The new year usually makes us think of long-term stuff.
In 2010, I strive to slow down, do less, and focus on what’s important.
I set a similar goal for myself in 2001 and life has been better ever since.
At the time, I decided not to be in a hurry and not to be late for things. Some friends chuckled at the idea of deciding not to be hurried. But it’s actually very doable if you just make the decision and change a few things in life.
I don’t mean being a slacker. Doing stuff feels good, especially if it’s some sort of accomplishment, and dilly-dallying gets boring pretty quickly.
I tossed out most of the noise and crap and focused on things that matter. The rest largely takes care of itself or drops by the wayside and wasn’t important, anyway.
I got a real reminder of this when clearing out my Aunt Dorothy’s apartment a few months ago after she passed away in her 80s.
Aunt Dorothy had 3 large file cabinets of pictures and letters and records of the last 4 generations of the whole extended family. The pics and letters told a great story of husbands and wives separated by WWII, of going to college and medical school, of moving out West, of rearing children, etc.
That huge collection of lives viewed from 2009 reminded me that the vast majority of details were incredibly irrelevant and very soon forgotten by the people living those lives. What was important were the overall directions and narratives of peoples’ lives.
So in day-to-day life, I strive to make fewer promises, fewer appointments. I can’t break promises I don’t make! Make only the ones that really matter. An appointment is a promise to be somewhere at a certain time. I try to make fewer appointments and put more time between them than I think I need. Between important or mentally taxing appointments, I make an appointment to have a mocha somewhere. That gives me breathing room and time to focus on the next thing.
I don’t take my laptop everywhere. I don’t always take it on short trips, either. It’s great going through airport security with just a small backpack and no laptop! Having an iPhone has helped a lot. I don’t always want to be connected, though.
Some of my best thinking is while driving or flying or walking with no electronics whatsoever (not even music). Silence, both audible and mental, really is golden.
(A beef about luggage on airplanes: don’t try to take so much crap! I recently traveled for 3 weeks across America and spent a week in Rome with 1 medium-sized backpack. Hotel laundry is the key. Just like this whole post: less really is more.)
I’m part of a startup again, so work is pretty much whenever I’m awake, so short naps and disconnection time become more important. For me, a 20-minute nap is really good for my brain.
I use as many focus-saving services as I can, like bill-paying services and once-a-month housekeeping (I’m pretty neat already and I can grab the vacuum if I need to). In business, I use services like Engine Yard and Basecamp. They cost a little and save a lot. I need to find more focus-saving services this year.
Incidentally, my new company, Chargify, is a HUGE focus-saving service for anyone running a recurring revenue business. Once you realize how much time & focus it saves, you’ll want to pay twice the price!
I mostly drive the speed limit or even more slowly because my beloved 10-year-old Jeep can’t go very fast. I stop completely at stop signs and look both ways twice. I use my turn signals 95% of the time.
Why do I focus on driving? Because most of us do a lot of it and doing it as I describe is nice to others, results in fewer accidents, AND forces me to slow down and be more deliberate. I want to get a bumper sticker that says, “Slow Down, Do Less.”
I swear if you do this driving thing for 2 weeks, you will start to realize that you were living in some sort of rat race Matrix. You will literally start to see yourself as outside the rat race just by de-stressing while driving. I dare you to try it! Drive 65 or 70 while everyone else is going 80. Get over toward the right, of course, and let the rat race pass you by.
Obviously, I don’t do any calling or texting while driving, not even to receive. Both are stressful and distracting, and are contrary to the aim of doing less unimportant crap! You can check the phone when you reach your destination, or at least wait until you get to a long red light.
I turn off email sometimes. That allows me to stay focused on something bigger and more important long-term. I don’t know about you, but I’m very distractible by communications, which is why I sometimes have to disconnect if I really want to get important stuff done.
So that’s tonight’s thought for 2010: slow down, do less, focus on what’s important. Remember Aunt Dorothy’s files!
Have a good (and slow) one 🙂