RISKFACTOR: Keep it simple

If you haven’t made a New Year resolution yet, let me propose one. Let’s keep things simple. Instead of the regular resolutions we have year after year of eating healthy, exercising more, saving more, or spending quality time with family, let’s aim to simplify our lives. 

Why? One constant theme I heard last year was that lives have become too complex, uncertain, and complicated. With the constant work and personal life responsibilities, the insatiable levels of competition in our society, life constantly feels like a race. Moreover, the vast amounts of choices that we have around us now have added to the complexity of decision-making. Which restaurant to go to, what to wear, which city to go for holidays, how to keep up with so many friends and colleagues, which self-development courses should I enroll in — the choices have become endless. The other day, I heard someone say “Technology has made our lives more full, yet at the same time we’ve become uncomfortably full.”

You might have noticed a curious contradiction in our behaviours. On the one hand, we desire for more and more. However, on the other, we are increasingly placing a premium on simplicity — be it in design, technology, business, and life. When we make purchases, we like to have those items that have most number of features even though we might not ever use them. How many of us bought ovens that have options to grill, bake, pre-set food options, and so on only to realise later that we use a single button to heat the food. Or how many of us got those Digital-SLR cameras but have only used them in an automatic mode? FOMO is a powerful driver in these cases. We value simplicity and ease. Recall the almost-empty interface of Google search engine. We love it to the extent that “googling” has become synonymous with “searching the web.” Designs are being made more intuitive and people are ready to pay more to get less. Apple iPod is a key supporting example of this.

So, how can we simplify our own lives? John Maeda in his book Laws of Simplicity outlines several methods to do so. Here, I share my top three picks.

First, reduce. What does that mean? Think of all the button that exist on your TV’s remote control? How many have you ever used? Perhaps the top most ones are to switch the TV on-off, control volume, and change channels. One could get rid of all other button without much loss to your efficiency. Of course, having more features is always enticing. However, there is a cost — of mental complexity — that one needs to pay to be able to understand and use all the features. This principle could be nicely used in all spheres of our lives. While cooking, for example, do we really need do know all spices that should go into the dish? Alternatively, think of which ones are the basics that you cannot do without. Perhaps, salt and pepper. Try it and enjoy the authentic taste of the vegetables you used. Reduce the number of email accounts.  Reduce the stuff that you pack in your luggage for your travels. Maybe even reduce the spread of your investment portfolio?

The second principle is to organise. Even after all the cleansing and reducing, we can end up with large stocks — be it clothes in your wardrobe, papers on the office table, or your to-do list. Organise them in a natural order. Sort the items, group them wherever possible, and finally prioritise them. Take the case of your to-do lists. We seem to always have a lot to do — meet a colleague, go for team events, catch up with family, get exercise, cook a healthy meal, etc. Try and put the activities in buckets — maybe clubbing those that fall in the same location of the city or that can be done on the same day. Use the Pareto Principle:  80 per cent of the work can be done with 20 per cent effort. Find those most important items and do them first. Get rid of the non-essentials.

Finally, the third rule is to save time. We spend a lot of time just waiting — for water to flow through the faucet, waiting in the queue for payment, to getting stuck in the traffic jams. Much time is wasted, frustration builds up, and we feel lost in all that chaos. Instead, you could shop online or go to the malls on weekdays. Have a work schedule that allows you to skip office travel or stay close to your office. Find strategies that would give you more time. And if none of these are possible, then find ways to fill that time with meaningful activities like reading a book or organising your day.

Simplifying one’s life can go a long way in providing that sense of fulfillment. Let’s give it a try.

(Dr Kriti Jain is a faculty member at IE Busine­ss School,  Spain and an EU Marie Curie Research Fellow)

Kriti Jain