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How to trim life's fat


Idea Journal Weekly 3

July 24 · Issue #253 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Not all experiences are created equal. This issue explores a few ideas to help you remove the lowest-value ones from your life.
(~3 min read)

#1. If you believe that life is short, then avoid experiences that waste time
Entrepreneur and Silicon Valley oracle Paul Graham writes that having kids is what finally made him realize that life is in fact short: 
“If Christmas-as-magic lasts from say ages 3 to 10, you only get to watch your child experience it 8 times. And while it’s impossible to say what is a lot or a little of a continuous quantity like time, 8 is not a lot of something. If you had a handful of 8 peanuts, or a shelf of 8 books to choose from, the quantity would definitely seem limited, no matter what your lifespan was.”
Once you know that life is short, arguments in the form of “life is too short for X” are increasingly important.
Graham calls the category of things that life is too short for is “bullshit.”
Philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote a long and influential essay in 1986 exploring the nature of bullshit, but Graham offers a characteristically succinct definition: “It’s the junk food of experience.” 
Graham recommends asking yourself the following question to distinguish between bullshit and those experiences that actually matter: “Will you care about it in the future?”
#2. Adding more things to your life isn't the only option
Entrepreneur Derek Sivers writes on his blog that your life can be improved by adding things to it – or by subtracting things from it.
Other people and organizations often push us to add more things to our lives because it benefits them, but as Sivers notes, “the secret is to focus on subtracting.”
The “adding mindset” is deeply ingrained. It’s easy to think of what else you need, but harder to look at what to remove.
For Sivers, the least successful people he knows are drawn to distractions, run in conflicting directions, are chained to emotional obstacles, and say “yes” to almost everything.
But the most successful people he knows “have a narrow focus, protect against time-wasters, say no to almost everything, and have let go of old limiting beliefs.”
#3. “Knowing what you’ll say no to is better than knowing what you’ll say yes to.”
Entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in their book It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work that most life hacks, sleep hacks, and time-management hacks don’t work.
These hacks are all driven by an obsession with trying to squeeze more time out of the day.
But as Fried and Heinemeier Hansson point out, rearranging your daily patterns to find more time isn’t the problem: “Too much shit to do is the problem.”
The way to get more done is to have less to do – you have to say no to claw back time.
Instead of shuffling twelve things so that you can do them in a different order, eliminate seven of the twelve things, and you’ll then have more time left for the remaining five.
It’s not about time-management, it’s about “obligation elimination.”
At their company Basecamp, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson have been ruthless about eliminating work that doesn’t need to be done as well as work they don’t want to do.
They tell a story about simplifying the payment process for both their customers and themselves.
At one point, Basecamp accepted payment by credit card and check. Credit card processing was automated, but the process for accepting checks was manual: the checks were mailed in, so someone had to receive them, process them, deal with incorrect amounts, and ensure that each check was associated with the right account.
In response to this, some companies might have hired a person to process the checks, or come up with some way to use money, technology, or time to try to make the process more automated.
But Fried and Heinemeier Hansson simply eliminated the process altogether.
They admit that the change turned away some revenue and some customers, but for them it was more of a trade away: “We traded some revenue for some time.”
Quote of the week
“Most of any individual’s significant achievements – most of the value someone adds in professional, intellectual, artistic, cultural, or athletic terms – are achieved in a minority of their time. There is a profound imbalance between what is created and the time taken to create it, whether the time is measured in days, weeks, months, years, or a lifetime.”
- Author and consultant Richard Koch in his book The 80/20 Principle
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