Note: This challenge is extremely easy to implement but it takes time to master. Once you nail it, you can’t help but be successful in whatever you do.
A few years ago I used be the “go to” person whenever anyone needed something done. You know the saying “If you need something done, ask a busy person.” Well that was me. I had over 100 items on my todo list, and my schedule was jammed so tight I think I may have gone several days without a restroom break. Ok so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I really was that busy. And you would think by that description that I was getting a lot done. And I was. But it was all for OTHER PEOPLE! My own personal dreams sat on a shelf and collected dust while I ran around doing everything for everyone else until one day…
I just quit.
I literally came to a standstill and thought what the heck am I doing?
I realized I didn’t like my job. I didn’t like my lack of free time. I didn’t like my lack of freedom to make my own choices. And although I like helping people, I didn’t like being subjected to their last minute emergencies or doing projects I wasn’t even remotely interested in. And what I despised the most? I hated being told what to do and when to do it!
Now this wasn’t the first time I had these thoughts. I frequently thought about how burned out I was and how my dreams were going nowhere while I suffocated under the demands of everyone else. But my thoughts were always dismissed as being selfish. After all if I was helping other people, then my efforts weren’t in vain, right? Right???
I was soooo wrong!
Helping people do things I really didn’t care about was not satisfying to me in any way whatsoever. What I really wanted to do was to help other people reach their goals, not do the work for them. You know… “teach them to fish.” Not spoon feed them delicacies from a silver platter!
After determining what I really wanted out of my life, I took a look at my schedule and todo list and suddenly I wanted to burn them both. But that wasn’t the responsible thing to do even if it would have been highly entertaining and personally gratifying.
So I made one simple choice…
And that choice has had an enormous impact on the last 5 years of my life. I decide that I was only going to keep things in my life that were essential. Essential – meaning – things I love, things that bring me closer to reaching my goals, things that bring me happiness and so on. Everything now passes through this filter on a daily basis.
Am I living the life of a monk? Do I live in a cave with just a table and a bed? Well, obviously not. Unless my cave has WIFI and a laptop.
But am I living my dream of empowering women to achieve their dreams by teaching them to “fish”? Yes I am. Am I working from home on my own time, choosing what I want to do and playing my music as loud as I want? You bet I am! Did it happen overnight? Well, no. But it did happen!
It was a slow and deliberate process, but it has been worth it.
So how does putting things through an “essentials” filter really work?
Do you just quit your day job and become a recluse? Not at all – unless that is your goal. It was not mine. I like people – most of the time. What I didn’t like was the weight of commitments and responsibilities that come with being a human.
So I started to simplify things.
If you think I’m going to talk about decluttering and having less, you’re partly right. That is a small portion of how this works. Some days I think I could live in a one room apartment with just my computer and my drum set and I’d be happy. But I’m not sure where the rest of my family would fit and realistically I would probably get bored at some point and want a change of scenery. So this post isn’t really about decluttering. It’s about looking at ALL of your commitments and responsibilities and deciding what is “essential“. If it has value and serves a purpose, it stays. Otherwise, kiss it goodbye!
Here are some of the areas that we don’t consider when we talk about simplifying:
- Mental Clutter – what’s bugging you? Do you have a nagging feeling you need to do something about a specific project or you need to make an important phone call? DO IT! Do it right now or at least make yourself a reminder to do it later. Get it off you mind. Pen and paper can work miracles here.
- Schedules – I keep a very, very simple calendar these days. No more back to back and overlapping events. Usually the only things on it are my kids sports events and the occasional scheduled appointment like band practice. I don’t plan my day anymore. I have the freedom to wake up and choose what I want to work on. No one has yet to accuse me of dropping the ball or taking too long to complete a project. You can be flexible and responsible. And in my personal opinion, a responsible person is one who CAN be flexible. Think about it. ;)
- Meals – Simplifying your food may sound weird, but it has really had an impact on my days. We all know we should be eating healthier and one simple way to do that is to start eliminating the junk and replacing it with whole foods. Keep track of all the new foods you like in a notebook until you have a few weeks worth of delicious entrees. If you want to be even more extreme, pare those down into meals that require the least amount of time to prepare and use the least amount of dishes. Unless you enjoy cooking. I soo don’t enjoy my time in the kitchen so this is an area where minimal stress for me is golden.
- Commitments – This one is hard because it requires saying “NO”. However, if you can learn to master your “essentials” filter, you can very quickly decide if that commitment is right for you or not. I used to say yes to EVERYTHING just because I was ABLE to do it. But being ABLE to do it doesn’t mean I SHOULD do it. Now that I am able to say NO to things I don’t really care about, I find my list of things to do much more attractive because I actually WANT to do the things on my list.
- Chores and Maintenance – Name a task you HATE to do. Now, imagine either eliminating that task or paying someone else to do it. Would it be worth the cost? Can you live without it? Are you maintaining some piece of equipment you never use? How much physical space is it costing you to keep it? What is that costing you in time and repairs versus the time you actually spend enjoying it? I used to think that it was lazy to pay someone to do a job I was capable of doing myself. Now I don’t see that as lazy. That is called working smarter, not harder. You are helping the economy by hiring someone and the time you save is time that can be spent pursuing your personal goals. That time is never wasted!
- Choose to Not Finish – For example you start a book and become bored with it but you feel like you have to finish because you started it. Really? Here’s a fantastic tip that will get rid of more than half your stress in under 2 seconds: YOU DON’T HAVE TO FINISH EVERYTHING YOU START. Dang those grade school teachers. Make a decision to NOT finish the book and get it out of your space. This goes for anything you start. They key here is to MAKE A DECISION. If you don’t make a conscious choice and you just toss the book aside, it will nag you. Say to yourself “I’m finished with this one” even if you didn’t read it all. Now put it down and walk away. The weight of that responsibility to finish what you started has been resolved by choosing not to finish. Psychology is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
- Other stuff – I call this stuff “the creeps”. It’s little stuff that eventually sucks down all our time. Find yourself skimming over material in your rss reader? Unsubscribe. Too much email? Unsubscribe. Lots of things creep into our world over time and start to pile up. Scale them back often and when you master this technique, run them through your filter daily to stop junk from stealing your time and space before they creep in and take over.
As promised in the title, you can start doing this today. Start with the obvious. Physical clutter is easy to spot and manage so tidy up your desk or clean out a drawer for a quick fix. But if you want to really dig deep, look at your todo list or your schedule and make a choice. Pick only the things that truly matter and discard the rest.
Now for extra fun, try clearing out a drawer or some physical area until you have only the essential items on hand. Now out of those remaining items, what would you do if I said you had to remove two more? Could you do it? Make a game out of it. See how little you can get by on with just the essentials. You WILL be surprised.
Choosing the essential is a daily exercise. I still have a long way to go, but after clearing several of the decks I can see the final destination. And without all the non-essential responsibilities and commitments bogging me down, I will be reaching that destination ahead of schedule with no baggage and nothing on my mind. I am still clearing the path, but the more I let go of…the faster I get to my goals!
Now for your challenge – find 10 non-essential items in your space today and get rid of them. Trash them, give them away…whatever… just get them out of your life! Bonus points if at least two of them are personal commitments that drain you like a monthly club meeting or a chore you detest.
Think of something else to run through the essentials filter? Your comments are welcome.
And if you took the challenge, post your results below!