Our world is a very complicated place and is becoming more and more complex. While this may seem that we have become better at multitasking and juggling priorities it also means that in order to be successful we have to understand the importance of keeping things simple whenever possible.
Steve Jobs once commented on simplicity and said “that’s been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
But it isn’t enough to read the quote and think that simplicity is important. It has to become ingrained in your thought processes. It has to become habit so that when you are tackling a new project or things suddenly get overcomplicated, the natural tendency should be to take a step back and simplify.
I have found that 2 strategies work well for me. The first is to take a step back to try and see the full project or task from a higher perspective. Try to envision the full “system” rather than the part you are working on. This can help you to focus and realize what is truly important. It may be the piece you are working on and you have to keep going to make a breakthrough, but it also might tell you that the truly important parts of the project are being ignored because you are too focused on this particular task.
The second strategy is to quickly identify What’s Important Now (WIN). Lou Holtz discusses this in his books and used it frequently when he was coaching Notre Dame to a National Championship in college football. It helps to focus by blocking out unnecessary tasks. Then with a clear mind you can tackle the most important pieces, rather than attacking whatever piece comes up next.
A few years ago I was in a Continuing Education (CE) course for my health insurance license and the instructor gave some advice to the group. He said the way he was successful was to overcomplicate insurance so they would feel the need to rely on him. He said this kept work coming because people assumed it was too complicated to trust to anyone else.
A lot of fields seem to rely on this thinking. The idea that if it is too complicated they will have to hire me to do it for them. But I have found that the best attorneys, accountants, marketing professionals etc. are able to break what they are doing down so that the layman could understand. This helps them clearly communicate to their client. It is also much less manipulating than the CE instructor’s approach.
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, whether at home or at work, try to take a few deep breaths through your nose and calm your mind. Then try to see the bigger picture and how your current tasks fit into that high-level view. Finally eliminate distractions by staying focused on What’s Important Now. This will allow you to better tackle complicated projects and simplify the complex.