Achieving balance can seem as elusive as finding the Holy Grail. We work at it and work at it but the scale of balance keeps tipping. I have a suggestion for a first step. Make things simpler. But what does it mean?
I’m a firm believer that we make things hard for ourselves. We complicate our own lives by taking on too much, not honoring our boundaries, allowing too much clutter to be around us – both visual and non-visual — and not utilizing tools effectively.
The American Heritage dictionary defines simply as “clear, absolute, altogether and frank”. But it also is defined as “not wise and foolish”. The last definition is what most people think of when they hear “simply”. We think that means we will become a simpleton, a person without judgment or intelligence.
In this day and age, I totally disagree. I think we have a tendency to over-complicate our processes and procedures. Many times it is because we don’t even know what they are. We move along in our work and life doing things the “same old way” without assessing if they can be done more easily. Easier does not mean less effective; it’s exactly the opposite. It means doing something for the right reason. Sometimes that means not doing something at all or accepting an alternative approach. For “Type A” people who have a perfectionism streak, this is really hard. Trust me, I speak from experience.
I define “simply” as an end state. It is a state of being that you reach. When I hear the word “simple”, it is usually followed by a sigh of peace. “Simply” is relaxed, with minimal stress, where things just flow – they just work or click. This is much easier said than done. You get there by minimizing complexity, by reducing the constraints in your life and by eliminating the clutter around you. This only happens when you make decisions and choose to let go.
The life of a working professional is especially complicated. We wear many hats so it is assumed that we have many skills by which to wear those hats. (Wrong!) We also have two families; one at the office and one at home. We are passionate about making a difference for both and juggling their different demands. Our schedule must encompass both families’ needs or we don’t move forward in life.
Here are some real-life conversations with my clients who want to live a simple life:
- “I volunteer in many areas. I find it difficult to say “no” because I’m passionate about those areas I help out in. I know I make a difference. I also know deep down there is a cost when I’m spread too thin. I’m not happy or as fulfilled as I want to be. My family doesn’t get the guidance or oversight they need. Key projects get delayed at work due to a lack of time. I work way too many hours.”
- “My weight is higher than it should be. I have the best intentions to go to the gym and exercise but project deadlines become the priority. Lots of time I get working at my desk and completely forget to eat.”
- “It takes forever to make a decision. People are not empowered, trusted, trained or held accountable for making decisions. They wait for the “team” or me as the manager to decide. We have yet another meeting or wait until the analysis is perfected (which it never will be). Many decisions are hastily made at the last minute causing extra hours and stress to get the task done behind the scenes.”
- “We know our existing technology tools can shorten the steps but we don’t have the time or inclination to learn how. We don’t want to spend the money to get help or even admit we don’t know something. So, we keep doing things the same old way, knowing it is inefficient.”
- “I don’t feel financially secure. I really don’t have a solid financial plan or budget. We have a plan but we don’t live within it. We are so busy working and making good money, yet we aren’t putting our money to work for us. We’re losing opportunities to make even more money or contribute to others.”
- “Some of the people in my life cause me stress. Our sense of “team” at work is being compromised by some poor attitudes, control issues or lack of responsibility. My children are going through a phase that I know needs more of my parental guidance. I feel distant from my spouse.”
- “I’m just plain tired and have lost some of the joy in life. It’s easier to just keep plodding along than to stop and fix it. I don’t ask for help for anything. Either I don’t know how or I just won’t do it.”
So how can you stop the cycle and start down the path to simplicity?
It starts by knowing what you want. What are your goals or intentions? What is most important to you? Just because you make good money doesn’t mean you are satisfied. Create a list and prioritize the items. If this is hard for you, answer these questions: I want to be…, I want to do…, I want to have…
Then plan what you need to change. Look at your daily schedule and decide how you need to operate differently so you can be working on your intentions. Establish a few routines. Let go of some responsibilities or groups you belong to. Use your resources. Look around, who can you delegate or outsource to? Can some training get you going faster? Establish some milestones or tasks with intentional dates.
Assess your progress. Document your status and revise the plan as needed. Now is also the time to seek counsel. We all need accountability. This can be a spouse, good friend, colleague at work, trusted advisor, coach, mastermind group or even your small group at church. If you must do it alone, try journaling in a dialogue format. I use a planning calendar with my staff at work, use a form to measure my personal goals each week, occasionally journal, and have a monthly mastermind group. These all fit different needs and helps to keep me on track. It’s a risk to admit I’m not on track but it feels so good when I can share with someone that I am.
The office supply store, Staples, has it all figured out. All you have to do is push a red button that says “easy.” The button is clearly marked, visible and accessible. You have confidence that when you use it, something good will happen for you. It’s simple. Find your button. The hard part is pushing it. Have confidence in yourself to make some changes that will move you forward. Heck, add some funny noise to your button. Change is more likely to happen when you’re smiling!
(This was originally posted in 2005.)