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BalanceMinimalismProductivityTools and Systems

The Now page and saying No

October 14, 2016 — by Matt

When you aren’t working toward something specific, it’s really hard to figure out what to do with your days, nights, and free time. Things float into your purview – some random event invite, a new Netflix show, some other lukewarm opportunity – and you just say yes; not because you’re really interested, or because it excites you, but because “why not”. You’re not in control of your own attention and energy.

I’m guilty of this. You probably are too.

That’s why I like this Derek Sivers’ “hell yeah or no” concept.

I also like the concept of a “now” page. It outlines the most important things you’re spending your time on. That way, when some opportunity comes up that doesn’t make you say “hell yeah!”, you can point to your “now” page and say “no thanks! I’m working on these things right now.”

I’ll have my now page soon, explaining why I’m saying no to all you beautiful people, and why I’ve been gone from this site for so long.

BalanceBucket ListMinimalism

The Fuck It List

March 22, 2016 — by Matt

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Disclaimer: This article contains a well-known curse word loved, used, and abused the world over. If strong language offends you, you can skip this one. However I'm going to continue using the proper nomenclature, because (a) it's used in only the most positive, life-affirming, and splendiferous way, and (b) I just added "not cursing in my writing" to my Fuck It list. Enjoy.

We’re all familiar with the concept of the Bucket List: a list of activities, experiences, and goals you’d like to accomplish before you bid this life adieu. Sometimes though, it’s just as important to decide what’s NOT important to you as it is to decide what is important. This is where the concept of the Fuck It list comes into play.

What is the Fuck It list?

The Fuck It list is the Bucket List’s evil twin; a list of items that you really just don’t give a rat’s ass about accomplishing. The Fuck It list is a pretty powerful tool to help you focus your energy and decision-making on what is truly important to you and fully cut ties with what isn’t. The more we can do to tune out the bullshit, the better. (Three curses in the first paragraph? I hope you’re still with me…)

As you grow on your journey to unboring, you’ll try a bunch of new experiences and undoubtedly your focus on what is most important to you will change. This might result in adding a few related items to your bucket list, but more often than not your Fuck It list will be the real beneficiary of your experience. When you’ve explored enough to gain a real understanding of what values, experiences, and relationships are most important to you moving forward, your focus on your real goals makes it infinitely easier to cast off any experiences that you just know won’t be important to you.

And one of the advantages of dipping your toes in many different new things is that a lot of those things will not be for you, and you’ll know it almost immediately with very minimal investment in time and energy. Tried your hand at web design and knew immediately it wasn’t for you? Boot it to the Fuck It list, and feel the weight of one more consideration leave your shoulders.

Building your Fuck It list

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Building your Fuck It list is best done as an offshoot of defining your own values and areas of interest. Just like in diet or exercise, defining your fitness or health goals (e.g. boosting your maximal squat, or gaining muscle, or hitting a target weight) will help you eliminate the types of training or nutrition that doesn’t help you reach your goals. Once you’ve written off these methods, it’s much easier to filter through the advice of friends, colleagues, or the internet to concentrate on what will help YOU, and ignore the advice that helps someone with different goals. Just like there is no exercise program that is perfect for everyone, there is no one-size-fits all bucket list.

Sometimes Fuck It list fodder is best taken from the bucket list highlights of others. Your friends and family might have a few lofty goals and worthy endeavors that, although to them represent crowning achievements, don’t really rev your engine. These are sometimes the best fuck it list items, because other people, the media, and society will do a great job of talking them up. If you’ve already written them off, you can ignore all the noise and focus your energy and exploration into new areas, or into activities you know are up your alley.

This is how I’ve started to formulate my fuck it list. I’m still just beginning, so it’s pretty light. But I can breathe easy knowing that I don’t have to waste an ounce of energy thinking about the following items. I’ll also try to include how I settled each of these examples.

1. Running a marathon. This one was easy. My short-term fitness goals include building strength and a bit of muscle, looking like I’ve at least had brushes with athleticism, and being well-equipped to be socially active doing things I love like playing basketball, kickball, or clowning around at the beach. So although I have the utmost respect for those who train for marathons and other tests of endurance, it’s not going to get me into the kind of shape I’d like to be in. It’s not something I feel I need to prove to myself or anyone else, and by safely ignoring it I can focus on my real goals without the distraction of switching up my training.

2. Becoming a millionaire. This one came out of some self-evaluation and realizing where my values lie. I’ve always been of the mindset that experiences and relationships are worth way more than money in the bank, and although I think that financial stability and freedom is important, I believe this stability is worthwhile because of the happiness and health it helps provide for you and those around you. It’s not a goal you reach at a certain net worth or with a certain number of zeroes before the decimal point on your bank statement. If I ended up with a million dollars, I’ll be the last one to complain – but I’m not living my life explicitly to get there. This also brings up another great point about the Fuck It list – these don’t have to be items you’ll never do, just items you don’t have to explicitly strive toward.

3. Drive coast-to-coast alone. This is an example of an item I sniped from someone else’s bucket list; specifically, the excellent “75 Things Every Man Should Do” list from esquire.com. Although I found the entire list enjoyable and even earmarked a few items that might make it on my own bucket list, I found a few that were perfect Fuck It list fodder, including #7, “Drive by yourself from coast to coast.” This sounds really awesome, and I commend anyone who does it, but it’s just not something that revs my engine (no pun intended). Doing it with a few close friends? Now we might be talking.

Please note I’m not passing judgement on any of the above items, they just aren’t my cup-o-tea. One of these items on your bucket list? Great! That’s what makes us unique, and that’s what makes this my Fuck It list and not yours.

Undoubtedly I’ll add to this list as I get older. In fact, I might even remove some things. If one of these items really becomes important to me, it could get knocked off the Fuck It list – but I know it will just happen if it happens, no need to plan for it. I’m much better off investing my energy into the goals I have today.

Start your “Fuck It” list today!

Do you have a fuck it list yet? If not, take 3 or 4 minutes to jot down a few activities, accomplishments, or achievements that you just don’t give a flying fuck about. Put it somewhere safe (I keep mine in [Evernote]). Every time you try something and decide it won’t make you happier or enhance your life, add it to the list.

Start by looking at your bucket list (or if you don’t have one yet, think about some of your specific short- or long-term goals) and think about a few items that, while cool and worthwhile for some, would derail you from reaching those goals. Jot those items down first.

Next, take a look at one or more of the copious “Things every man/woman should do” or “things to do before you die” lists. In fact, go take a look at our [bucket list] items on this site; you might see a few right off the bat that make you think “well, that’s something I don’t care if I ever do.” Add those to your list and then forget about them and move on to something more important. The beauty of the Fuck It list is that if your outlook ever changes, it’s really easy to remove something; but until it does, you don’t have to bother wasting one ounce of energy thinking about it.

Start by writing down 3 or 4 things to get your list started. It shouldn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes, and once you have the list started and somewhere readily available, you’ll be much more likely to add to it when you think of something new.

Started your list already? Let’s hear some of the goals you won’t be wasting any time or energy on in the comments section below!

MinimalismProductivity

The Power of Selective Apathy

October 19, 2015 — by Matt

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This article originally appeared on We Live Limitless at http://welivelimitless.com/power-selective-apathy/

Is it ignorance or apathy?
… Hey, I don’t know and I don’t care.
– Jimmy Buffett

The world is a fascinating, interconnected place. Technology allows us to tap into a level of information and communication that would have been impossible 20 years ago. We can now chat with anyone anytime the world over. Videos, articles, and Wikipedia can serve us more information than we can consume on any topic we find interesting. We can travel anywhere in the world with relative ease, and pursue opporunities not available to generations before us. We’re more aware than ever of the thoughts, feelings, and life events of our family, friends, and even complete strangers. And we can interact with anyone, start conversations, and work collaboratively toward a higher purpose with relative ease.

Oh, what a time to be alive!
WATTBA
The downside to having so much available to us is that… we have SO MUCH available to us. Without constraints, the abundance of information and the burden of choosing what to consume become overwhelming. When you’re inundated with event invites, listicles, friends’ social media timeline rants, personal projects, internet memes, socio-political causes, pleasure reading, and the latest Netflix original shows, it’s difficult to figure out what’s important to pay attention to, and what isn’t. Everything settles into the same tier becomes white noise. And our limited attention is so thinly spread over everything that nothing gets enough attention to make a difference.

If everything is important, than nothing is.
– Patrick Lencioni

If life is like a buffet, it’s our job to decide what goes on our plate. Choosing a little of everything will leave us with too little of each dish to enjoy it, and adding more food to an already-full plate will just result in a mess.

So we need to be picky with what we consume and what we’re exposed to. Of course, this is easier said than done – it’s not like we can just choose what we want to see and nothing else with bother us – most information is thrown at us from all directions. So to effectively bat away that which doesn’t serve us, let’s try a strategy of “selective apathy”.

“I don’t care”

Apathy is generally viewed as a bad thing. The phrase “I don’t care” is a rude phrase, something to be avoided in polite company. True enough, with all things considered. But selective apathy is a powerful strategy to decide what you just don’t care about in order to give more attention to what you do. By dismissing an input as “unimportant”, you clear away a big chunk of the noise around you to more clearly see your goals, ready to be attacked.

The concept of selective apathy is readily apparent in many existing success strategies. The Pareto principle (or the 80/20 rule) works by identifying the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of your results. By saying that you “don’t care” about the other 80% of activities, you’re narrowing your focus and improving your output. Environment design forces you to construct your surroundings in a way that is condusive to your task. Anything that isn’t is ignored. The importance of “saying no”? Just another way of identifying something you don’t have the bandwidth to care about right now. And minimalists will recognize selective apathy as just another method to clear your life of what isn’t necessary.

One man’s trash is another’s treasure

It’s important to understand that choosing to ignore something does not mean that it isn’t important in a universal sense. It’s simply putting concentrated focus on a few important things in order to make a real impact or actual progress. The researcher who dedicates her life to finding a cure for ALS is not doing so becuase she believes curing other diseases is unimportant; rather, she’s doing so because a concerted effort in her chosen area of focus will yield a more powerful result.

In addition, saying “I don’t care” should really mean “I don’t care about this right now”. It’s often beneficial to ignore an input while you’re focused on something else and then return to it when you have more bandwidth to give it its due consideration. Just don’t let it take your eye off the ball in the short term and pull your focus from your goals.

Don’t just say “I don’t care” to others

After extolling the virtues of selective apathy and using “I don’t care” to keep your attention focused on the important, I’m going to give you one final piece of advice – don’t actually say it.

Huh?

In most cases we’re telling ourselves not to care as a shield to to our attention. But when it comes to other peoples’ ideas or proposals, outright saying the phrase “I don’t care” comes off as rude, and for good reason – it’ll sound like you think their interest is unimportant and unworthy. But this isn’t the case – just because you choose not to focus on something yourself does not make it unimportant to someone else or in general.

So if you’re forced to decline others’ proposals or projects in order to focus on your own, do so with gratitude – they thought of you as a valuable contributer to the conversation. Let them know you think the cause or idea has real merit (as long as you really think so!) and share with them enthusiastically what you are focused on that requires your full attention. Passion recognizes passion, and not only will you leave the conversation with mutual respect for each others’ projects, but you’ll open the door for potential collaboration in the future.

There is more information and opportunity out available to us than there ever has been before. Taking a stance of selective apathy regarding everything that isn’t important to you right now will allow you to make a real impact on those things that are.

MinimalismProductivity

The World Is Out To Distract You!

August 26, 2015 — by Matt

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(OR: YOU ARE THE MASTER OF YOUR FOCUS)

Last week I was on a flight for work – a few hours, nothing too draining. I thought it would be a great opportunity to make a dent in the book I was reading and fill a few pages writing in my notebook.

The flight had those in-headset TVs, so I held down the “lower brightness” button to turn the screen off (already an intentionally convoluted process designed to keep the TVs on) and opened my book. But within the first 15 minutes of the flight, the monitor sprung to life no less than thrice, requiring me to stop reading and turn it off each time. I started to wonder if I was fighting a losing battle. This TV obviously wanted my attention.

Seems kind of unfair, doesn’t it? We’re forced to spend our energy to fight off the distractions the world fires at us, scatter-shot. How dare the world try to tell us how to spend our time?

In reality, it’s not that targeted or vindictive. The world isn’t really out to get us or maliciously pull our focus. But the world also isn’t going to help you prioritize your attention, only serve you the information you need when you need it. There are just a lot of inputs into our lives nowadays, and a lot of loud, vibrant attention-seekers. The world is what it is, not inherently bad or good, just chock full or information and activity – and we have the power to decide how we interact with it. So it takes a little work to sweep aside the clutter in order to focus.

Your attention is still yours

The most powerful approach to your attention is that of ownership. Your attention and focus is yours, and you can give it to whatever you see fit.

Of course not everything is in your control. A construction crew jack-hammering the sidewalk outside of your apartment is going to make it pretty difficult to compose that sonata. If the wing had broken off the plane on my flight and the oxygen masks had dropped, I’ll bet that would have been enough for me to put down my book.

But some distractions are in your control to stifle – and they are the ones that require us to actually submit to the distraction. Realizing it’s our job to prioritize is both powerful and for me, a little nerve-wracking.

“I was going to finish writing that article, but Facebook distracted me.” No – you distracted yourself by giving something else your focus. That’s like saying “that shoe sale took all of my money!” No – you prioritized having shoes over having something else.

(This article beautifully outlines how distractions are often of our own construction and how our brain searches them out. It’s a great read.)

Think of your attention like a currency, and invest wisely.

I’m one of the worst offenders I know of this.

This isn’t me on a pulpit, preaching against the evils of losing focus or claiming it as a weakness. As someone with some pretty prominent attention issues and the (sometimes crippling) inability to stay on task, I’m basically the poster child for this behavior. But I’m finally recognizing that I’m in control of my own destiny here and relying on the world to tell me where to focus my attention is a recipe for disaster.

Here’s another complicating factor: a lot of focus-pullers are incredibly enriching. If you’ve ever been “distracted” by a beautiful sunset or a deep conversation with a stranger on the train, you know that a constant heads-down, hermit-mode, world-blocking focus is not a good thing.

(I’ll be writing much more on my struggle balancing between going out and experiencing the world, and going ass-to-chair to put in the required work.)

The point is to give an old-fashioned “talk to the hand” to distractions we know to be wasteful. By putting the intentional heisman on unhealthy distractions we leave room (a) for us to focus on our priorities and (b) for the possibility to experience some of the great things that happen around us.

Your attention is yours to spend, but there’s nothing wrong with putting in some cheats to make it easy to ignore unhealthy distractions. I have had some success with a few tools and systems that make it easier to block out the unhealthy distractions. In my next article I’ll outline a few that I’ve tried or plan to try. If you’ve been battling distractions or a lack of focus like I have recently, let’s start a conversation in the comments below!

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