So where does minimalism come in?
Simple decisions to minimise these distractions can have a profound impact on productivity and focus. We can put minimalism into practice by switching off our mobiles during work hours. Or perhaps by setting a schedule for using our mobiles which doesn’t interfere with concentration flow.
We can also apply the principles of minimalism to other distractions in our life. Establishing healthier routines and distraction-free times at home can help to increase focus and energy levels.
#5: Reduce your daily decisions
Throughout our days we’re faced with a huge range of unimportant decisions. What shoes should you wear to work? Should you order a cappucino or latte? How should you respond to that mobile notification?
As we take these decisions, research has shown that we burn huge amounts of energy. That’s precious finite fuel expended on decisions that don’t really matter. And as we expend that mental energy, we leave ourselves ripe for decision fatigue and the consequences that science shows us.
We can put minimalism into practice by eliminating a lot of these non-value-added decisions. And if you doubt the benefits, look no further than Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. They’ve both openly confessed to simplifying decisions on their wardrobes and diets to mitigate the risk of decision fatigue.
The subsequent benefits of decision minimalism include better decisions, more energy, more willpower and improved self-regulation, and even improved creativity. Why not give it a shot?
#6: Take on your clutter
Most people see decluttering at the heart of minimalism. They imagine the extreme version of minimalism. A white room, scarcely furnished, free from superfluous decorations, delivering on its promise as a room and nothing more.
But this is plainly unnecessary. Instead, a sensible amount of decluttering, in accordance with the principles of our thought experiment, can play a big part in enhancing focus.
To put minimalism into practice here, consider the objects that bring you value, along with the objects that don’t. Apply a simple rule: if you don’t use it and won’t use it, lose it. Got clothes you haven’t worn in 15 years? Get rid of them. Got a garage full of useless paraphernalia? Sell some stuff.
Creating new space can increase focus, limit distractions, and even help better appreciate the space you have. It’s well worth giving it a shot.
Using minimalism in practice
At work and at home, minimalism can have a profound impact on our lives. Putting a few of the above simple principles into practice can help increase focus, improve decision making, increase happiness, and increase our general sense of gratitude.
They all have a simple premise: Hold the things you truly value and minimise the things you don’t.
Of course, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The modern world is the antithesis of minimalism. We consume like never before in history. All the senses are overloaded with objects, information and noise.
But it’s possible to fight back and return focus to what matters. By making slow, intentional changes to your choices, you can change it. It’s not a far away concept. Practical minimalism really can change your life for the better.