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

Don't Make Anything More Complex Than It Needs to Be

A couple of months ago, I posted a link on Google+ to a blog post I’d written about creating an editorial calendar for your blog. My buddy Jim Campbell’s reply to that post was quite interesting.

While I can’t find that reply, I can give you a decent approximation: Jim wrote that he should something like that even if it’s just a set of entries in a calendar or just a list of dates.

Jim hit the situation squarely on the head: don’t make anything more complex than it needs to be.

Going Overboard

In the situation I just described, or one like it, it’s easy to go overboard. You can have entries in your calendar, reminders that are staggered over several days, a link to a note or task in Evernote, a trigger to send you a text message when a deadline is looming, and more.

Admittedly, that’s a bit of an absurd example. But I know more than a couple of people who add layers of complexity to a process or a task, even when that process or task doesn’t warrant much (if any) complexity.

Take, for example, Getting Things Done (GTD for short, a popular method for productivity). I find GTD to be far too involved for my tastes and needs. Just look at this workflow diagram. Do most people need a workflow that convoluted? And how many steps can they remove?

Another good example is cooking. Too many people seem to believe that cooking is a complex, involved chore that requires a lot of ingredients, a lot of skill, a lot of time, and a lot of specialized equipment. For most people, it doesn’t need to be. At its core, cooking is simple. It involves a few ingredients and a small amount of embellishment. It’s cooked with care. Anyone can do that, without a lot of training or equipment.

Keep It Simple

Does all that complexity really help? Or is it there just because it seems clever?

With your workflow, just have set of tasks. Give each of those tasks a deadline, or create a daily task list? When you’ve completed a task, cross them off the list.

If you want and need to get things done, you need to make things as simple as possible.

You need to reduce your mental overhead.

You need to boil what you’re doing down to its essentials.

The Dangers of Contrived Complexity

Do I fear complexity? About as much as I fear technology …

Complexity, in of itself, isn’t a always a bad thing. Contrived complexity is. By contrived complexity I mean complexity that’s added to a task or process either because you can or because you haven’t thought the situation through.

Complexity is a drag on what you’re doing. You tend to spend more time than you should maintaining complex systems, shoring them up. Time that you could better spend doing meaningful work, or even just relaxing and recharging.

Stitching together a bunch of disparate tools and processes might feed your ego a bit and increase your cred as a productivity hacker (whatever that is). But before you do that, you should really ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really need all of those tools?
  2. Is there anything I can remove from or combine in my process?
  3. Is there a simpler way to do this?

Answer the questions honestly, based on reason and not on emotion.

You might find out that you should give up a few tools. Sure, those tools may be interesting and slick, but chances are they’re just adding to your overhead.

You might need to tweak the way that you do things. Adapting to the tweaks will slow you down at first, but once you get into the new flow you’ll find that everything moves smoothly and quickly.

In the end, you just might find yourself more productive and with more time to devote to things other than work.

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