If you really believe that only a few things are exceptionally valuable and most other things in your day to day life is noise, then you will automatically and naturally start to change behaviour.

Finding what is essential in our life has become more and more difficult as our world has become more distracting. The tools we use to be productive can just as well be distracting and can pacify us.

Let me distil two insights on leading a less cluttered life - focus on the fine few and destroy decision fatigue. These principles come from the book - Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

It’s not about eschewing email or disconnecting from the Web or living like a hermit. That would be backwards movement. It is about applying the principles of ‘less but better’ to how we live our lives now and in the future.”

Anything quoted is from Greg McKeown (the author).

Trivial many vs. fine few

“If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote to the non-essential busyness that infects so many of us.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. Having heightened self-awareness of how we are distributing our time and effort is the first crucial step in eliminating non-essential tasks from our daily life.

There is an advantage to saying YES (I even wrote a whole post about it) but there comes a point when the more you say yes and take on more responsibility, the more you sacrifice your mental health, personal time, and close relationships.

For me using the Pareto Principle has worked effectively in eliminating non-essentials. This is the notion that 80% of all results come from 20% of what we do i.e. most of what makes you happy/successful/productive comes from a small handful of things. This has helped me identify what is essential to my personal growth/happiness and thereby allowing me to discard distractive or lowly rewarding commitments.

Destroying decision fatigue

Decision fatigue refers to the diminishing power in our ability to make good decisions when overwhelmed with too many decisions to make. This is something I think most of us face in our life.

When do I go to the gym? How do I fit in reading? When am I going to contribute to that research project I reluctantly signed up for? How am I going to find time to complete these errands? Etc. The list goes on.

if (condition) {execute task}

That’s the solution. A very simple yet effective way to destroy decision fatigue is to take a programming approach to your life and automate as many of the daily decisions we make. No, not creating a literal algorithm to tell you what to do but coupling tasks to chunks of time we all have throughout the day. Some examples of this for me:

  • If I’m on the tube/travelling - I read.
  • If I need to go to the gym tomorrow, I specify a time.
  • If I have a busy week coming up, I plan ahead on Sunday.

Arguably you are still making decisions, but you are delegating completion factors to any given task the same moment you think about them. This means that you are not constantly thinking throughout the day “when am I going to the gym?” rather you know that this will happen at X am/pm and therefore that decision process isn’t constantly in your headspace.

By destroying decision fatigue, you lead a more essential life where your mental processing power is only ever concerned about the fine few we established in the previous point.

Summary

“Focusing on the essentials is a choice. It is your choice. That in itself is incredibly liberating.”

We all have Individual choice: we can choose how to spend our energy and time. Eliminate noise. Almost everything is noise, and very few things are exceptionally valuable. Use if statements on recurring tasks to eliminate decision fatigue.


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