No wonder people are all over them.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” —Hans Hofmann
There is no denying we are living in a world of excess. We have too much of everything from entertainment choices, dining options, career paths, in-laws, emails and yes, Medium articles.
Yet there are things that, unfortunately, we have finite amounts of, like our time, attention, energy, and appendages. There’s only so much we can do, so many places we can be, so many activities we can pour our energy, attention, and effort into.
We can’t duplicate ourselves the way Naruto does ‘Kage Bunshin No Jutsu’ (or ‘Shadow Clone Technique’), but that hasn’t stopped us from trying, has it?
This fundamental mismatch between what there is to do and what we can do forms the basis of much discontent, out of which stress, feelings of inadequacy, unaccomplishment, and being overwhelmed arise.
And that’s where concepts like focus, productivity, minimalism and mindfulness enter our lives. Simply put, these solutions are proffered in response to our problem of too much.
And as it turns out, focus, productivity, minimalism and mindfulness aren’t strange bedfellows after all. In fact, they’re kissing cousins.
Here are 3 little-known similarities between them when it comes to their usefulness to us.
1. A Form of Coping Mechanism
For one, they act as coping mechanisms.
Take focus. Focus allows us to cope by telling us we only need to do one thing at a time instead of being pulled in multiple directions by numerous projects or desires. That’s permission right there to not run around like a headless chicken.
Productivity allows us to cope with the unending stream of work, by enabling us to squeeze more out of what little time and energy we have. That way, we can get all our work done from 9 to 5, engage in our side hustle from 5 to 11, and live a rich and full life, right? (Read that last sentence with just a tinge of sarcasm.)
Minimalism allows us to cope by telling us we don’t need another mug that says ‘World’s Best Husband’ or ‘World’s Best Mother’ (though nice), giving us permission to buy less (thereby saving money), be surrounded by less (thereby reducing mental clutter and physical hazards), but not be less.
Mindfulness allows us to cope by taking us out of our various states of hurry, panic or manic, and into a state of present-mindedness, calm and acceptance.
2. A Performance Enhancing Tool
More commonly however, we categorize concepts like focus, productivity, minimalism and mindfulness as tools that allow us to increase performance.
With focus, we can enter a deep state of ‘flow’, something that the greatest shakers and movers in history rely upon in their journey to achieve true mastery. It is how some of the world’s best ideas and inventions have come into being.
Speaking in one of Tim Ferriss’ recent podcasts, Jim Collins talked about ‘flow’ as one of the things that helped him come up with his ‘flywheel’ concept.
‘Flow’ helps us to enter a state in which improvement not only becomes possible, but highly probable.
Out of the lot, productivity is highly geared towards performance enhancement, if applied the right way. Getting 3x more work done within your day than your Facebook-scrolling colleagues is sure to get your boss noticing. Be careful that you don’t suffer from burnout though — it’s a very real possibility when your brain and body are running at 100 miles an hour every single day.
Minimalism creates the conditions that facilitate better decision making. Specifically, by being surrounded with less it, you reclaim some of the mental space required to think better. With anything between 70 to 35,000 decisions to make every day, saving your mental and physical energy on making decisions that matter is bound to yield long-term results.
When it comes to mindfulness, a new study reveals that the performance of already elite individuals like the US special forces can benefit from mindfulness training. In the study, simple meditation exercises were shown to enhance the soldiers’ working memory, thought clarity, and ability to focus under extreme pressure. I need me some of that.
3. A Filter To Sieve Out The Non-Essential
While being able to cope and boosting performance are both important in their own right, it is actually our ability to sieve out the non-essential that allows us to do both in the first place.
In the process of developing focus at work, we force ourselves to cast aside non-essential distractions, be they social media or entertainment, in order to carry out deep work that yields results.
The same applies in the pursuit of our career goals, where focusing on mastering a particular set of skills means we ignore getting caught up in the other 101 advertised ways to get rich quick. We work on areas that play to our strengths. We don’t play to these gurus’ marketing schemes. Who are they anyway?
Productivity hacks such as the application of the 80/20 Pareto Principle and the Eisenhower Matrix help us to see what is essential.
For instance, 80% of the things that we do only contribute to 20% of the results. Sounds like non-essential effort for non-essential results? Yup. Similarly, the Eisenhower Matrix urges us to do things that are both urgent and important (thus essential), and eliminating those that are neither urgent nor important.
By definition, minimalism is all about simplicity of form, but I don’t like that definition. I prefer to see it as a way to live our lives with intention. To borrow Joshua Becker’s beautiful words on the subject:
“[Minimalism] is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”
All minimalism beckons you to do is to toss everything that is non-essential, in favor of anything that adds value to your life.
When we practice mindfulness, we get into a frame of mind where we are able to look inwards, even if just for a moment. Nothing else matters and the world fades away when we are in that moment. The inner peace that comes with mindfulness then gives us the essential clarity with which to approach life.
Which is your favorite way to use these life hacks? Do you practice any or all of them? Let me know if you have discovered unique ways of combining any of these hacks.