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.