Simplicity is the New Currency for Attention
Simplicity, I think, is often associated with simple-mindedness. And wrongfully so. Much of our lives are riddled with complexities (often unnecessary, ammaright?) because the fact of the matter is - life’s complex. When you consider the constant exchange of money, words, ideas, products… life is an endless network with every neuron (you and I) firing 16 hours out of the day. It’s a rather dwarfing concept to consider. Now imagine trying to make light of specific interactions and reduce them down to a bare-bones, easy-to-understand process. It’s a daunting task, which is why I’ve come to believe wholeheartedly that if one could simplify their exchanges with the world, they would live more joyful, fulfilled lives.
Let me show you what I mean.
Let’s take a simple task - getting directions to the nearest coffee shop. In a complex world, we might ask two or three different people where the nearest coffee shop is and if at least two of them name the same one, we might ask those two for directions. Assuming their directions that they pulled from their memory bank of experiences are accurate and match up, we might eventually find our way and enjoy a nice, steaming cup of coffee. And maybe a croissant.
Fast forward x number of years and you're once again looking for the nearest coffee shop. It’s as simple as asking Siri, “Siri, where’s the nearest coffee shop?” and a powerful computer in the palm of your hand - full of complex algorithms, commands and codes - searches for business that serve coffee, pin-points your geographic location via a satellite a gazillion miles in space, narrows the search results by proximity to your location and feeds back, not only an address, but turn-by-turn directions highlighted on a dynamic map with an estimated time of arrival depending on if you’re walking, driving or riding the bus.
And sometimes we forget that because it’s so simple that the powerful, complex process fades into the background surrendering the stage to the information that was requested. Let me ask you a question - is the technology that drives the iPhone’s functionality a simple-minded technology?
Beauty and simplicity has become the currency by which companies purchase their consumer’s attention.
I think of Intuit’s Turbo Tax software. If you’ve ever filed taxes for yourself before, you know that the people at the IRS just got bored and decided to create the world’s most complicated database of forms that all have to be filled out and referencing each other unless you were born on February 29th of the second leap year in the 21st century under the light of the full moon and only if your parents made no more than $107,845.63 combined, after taxes, over the past 2 years. You know what I’m talking about.
The brilliant minds at Turbo Tax saw the need and decided to create a system that broke down the forms into a linear, step-by-step process and translated the government jargon into understandable, common-tongue English. Then they charged less than an accountant would and put it online for easy access.
Complexity used to be the tool that ensured job security but the complexity was loaded onto the front-end so that consumers took the hit. The consumers would then come running to the experts who invented the system who would, in turn, charge them for their services. Today, load the complexity on the backend, simplify the front-end and the consumers will love you forever. Job security.
Simplifying the innumerable processes of life frees up your time, attention and energy (mental and physical) to devote to the things which you choose. Rather than finding out how to do everything manually, figure out how to scale life down to the bare necessities.
Tim Ferriss, in his book The 4-Hour Workweek, lays out three steps that I found tremendously helpful for reference points when trying to simplify life: Eliminate, Automate, Delegate.
If something doesn’t ADD value to your life or isn’t absolutely mandatory, cut it out. There are things in your life that add more worry, more stress and more responsibility than the value is worth. Get rid of it.
Thanks to the internet, smart phones and computers, this process has never been easier. If something can be automated, automate it. Bill payments, automatic transfers into your savings account, even grocery shopping, can be automated! These are all time-consuming tasks that don’t really add a lot in the way of productivity and, once automated, could free up a lot of time to channel toward things that matter.
The art of delegation is something that I have trouble with because I’m such a control freak. But when you learn to relinquish control over tasks that could be competently done by someone else, you realize that life is greatly simplified and the tasks are somehow magically being checked off your to-do list at the end of each day.
Stop unnecessarily complicating your life. The cleverness of a man is clearly seen in his ability to move forward with his life and maintain a healthy respect for his time.