More and Less

A recent episode of the Back to Work podcast sparked a round of debates regarding buzzwords like minimalism and zen. I certainly understand the frustration with the topic as there are a lot of people who use them to sell unrealistic suggestions to anyone who is desperate for a solutions to life’s many distractions. Now, I don’t want to get into a rant about where I agree and where I don’t, although I could easily fill several pages. What I do want to offer is an alternate way to look at what I believe to be an important topic.

While I am the farthest thing on the planet from a minimalist and lack a single fiber of zen, I do understand the appeal. What I am is someone who can easily get mixed up and is at constant war with a cluttered workspace, home and mind, so the desire to strip just about everything away is a palpable one. But the need for some pristine space is not only unrealistic, it is potentially harmful. To do the things that many of us are looking to accomplish, we likely need to be able to work anywhere, at any time with a variety of tools and we’re probably going to make a hell of a mess along the way.

When I was starting to get my crap together, I was tempted by those who profess the benefits of minimalism and zen. There are some really good, really smart people who exist in that space, like Patrick Rhone and Leo Babauta, but frankly, there are a lot more pretentious bozos. As I’ve tested those concepts against the real world, I’ve shifted away from the buzzwords and towards the more usable ideas of More and Less.

When considering just about any project or any desire for self improvement, it always starts the same way, by clearly defining my goal and then determining what I need more of and what I require less of in order to succeed. When I committed to writing for this site five days a week, I needed more tools for writing, more ways to get what I write on my phone onto the computer, and more efficient ways to format text for the web. I also needed less television, less information on my screen and ways to type less characters. When I decided to organize my excessively messy desk, I needed less paper and less places to store and prioritize my work. It also forced me to find more ways to digitize materials and more powerful tools for turning things like emails, web clippings and reference materials into tasks. It’s not minimal, it’s not zen, but it’s working. I’ve ended up using far more tools and technology than I ever would have imagined, but my workspace is far less cluttered and I feel like I can breathe a bit there (as well as work my ass off).

To bring things back to the “debate,” don’t worry so much about what we call things1, but question if they work. If something is helping you do things, keep it. If it’s keeping you from doing things, don’t. No matter what it is called. It’s that simple. Because if there is one thing I’m certain of, it’s this: The only thing more distracting than people trying to sell you a load of garbage dressed up as zen or minimalism is taking the time to debate their merit.

  1. And if you are going to worry about what we call things, let’s worry about the actual meaning behind them and not the buzzwords they’ve become. []
  • http://bluechile.net Charles

    I’m one for whom simplicity comes easily but productivity does not. In fact my recent focus on productivity has not helped my productivity at all. This past weekend I got caught up to MM’s Cranking post and related podcast and I’m about to punt on the whole thing.  Anyway, my thoughts on simplification are here:  http://bluechile.net/post/15035035431

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      Then you’re a step ahead of me, neither comes easy in my life :)

      I’m a big fan of giving something a serious look and punting it if it isn’t adding value. The only thing I’d ask is if it’s the focus on productivity that isn’t working or the particular thing you decided to focus in on? Looking forward to reading your post.

  • http://www.thinkinprojects.com Rafal

    I think the appeal of minimalism and zen comes from the perceived clarity that they could provide. With such hopes there is a lot of time spend on cutting crap out and finding how to live with 15 things only. But if it’s clarity that we want (certainly me) there are ways to do it. GTD approach could be one. And there is something in saying “ignorance is bliss”. If you are getting where you want and what you want from life does it really matter that your desk is messy? We don’t need to have everything sorted out, we need just enough.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      Seriously well put and I couldn’t agree more. The only real gray area is for those of us who naturally have a messy desk, but want a cleaner one. I think a “zen” desk is often a distraction where a clean desk will usually suffice :)

  • http://www.perthelectricalservices.com.au/ moulnathan

    Thanks for another brilliant segment! I bookmark your web page cause I know Here I can get relevant and meaningful tutorial and can learn few thing which is related with real life. Thanks and keep it up!

  • Jonaston

    Dude, you have become an inspiration. This is a post I expect to refer to from time to time throughout 2012. So, thank you for it. XOJA.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      High praise, good sir! That means a lot! Hope 2012 is getting off to a good start and hope we finally cross paths this year.

  • http://twitter.com/daveegauthier Dave Gauthier

    Hi Michael, I’ve been reading your posts regularly for a few months now. I’ve been having a few tech dilemmas and it just struck me that you may be of some help!

    I’ve been attempting to sync my Evernote notebook(s) and events with iCal. Is there any simple way of doing this? From what I’ve been able to figure out for myself, there isn’t. Most work-arounds require downloading extra apps to bridge the gap from Evernote to iCal. 

    What’s your process for scheduling meetings and events directly to your calendar? 

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      I want to make sure I understand the question. You’re looking to create an appointment or meeting and link to a specific note with reference materials for it? If so, I think I have a workaround for you, but to be honest, it is still a cheat.

      Evernote recently added the ability to create links to specific notes. When you have a specific note open go to the “Note” menu at the top of the screen (or right clicking over the note in the main menu) and select “Copy Note Link”. This gives you a local link to the file that can be added to the notes field in iCal. One thing to be careful of is that it isn’t very well baked in yet. There are other places where it seems like you can build a link, but it shares the note and creates a secure URL, you aren’t looking for this. You can also do this for multiple notes. For now, the only way to create these links are the two ways mentioned above.

      The details for this creating these links can be found here: http://blog.evernote.com/2011/06/15/big-evernote-desktop-update-windows-and-mac-get-note-links-note-copying-and-much-more/ I know you mentioned that you didn’t want to use additional apps, but if you have them you can also use Fantastical to quickly create these or a few minutes with Keyboard Maestro should solve it for you as well. But it would also work if you just copied the link, created your appointment and manually pasted the link.