Keep it Simple

In Education, Essays, Self Improvement

Simplicity looks simple. It looks easy.

It’s anything but.

It can be almost impossible to resist the urgue to overcomplicate life, and everything in it.

Surely the world is complex? Billions of human beings, interracting with each other every second of every day.

How can anything be simple?

I am here to tell you that it can. Simplicity is a choice, albeit a tough one. You have to persevere, you have to struggle, you have to be bold.

Simplicity is the ability to have an idea, and then continually subtract from it until you reveal what is trully original and worthy.

Simplicity is about having just the right amount of choice. Too much choice is paralising.

So how do we go about living the simple life? Do we need to move to a remote cabin in the wood like Henry Thoreau?

Not at all. You can just as easily live a simple and calm life in a large metropolis than in the quiet of the countryside.

Simplicity, and the simple life, is a state of mind.

To find simplicity, follow these rules:

Learn to say no.

You’re not born to do everything, and not every opportunity is as golden as it looks. Not every project is worthwhile. So how do we discover what is worth doing and what isn’t? This is easy, just pick what you think is the simplest. This doesn’t mean taking the less challenging work, or not making hard decisions, it means not jumping at every opportunity like a child who who has just entered a sweet shop.

Ask yourself: What can be removed?

Hemingway once said: “The first draft of anything is shit”.

I tend to agree, but not only because I think initial ideas require refinement, but because they often require simplification.

Do you really need an office, two assistants, an accountant and a director of business development to start a business, or will a website and a business card suffice for the first few months?

My previous website was an example of this, it had two sidebars, with popular posts, social buttons, adverts, etc. Then I asked myself: what is the key factor for reading essays? The answer is readability, and hence you now on this new website you see a full-width layout with a large, easy-to-read typeface and no distractions. This is the result of constantly asking what can be removed?. It turned out that mostly everything can be, if you’ve got the guts to do it. There are services that aim to make the web more readable, but I don’t think they are required to read my essays.

Work in your head, and then on paper.

We often worry so much about the tools that we should, or shouldn’t, use that we forget that the whole point is to accomplish what we want to accomplish. I’m terrible at this – I am always trying to find ways to be more productive, to the point that I am probably less productive than I would be if I just shut up and got down to work. That’s why I recommend that you sketch things out in your head first, and then on paper. That is almost always the best way to quickly develop ideas, so that they are ready to be subjected to the previous rule.

Stay lean and avoid baggage.

Everytime you say yes, you bring baggage into your life. Commitments to deadlines, to be at certain places at certain times, to attend certain meetings. The best way to reach simplicity is not to try and simplify something, but to try and remove it. Staying lean has advantages, the less stuff you have weighing you down, the faster you can change direction. A large company is like an oil tanker, it can make a u-turn, but it will take a long time. A small, efficient company is like a London black-cab – it can execute a u-turn around a small coin.

Last Thoughts

The difficulty is acquiring a simplicity-centered mindset, once that is done, the rest should swiftly follow suit. The problem is that because we live in a world that is complex, people will not like your approach. Many people relish in complexity because it allows them to mask their own incompetence. When things are simple, then there is nowhere to hide: you either can, or you can’t.

You should learn to enjoy this exposure, as it will keep you honest.

That’s it, simplicity.