Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Focus on the Work, Not on the Tools

A man, doing paperwork

Far too many people, and not just folks who are obsessed with productivity, spend way too much time and effort and mental energy trying to find the perfect tool. The tool that, in their minds, will get them to produce more and better work.

That’s the wrong mindset to have. Instead of focusing on the tools, you need to focus on the work. Tools are secondary. They’re a convenience. They’re not the most important thing.

What matters is what you’re doing. What matters is how you’re doing it. A tool doesn’t do the thinking or planning or the actual nuts and bolts of solving a problem for you. Those are the most important parts of performing a task. You, and only you, can do any of that.

Tools don’t produce better work. Using a modern word processor doesn’t make you a better writer. A note-taking app doesn’t make you more organized. A task management tool doesn’t make you more productive. They can help make you more efficient, but in the end the tool has no bearing on the quality of the work that you do.

Don’t worry about tools. Don’t agonize over finding the so-called perfect one. Instead, put the lion’s share of your energy into doing the work. You’ll be further ahead of most people if you do that.

How Much Do You Actually Need?

Piles of stuff

Confession time: I’m not a very materialistic person. I don’t feel the need to acquire, in the words of a friend of mine, piles and piles of stuff.

Moving to New Zealand in 2012 really forced me to focus on what’s important. My family and I had to get rid of most of our worldly possessions, and focus on the essentials that we needed to bring with us. That meant a small knapsack each, a checked or suitcase two each, and my daughter’s cello.

But in late 2016, I realized that I have too much stuff. In the last four and a half years, my wife and daughter and I have accumulated quite a bit in the way of possessions. Items big and small. Clothing. And more.

I’m not sure how that happened, but it did.

Since coming to that revelation, I’ve been doing a gradual clean out of the physical excess in my life.

As part of that exercise, I’ve been considering how much I actually need and what I actually need. While I haven’t come to a definitive conclusion, I’ve come to realize what I don’t need:

  • A lot of clothing
  • All the latest gadgets, whether electronic or otherwise
  • Furniture I rarely, if ever, use
  • Piles of CDs
  • Various knick-knacks and tchotchkes that seem to pile up

And to that list I’ve added those items that I’ve bought that I thought would be useful, but never wound up using. The only things I don’t want to give up are my dead trees books. I gave away over 2,000 of them before moving to New Zealand and, being old school, I like them as much as I like ebooks. Maybe a bit more …

All of the possessions I just listed, and others to boot, don’t make me any happier. They don’t make me smarter or more productive or more interesting. They definitely don’t justify the space that they take up.

As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, I’m still unburdening myself. It’s a slow process, not because I have a lot to get rid of but because I’m going through the process whenever the mood strikes me. What I’m doing is a beneficial exercise, though. It’s showing me what’s important and useful in my life. While I haven’t pared my possessions back to where I think they should be, I will. And I’ll be better off for it.

To wrap up, let me share something Leo Babauta tweeted in 2015:

All you need, you already have.

Links Roundup - February 14, 2017

4 Recommended Books

A man reading a book

While I’ve slacked off a bit on my reading, that doesn’t mean books haven’t been passing in front of my eyes over the last few months. Several have. I’d like to quickly share four of those books with you. They may not make you more productive or a higher achiever, but they just might help you find some more balance in your life.

And note that none of the links below are affiliate links. I don’t make any money or get any credit or incentive when you click those links. You’re welcome!

The Art of Stillness — Travel, we’re told, broadens the mind and offers the opportunity for adventure. But noted travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer posits a different idea: that we can broaden our minds and ourselves by turning inwards. Iyer discusses why we need to turn inward, and the rewards you can reap from doing that.

The World Beyond Your Head — Do you feel your attention has not only been divided, but that it’s been shattered? You’re not alone. And it’s not just because of all the technology all around us, which provides all sorts of distractions. Matthew B. Crawford looks closely at what attention is, how we got to where we are (it’s been happening for centuries), and offers some ideas about how we and the generations that follow us can reclaim our attention.

Autopilot — Everyone and everything around us seems to be shouting Do more! or to use every minute of every day productively. If you’ve been reading this space for any amount of time, then you know that I feel this is no way to live. And Andrew Smart agrees with me. In Autopilot, he argues that we need to step back, slow down, and let ourselves relax and go fallow more. Smart even offers some pretty convincing evidence from the world of neuroscience to back up what he’s saying.

The Zen Habits Beginner’s Guide to MindfulnessMindfulness has become something of a buzzword lately, and some people tout it as the cure to all of the problems in your life. It’s not quite that, but it can help. In this ebook, Leo Babauta teaches you the basics of meditation to help you achieve a state of mindfulness so you can become aware of what’s causing the problems in your life. You don’t just learn how to calm and focus yourself through meditation, you learn how to put mindfulness into action.

The Bare Minimum You Need to Get and Stay Organized

A notebook, a pen, a phone, and a mug

I was recently chatting with a few people about various topics when one of them casually mentioned that I blog about productivity. One of the people, who I’d only met that day, looked surprised and asked me point-blank What’s the bare minimum I need to stay organized?

To be honest, I was taken aback. Not by being asked the question, but by the question itself. I’ve never thought about organization and productivity from quite that perspective. So, in an effort to gain some thinking space I asked him Why are you interested in that?

He replied that he was tired of complex productivity systems. That he was tired of the multiple-app lifestyle he seemed to be leading. He just wanted a simple, minimal way to keep on track.

With that piece locked firmly into the puzzle, a picture took form in my head. Here’s the advice I gave him.