Minimalism encompasses all you do. Today let’s focus on the decisions and choices we make every day. The decisions we make on a day to day basis, what are they? Do they merit our time and attention? If not, what would we rather spend our time thinking about?
Minimalism in thought
Minimalism begins with planning.
It could be that you have long been a planner and consider yourself to be an organized individual. Your note-taking is detailed, your planner meticulously filled out for weeks ahead, your home and workplaces are organized and you seldom start a day without first spending some quality time with your bullet journal to plan your day and life.
And yet, have you considered, that despite being so meticulous, there are so many routine items that you need to make decisions about daily? Everyday decisions that take your time and energy away from more meaningful and impactful decisions.
To quantify the scope of this problem, create a list of the number of decisions you make each day starting with the moment you wake up. You will be amazed at the length of that list. When I first tried this, I was surprised to find that 3 pages later, the list was still writing itself. Generally, my daily life does not change a whole lot. Still, the large number of choices I make in my everyday living left me perplexed. And that is the case for most people no matter how organized they are.
What are we conserving our mental energy for?
If we use so much time and energy making decisions of this nature, what do we leave for the bigger existential questions? Or questions that need deep thought – about work, life, relationships, etc.
Even when we are not addressing these ‘larger than life’ questions, we give our brains space and reap the benefits of being ‘hollow and empty’ – a meditative state of mind. The benefits of such a state of mind do not limit themselves to a session but move with us as we journey through this life.
To gain more insight on this, look at your list of decisions and try to identify decisions that can be made in advance or better still be such that no decision is needed at all.
For instance, those who wear the same outfit each day don’t have to think about their choice of clothing each day and therefore have opened up that part of their mental energy for other things. It may not be your style to show up in a black turtleneck or gray t-shirt each day and that is fine. This is your journey. You could perhaps pick from a smaller set of clothing items to simplify this decision. Or look for something else you are willing to standardize to make space for the quality thinking you would want to focus your time and energy on. The answers will be different for different people and you should look for your own.
Minimalism in Action
One thing you will notice over time is that the decisions you make early in the day, in your mornings, have a cascading effect on and set the tone for the rest of the day.
For example on days that you wake up late, leaving little time to properly plan and prepare for the day, your scattered mornings tend to leave a trail of inefficiencies throughout the day. Running late for meetings, forgetting things at home, walking in to work breathless and apologetic – if all these happen at the start of the day, then the tone for the rest of the day is set to be along similar lines.
If our mornings set the tone for the whole day, we must tackle the morning first. First and foremost it helps to start the day earlier than you need to. That may entail skipping those late-night binge-watching sessions or giving up screentime to allow your mind to relax and get ready for sleep. Get to bed at a time that lets you get your 8 hours and thereby lets you wake up at a reasonably early hour in the morning without feeling sleep deprived. It is futile to try waking up early if we don’t sleep early. A goal of sleeping by say 10 pm will enable to you to wake up early. Next, plan backward from 10 pm. If you need to be asleep at 10, perhaps you need to start winding down at 9 or 9.30 depending on what your nighttime rituals are? With that, you have now enabled yourself to wake up early enough and enjoy some time to plan and approach your day with deliberation and grace.
Once you have reclaimed the additional time of buffer in your morning before you begin your daily activities, you can take things a step further and narrow down the scope for the decisions you make next.
Minimalism in preparation for work
What to wear to work, your daily make up routine, what to pack for lunch, and when exactly to leave home. All of these, if decided ahead of time the night before can give you the headspace you need the next morning. Take some time to plan backward from the time you need to leave home. Give yourself adequate time to do all you need to before you leave home and if possible bake in a small buffer. With adequate planning, you will be surprised at how much time you really have. There is room to do everything if we invest the time and energy to plan ahead. Additionally, if you readied your clothes, lunch, work bag, and more at night, in the morning, executing these tasks becomes a no brainer.
Minimalism at work
Next, let us look at the workday. On some examination, most people’s workday involves a bunch of routine tasks (such as approval requests, responding to emails, following up with several people or checking in on tasks, reporting on events and transactions). Now besides these, there were the nonroutine and recurring tasks that required deep thinking, some creativity, and a good deal of contemplation. I will call these the ‘Elite Tasks’. These are tasks, the completion of which, make a lasting difference to your workplace, potentially reduce risks later down the road or improve processes.
Our objective should be to focus on the Elite Tasks first and as early in the day as possible. The rested and fresh mind can make good progress on these tasks than a tired, stressed, or deadline-driven mind. So spend the first 2 or more hours of the day on an Elite Task that you have picked for yourself in advance. After you have made adequate progress at or even finished that task, it is a better time to check your email, instant messages, chat communications, and the like. It is such a waste of your morning energy to start the day by checking your email yet so many of us start our day this way.
This quiet time that you have each morning, that is the place of power. It is from here that you are creating your life rather than reacting to it. These morning sessions instantaneously put the power over your life back in your own hands where it belongs.
When a lot of our routine activity becomes automatic, our energy can now focus on the problems that we call our life’s work. Be it in the office or at home, we want to free ourselves from the clutches of everyday trivial decisions so that we can focus our time, energy, and power towards creating the life of our dreams.
Learn more about minimalism
Much has been said about minimalism and many authors have approached this topic from different angles. Some of my favorite books on minimalism are listed here.
I am sure this is not a question I alone tried to answer. Many people on this planet have identified and simplified their everyday routines in creative ways. I would love to know about your thoughts and efforts on the path of Minimalism. So please share your comments. Thank you!