If you want to know how to simplify your life and business, accept that you can make hard things easy.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~ Confucius
“It’s all swirling around in my head,” said my client.
“What’s that? How so?” I asked.
“Um, well, everything I want to do. My To Do lists. My daily habits. I mean I do actually have most of it written down, but it’s still so fuzzy. How do I move forward…and be consistent?”
“You’re not consistent now?” I asked.
“I think I can string two days of consistency together before everything falls apart. And, the unbelievable effort it takes to do it when I do manage it. Maddening.”
“Can you show me a sample of one of your lists?”
The Ambitious Entrepreneurial Habit of Overcomplicating
She pushed her journal across the table to me. In one glance, I spotted her true challenge. On the journal page were lines and lines of notes, marching orders, project pieces (and their own associated lists), and To Dos. It was a black ink sea of confusing, overly-ambitious urgency.
I understood all too well what my entrepreneur coaching client was grappling with. In many ways, she and her journal page were telling my own story of overwhelm, lack of consistency, challenges with getting started, and/or achieving measurable momentum.
As entrepreneurs and creators, we can overthink and over complicate most anything we want to make happen. I’ve come to realize that part of that is due to how we are wired, part is due to the story we’ve ingested on a daily basis from cultural and societal influences (“If you want to do anything of value, you are going to have to work hard.”), and part is due to our joy in solving complicated puzzles.
Wait, so we are, in some cases, building the very obstacles were are trying to clear?
So, how was I going to help my client unlearn her current behavior, and then replace that with a much more sane system?
We’d go right to what had been my saving grace. The index card.
How to Simplify Your Life and Business
Several years ago, I was scanning NPR’s site and stumbled across an article entitled, “Can The Best Financial Tips Fit On An Index Card?” The moment I saw the headline, I was hooked. I had been trying to read an enormous tome of financial advice and was slogging through page after page of complicated, dense guidance.
The article told the story of the genesis of Professor Harold Pollack’s simple financial advice. During an online video chat with personal finance writer Helaine Olen, Pollack discussed how many people get bad advice from financial advisors. The article notes:
“Pollack said that the best personal finance advice ‘can fit on a 3-by-5 index card, and is available for free in the library — so if you’re paying someone for advice, almost by definition, you’re probably getting the wrong advice, because the correct advice is so straightforward.”
When viewers of the video began asking to see this index card, Pollack quickly jotted down his advice, took a picture of the card, and posted it online. It went viral. Pollack and Olen went on to write The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated.
This index card was my ticket to freedom. I put aside the 500+ page book of gobbledygook and began doing each line item on the card. Every time my monkey mind wanted to shout at me that I didn’t know how to do the next step, I’d pick up the card and reread it.
“How hard can it be?” I asked myself. “After all, it’s all on this one card. I can figure this out.”
And because it was simple, straightforward, and clear, I didn’t engage in procrastination, fear blurts, or self sabotage. I just did it. As I made my way through the list, my confidence soared, and I had that delicious feeling that I had my financial future figured out and well planned.
If I had tried to follow that tome I had been reading, I can honestly say I would not have done anything to better prepare myself financially. Interesting, right? A 500+ page book = no action. An index card = action and consistency.
The Satisfying Entrepreneurial Habit of Making Hard Things Easy
When I began writing my book, I ran into the same challenges as my client. I had journal pages that looked like Rorschach tests because they were so covered in ink. In fact, those pages were Rorschach tests in a sense as they revealed the state of my muddied and frenetic mind.
I remembered Pollack’s index card and decided to give it a go for making my morning routine simple and easy to execute. I came up with the following:
OK, now don’t freak out. I am very much a morning person, so I devised this schedule to be in alignment with my own personal circadian rhythms. You may very well be a night owl or an afternoon owl. It doesn’t matter. Make your card fit you…when your energy is at its peak. This is about how to simplify your life.
NOTE: it is important to know what you need each day prior to launching into your index card. For me, that means I go to bed very early and get plenty of rest. I order 7 bunches of organic celery each week and then clean it in big batches, so I can grab a handful to juice each morning. It means I have my journal, pen, and art supplies organized and ready to use so that I don’t have to go searching for anything.
When my feet hit the floor at 3:30am, I am off and going.
Guess how I feel at 9am after I’ve done my index card for the day?
Guess how the rest of my day goes?
My body feels light. My head is clear. My heart is happy. I’ve done my 4M’s: Morning Pages, Moved, Meditated, and Made Something (this can be collage, a series of pictures on my hike, a sketch, watercolor, etc.). Importantly, when I begin my work with clients, they get the very best from me.
We can choose to make things simple and easy to execute. We can put down the drama. We can satisfy our Puzzle-Solving Cravings by devoting that energy to our art and to our businesses.
We can exhale the crazy and inhale calm momentum. From this place, we can serve from our highest and best form…and give those we love our truest selves.