In her book “Why Simple Wins” (2017), Lisa Bodell explains that complexity paralyses organizations in their ability to innovate and adapt.

This complexity is found not only in the physical organization of our lives but also in the sheer volume of stimuli that bombard our brains on a daily basis leading to cognitive and emotional overload, which ultimately makes it difficult for us to set our priorities.

In an increasingly complex society that continues to accelerate, is simplicity a real alternative? For reasons of productivity and well-being, it seems obvious that we would benefit by moving towards simplicity. But what exactly does that imply? There are a number of definitions out there, but let’s just say at this point that simplicity is essentially founded on the idea of going towards what is important and leaving aside what is superfluous.

It is worth mentioning that simplicity can be approached from an organizational angle just as well as from a personal one. Simplicity involves considering the value added of each action. In fact, the common variable that drives this process is a change in mentality from “doing more” to “doing better”. This change may seem deceptively simple at first, but it quickly becomes a challenge as you need to focus on what is important and remain aware of it in the heat of the moment. Unfortunately, the frantic pace imposed by our current social structure makes it difficult for us to maintain this awareness. Individuals and companies must therefore not only define their mission, establish their value system, and clearly identify the actions to be taken, but also have the ability to take a step back and make sure their actions are conscious and in line with that mission and those values. In the quest for simplicity, a distinction must always be made between what is urgent and what is important.

In order to perform this kind of filtering process, you need to allow yourself the necessary space to let answers come to you. Mindfulness is therefore a valuable tool.

Personally, I believe that simplicity cannot be achieved in a sustainable way if the individual is not first able to calm and observe their mind.

Conscious Simplicity

The concept of Conscious Simplicity emerges from the simplicity movement by combining simplicity with the practice of mindfulness. Several publications present simplicity as the ability to move towards material minimalism, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Beyond material goods, simplicity is a state of being which is personal to each individual. It involves taking conscious actions, in line with one’s own values and ambitions. Some guidelines can be established, but the choice of actions is always subjective. In order to step back, detect automatic responses and identify what is important, Mindfulness is a must. In her article “In Search of Lost Time” Diane Boulet, a professional coach at Mindspace, reminds us that being present to what is happening in and around us, without judgment, allows us to change our perspective and thus to have the power to act or react differently.

Our current way of operating is to maintain an overloaded agenda full of meetings, tasks and deliverables. This approach is considered normal, and is even encouraged. As Carl Lemieux describes in his article on mindfulness, as our brains are held hostage to this abundance of information, frenetic pace and continuous change, we gradually move from conscious actions to conditioned, automatic actions. The impact of this kind of approach is not always what we want to achieve. In order to reverse the trend, we need to change our impulse to act in “autopilot” and “emergency” modes. Most of the time, we overload our agendas with tasks considered as priorities – but are they really? In fact, these tasks are very often the result of traditional conditioning, where each action performed triggers in us a reinforcement loop that provides us with well-being at the moment, but in the long term leads us into a vicious cycle of overload and exhaustion.

The simplicity method basically requires us to revisit our relationship to what gives us meaning and our definition of performance which usually, unfortunately, do not take into account the nature of the tasks and their added value.

Instead, our focus should be on actions that deliver results in line with what is important. When done mindfully and with awareness, these actions will result in a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment while ensuring that quality prevails over quantity. This change in perspective towards performance allows us to gain in productivity because it directly impacts our time and energy management.

More Energy and Time Available

Focusing on meaningful actions and dropping the excess is liberating and energizing. By examining our routines, we can start to identify what drains our energy so we can choose to change certain habits. In “The Power of Full Engagement” (2003), Tony Schwartz mentions that energy management, not time management, is the key to high performance. He identifies four different types of energy: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, and offers alternatives for renewing energy, including creating new habits and rituals.  Embracing the concept of simplicity frees up this space and reduces the likelihood of wasting your energy.

In addition to having an impact on energy management and level of commitment, simplicity has a tangible impact on time management. By identifying priorities according to their importance and not their urgency, our time can be spent on actions that deliver results. Of course, this certainly implies making choices and reinforcing the idea that quality takes precedence over quantity. Several renowned authors specializing in productivity and time management offer theories that actually share some similarities with the concept of simplicity. Many tools developed by these experts, such as Stephan Covey, David Allan, can support individuals who want to integrate simplification into their daily lives.

A Realistic Personal Choice

Even if the concept of simplicity seems to run counter to the current performance movement, it can on the contrary be beneficial. It actually makes it possible to improve productivity as you revisit your relationship to performance, regain control of your priorities and increase your energy levels.

In closing, ask yourself about your own habits:

  • Among your daily tasks and obligations, how many are really related to your value system?
  • Which ones are really important to you?
  • Which ones could you do without?

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