From 2016 to 2018, 90 percent of all the data that existed at the end of 2018 was created.
In other words, information is cascading into our lives, through voice
speakers, smartphones, fitness trackers, and social media, to name a few.
From certain perspectives, this is an
incredible thing. It leads to new innovations and insights and creates entirely
new businesses… but this massive influx of new information also threatens to
drown out simple, solid wisdom. Especially when anyone with an Instagram
account can call themselves a “self-help guru.”
The truth is, though I won’t claim it’s easy, the key to a successful,
uncomplicated life is pretty simple.
Clutter, Embrace Invention, and Channel Your Efforts
As someone who has worked in a competitive industry
(finance) in a competitive city (New York City), while juggling a side hobby as
a landscape photographer and volunteer hours, I try to focus on these three
ideas: cutting the clutter, embracing invention, and channeling my efforts.
These ideas might not guarantee success, but
they put me in the best position to achieve what I want to and be happy while
I’m doing it. They can do the same for you. So let’s go a little deeper into
each idea so you can understand where I’m coming from when I suggest building
on these three ideas for a simpler, more successful life.
the Clutter: Removing Distractions
No one wants to feel cluttered, mentally or
physically. But almost all of us are extremely mentally cluttered. By that I
mean we’re being pulled into tons of different directions by people as well as
notifications on our phone and emails popping into our inbox. Fortunately,
there are so many small things we can do to cut out some of these distractions.
In fact, the problem isn’t usually that there aren’t solutions to the problem
of distraction… it’s that we tend to accept that distraction is the natural
state of things.
Don’t accept this. Stop leaving your email
application open so every email that comes through takes you away from what
you’re doing. Use the settings on your phone to disable notifications for apps
you don’t need notifications for. These are just a couple of steps you can
easily take today to remove distractions. But keep looking for ways to cut out
distractions; for example, I use my subway ride into work to read and answer
emails so when I arrive at work I can dive deep into whatever it is I’m working
on. I also avoid immediately buying new gadgets before I have a chance to truly
evaluate what they’re adding to my life or business. And if they don’t add
anything, even if that means I still use an iPod from 2007, then I avoid buying
By cutting out the mental clutter, you will
leave more room for times of deep concentration. Whatever you do, whether you
are an artist, a financial analyst, or a salesperson, you need the ability to
concentrate deeply for extended periods of time. And that’s not just because
it’ll make you more productive. As the Atlantic puts it, “Better concentration
makes life easier and less stressful.”
Invention: Removing the Fear of Discovery
Maybe it’s a product of the our education
system, but too often I notice that people approach a problem as if they could
look up the solution to that problem in a book somewhere. They want instruction.
They want to be told what to do and how to do it. But this hampers their
ability to discover a solution.
To be clear, I’m not advocating that you don’t
use the wisdom and tools created by others to solve problems. Rather, I’m
suggesting that you avoid approaching problems as if there is a textbook
solution. Doing so puts you in a mental box and prevents you from entering into
a unique place between research and deliverable where discovery happens.
Embrace ambiguity and the unknown and have faith in yourself to come out the
other side with a solution.
Just as there is essentially an infinite
amount of information beamed into us every day, there is are an infinite
number of things that we can pursue in the world. This is a relatively new
phenomenon. Where just half a century ago only a small portion of the
population even had access to an education, an increasing number of people now
have access to an increasing opportunity set.
To be sure, this is a great thing. But it also
comes with its challenges. Where our ancestors may have had a narrow set of
choices, we now have many. And for many of us, paralysis can set in and we find
it hard to know how or when to move forward.
To that end, it’s increasingly critical that
we channel our efforts into the things that bring us closer to our goals. After
all, while we might not know exactly what we want to do with the rest of our
lives, we can at least come close to understanding what we want out of life.
And by working towards those things, even if it’s not in a traditional way, we
can find our way back to discover exactly what it is we want to do with our
Not to mention, by channeling your efforts in
this way, you’re making the best use of the limited amount of time and
resources that you have at your disposal. For example, I know that at my job
most of my superiors aren’t fully aware of what I do every day. However, I do
give presentations to those people and in those moments, they are very aware of
what I’m doing.
For that reason, I channel my efforts very
strongly into making the most of those presentations. I prioritize preparation
for those presentations because I know those opportunities are unique ones
where I can demonstrate my work product. In life and your career, I believe it
is important to find leverageable moments like these.