“…the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”
-William of Ockham. 

If you were to travel around the world with only a backpack what would you put in it? 

People who backpack around the world have always fascinated me. Perhaps it is the sense of freedom. Or maybe weightlessly drifting with the wind draws me in. What really intrigues me though is that a backpacker must choose the essentials. The absolute essentials. 

Today we seem to be acquiring more and more. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant about consumerism in America. Go somewhere else for that. What I do want to chat about is, well, less. 

According to the book, The Power of Less, less is more. I would add, the essential less is more. Yes, it sounds cliché, but it is true.  If you just do less you may be doing less of the wrong thing. This is why we need to uncover what the essentials are. How can we reveal the vital few from the sea of triviality? 

With the Principles of Less:

  1. Set Limits 
  2. Choose Essentials 
  3. Simplify 

Set Limitations 

By setting limitations, we must choose the essential. So, in everything you do, learn to set limitations. 

Have you ever played a video game with God Mode turned on? Imagine playing a game where you have unlimited power. You have infinite ammo. You traverse the 3D realm at the speed of light. You can even jump so high you break the game. This mode is really fun for the first 4 minutes. After that, the game becomes stale and you begin to realize something. Having no limits sucks. 

Now imagine playing that same game. But this time you only get one life. And if you die, you lose all of your weapons and resources you have collected during the game. There has been a Principle of Less imposed on your character. Every move you make now must be essential to your survival. Believe it or not, a game like this exists. 

Setting limits in areas of your life will give you a better perspective of what is truly important to you. 

Let’s come back to the real world. How can we apply limits to our daily lives? First, you’ll want to see this principle not as subtracting but as a method that reveals the essential. Take for instance work email. My boss was out for one week and came back to 300 emails! Email has become an ever-expanding black hole. 

If we applied the first Principle of Less we can set a daily limit on how often we check our email. This limit would increase your productivity because you won’t be burning vital time checking your email. Want to take it one step further?  Try limiting the word count of your response emails. Could you get to the point in 140 characters or less? That’s extreme I know, but you get the idea.  

This is how setting limits force you to uncover what is absolutely essential. But why did I choose 140 characters, not 200? This number is not arbitrary. There is a method.

Limit Method:

  1. Observe 
  2. Test 
  3. Adjust 

Observe 

In order to regain control of the desired area of your life, you’ll want to get an understanding of the facts. Do this by observing the behavior or operation. If you are looking to get your inbox under control, you can ask questions like: 

  • On average, how many emails do I get a day? 
  • What time of day do I get the most emails? 
  • Who emails me the most? 

Test 

Now that you have some stats on your side, begin to test a limiting number. Perhaps start by checking your email 4 times a day. Test this number over a period of time. Monitor this number and see if you are successful at sticking to it. 

Adjust 

If you find yourself not sticking to the tested number, adjust to find one that works best for you. Keep trying this new adjustment and see if you are successful. Continue adjusting and testing to find that sweet spot. The goal here is to set a realistic limit. One that you can succeed at. 

Choose the Essential 

By choosing the essential, we create profound impact with minimal resources. Always choose the essential to maximize your time and energy. 

Setting limitations will naturally begin to reveal the essentials. Once you apply principle 2 you will begin to intentionally select what is most important to you. Once you do that, you can then laser focus on the thing that will make the most impact on your life. The best part of principle 2 is that once you choose the essential, it gives you complete control over how you spend your time and energy. 

I hate mowing grass. And I know you do too. That is one reason why I live in an apartment. But if I owned a home, I would apply the Principles of Less, via Zero-scaping, to the front lawn. Going this route would allow me to focus on what I love most about a home. Beauty and low maintenance. The lawn would look beautiful and I wouldn’t have to mow the rocks. Rock on.  

Only the essential should occupy your time, energy and resources.  

Simplify 

Eliminate the non-essential. 

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 

-Leonardo da Vinci 

In order to take back control of a chaotic area of our life, we must set limits. These limits will begin to reveal the essentials. Focusing on those essentials will bring order to our lives. The third Principle of Less works hand in hand with the second. It gets its own principle though because simplicity is often over looked.  

When you are having trouble choosing the essential, ask yourself, “Is this item absolutely essential?” Always give a hard yes or no. Don’t be wishy washy about it. Something is never 85% essential. It either is or isn’t 

However, sometimes there are too many essentials. Too many for you to accomplish. This comes up a lot at work. You are the boss and your plate keeps getting higher and higher. One way to simplify your workload is to do what David Allen says in his book, Getting Things Done. 

Do, Delegate or Defer 

Do – Can this essential task be done in less than 10 minutes? Do it now. Start now.  

Delegate – Can someone do this better and faster than you? Drop the pride and give it to them.  

Defer – Will this essential task take longer than 10 minutes? Defer it to a later date.  

Whether it is your daily task list or you’re building an app, make it simple by eliminating the non-essential. Your brain and your customers will thank you for it.  

Take Action

Action Steps 

What can you simplify? 

  1. List 3 areas in your life you find chaotic or out of balance. What area of your life is overloaded?
    Example, spending, inbox, checking your phone. 
  2. Pick one area and use the Limit Method to uncover the essentials. What is essential to you in your life?
    I will check my inbox 4 times a day. 
  3. Eliminate the non-essentials of that area. What is one non-essential thing in my life?
    Since I’m in sales, all non-sales related emails will go into a folder and checked once a day. This will allow me to focus solely on selling.  

Let me know in the comments below how you apply the Principles of Less in your life. Did you see positive results?  

Cheers.

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