How to Simplify


How do you simplify? Simplicity is sometimes an elusive thing in business, particularly a small business where the business owner is wearing many hats—often implementing the work while marketing, selling, and managing the operations. How do you simplify a job that seems inherently complex? Here a few tips for simplifying just about any aspect of your life and business.

A Simple Definition

We all know what simplicity is, but in considering how to simplify your work, life, marketing message, whatever, consider this definition. As Wikipedia explains it, simplicity usually relates to the burden which a thing puts on someone trying to explain or understand it. Something which is easy to understand or explain is simple, in contrast to something complicated. Thinking of simplicity as a way of unburdening yourself and especially others should be incentive enough to continually simplify.

Really Smart People Simplify

Most philosophers believe that all other things being equal, simpler theories are better than complex ones. From Confucius who said “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” to Einstein who said that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,” simplifying has been a guiding principle of philosophers, scientists, business leaders, and artists across all of time. There’s no shortage of inspiring simplicity quotes from the greatest minds throughout the times.  You may want to print them out and hang them by your desk to remind yourself of the many merits of simplicity.

KISS and Return to Fundamentals

KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. Or, if you don’t like to refer to yourself as stupid, you can try, keep it simple and straightforward. Either way, KISS is a popular mantra for those who like to keep things, well, simple. No matter how you remind yourself to keep things simple, do in fact remind yourself from time to time to simplify whenever possible by focusing on the fundamentals. While in business complex strategies seems to reign supreme, staying focused on the fundamentals is in fact the more powerful approach. In professional sports it is recognize that focusing on the basics is key to excellence. The best teams spend more time refining fundamental skills like passing and catching than learning complex new ‘plays’. Businesses can apply the same principles by always returning to the fundamentals.

Applying Simplicity

In his blog, ZenHabits, simplicity blogger Leo Babauta outlines four laws of simplicity and how to apply them.  In this post, he boils the laws of simplicity down to a simple method that you can use on any area of your life, and in also on your life as a whole: 1) collect everything in one place, 2) choose the essential, 3) eliminate the rest, and 4) organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely. He gives this example as it relates to work tasks:

“Have a long to-do list (or a bunch of long context lists)? Spend a little time adding every task or project you can think of to your lists, until it’s as complete as you can (GTD’s brain dump  works for this). Then choose only the tasks that you really want to do, or that will give you the absolute most long-term benefit, and put those on a separate, shorter list. The rest of the stuff? See if you can eliminate them, or delegate them, or at least put them on a someday/maybe list to be considered later. Then only focus on your short list, trying to choose the three most important things on the list to do each day.”

On a final note, as you begin to simplify, I leave you with this parting quote from Henry David Thoreau: “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

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