7 ways to simplify your life

Decisions decisions…

Since May, we’ve lived in a new city every three weeks on average. Yet even though this means that everyday things like buying aspirin or taking out the trash can become gigantically complicated, our lives are probably still simpler than most people’s.

A lot of the simplicity comes naturally from our lifestyle, but of course, just like I have done with productivity, I drive Mish mad by taking it way too far. I’ve developed a major aversion to expending brainpower when it can be avoided…which makes me an annoying person to live with, but does generate some (hopefully) useful insights.

We’ll get to drama and lying, but let’s start with the biggest simplification hack of all…

Order your groceries online

This sounds stupid, but it comes first on the list because it’s the single thing that costs us the most time when we’re not able to do it.


Option 1: Get to the supermarket (20 minutes), walk around putting the usual things in your basket (45 minutes), queue behind someone paying in pennies, using a cheque or arguing about the price of raspberries (15 minutes) and get home again (20 minutes)

Option 2: Go to the website (10 seconds), add your list of regular purchases (1 minute), add anything extra that you need (1 minute), pay using your stored card data (30 seconds).

Total time saving with option 2: 1 hour, 42 minutes and 20 seconds.

Seriously, why doesn’t everyone do this? When we’re away from the UK we spend hours grocery shopping – made worse by not having a car – so we have to shop every couple of days to make up for not being able to carry much.

Online shopping also ties nicely into…

Reduce your total number of decisions

Making decisions is exhausting – especially when they involve willpower.

When we order groceries online, we order the same each time: enough to make a small range of meals. Our relatively healthy diet happens by default because we just don’t order unhealthy things.

You can also reduce decisions through routine. Mish’s routine is to go for a run every morning – wherever we are in the world – so there’s never any need to decide whether to exercise or what to do first.

And you can reduce decisions even more if you…

Own less stuff

Stuff breeds complication. The more you have, the harder it is to find what you need. The more there is that can break. The more places you can lose stuff under other stuff.

If you own fewer things and intensely use the things that you do have, you can eliminate a lot of pointless decisions. For example, we’re not quite at Steve Jobs levels of wardrobe sameyness here, but our only sartorial decision each day is which colour of t-shirt to wear. And the answer doesn’t matter, so it’s normally the first one that comes to hand.

Then when our clothes wear out, we go to the same shop every time (Uniqlo, if you want to rock the “really couldn’t give a shit” look too) and buy the exact same clothes as we did last time. Easy.

Don’t lie

I used to lie habitually. Not in a majorly bad way – normally to make an excuse for missing an activity, or a “lie of omission” by not talking about something I thought was weird or embarrassing.

As a result of becoming more comfortable with my weirdness and finding a similarly oddball group of friends, I don’t lie anywhere near as much. And man is it easier! By only having to hold one version of reality in my head, I feel like I’ve freed up limitless space for other things.

This isn’t about “radical honesty” or anything like that: just telling the same version of past and future events to everyone.

Automate everything that can be automated

For some reason, I have a credit card that I haven’t automated the payment of by using a direct debit. Every month I complicate my life by continually checking whether payment is due, then having to log into my online banking to pay it. If I missed a payment (which would be easy to do), it would dramatically complicate my life by affecting my credit score.

And that’s just one tiny thing. Setting up automated processes for tasks like bill payment takes some upfront effort, but the gains last forever.

To automate a giant variety of online tasks, use IFTTT. But be warned: there’s a line between “setting up processes to be more efficient” and “wasting your life setting up automated text messages when rain is predicted”.

Say no to drama

(Unless it’s part of The Bachelorette or Shark Tank, in which case drama is awesome.)

Drama is exhausting. It can either be self-inflicted (like by overreacting to a perceived slight), inflicted by others (friends venting about other friends), or inflicted by the media (drama about some catastrophe that might or might not happen).

Whatever the source of drama, it complicates your life by giving you plenty of new things to worry about and situations to deal with.

A few rules for avoiding drama:

  • Avoid people who habitually create drama. They can normally be identified because they say things like “I hate drama.”
  • Every time you think you’ve been wronged, remember: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”
  • Forget about winning an argument or changing someone’s mind. You’ll never succeed, and the attempt will create drama.

Embrace heuristics

The one aspect of our lifestyle that adds untold complication is the number of extra options we have around what to do each day.

We spend way too much time making decisions about what to do and where to go – often debating things at length that will be totally forgotten the next day.

One trick that helps is to use heuristics: rules of thumb that pre-make the decision a lot of the time. Some of my favourites are:

  • If the restaurant has pictures of the food, don’t go there.
  • Buy the cheapest, unless there’s a good reason not to.
  • If both (or all) options sound roughly as good, pick the first one.
  • Book the more convenient flight as long as it’s no more than £20 per person more expensive than the cheaper one.

But we still majorly struggle with this area, so we clearly need to develop some more. If you’ve got any useful heuristics, please share them!

What do you do?

Can you feed my obsession with simplicity with some tricks of your own?

Or do you think I’m overstating the importance of this stuff, and I’m probably just complicating things more?

Either way, let me know in the comments!

  • Nice one Rob! I’ve jumped on a number of these already and couldn’t agree more. A nice one that tags along with the ordering of groceries is to check and see if you can get routine things(say car, motorcycle or bicycle repair) done while you’re at home. I came across a few mechanics who did this in Maui and it was a great time saver.

    • Thank you Josh – and “get people to come to you” is a great extra tip! We’ve started having our hair cut at home (not by each other, I hasten to add) which has saved more time than I expected.

  • Just wanted to chip in and let people know that Uniqlo is also a viable option if you actually do care. 😉

    • Oh god that wink smiley looks so condescending haha. 😀 Sorry!

    • It’s true – our lack of aesthetic charm is wholly of our own choosing, and isn’t the fault of Uniqlo. I shouldn’t have tried to deflect the blame 🙂

  • David Rolland

    When I read your “Forget about winning an argument or changing someone’s mind. You’ll never succeed, and the attempt will create drama.”, the first thing that came to my mind is that you need to read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
    Although I must admit I act just like you, instead of argument I let people talk and walk away…

    • I read “How To Win Friends…” years ago and loved it, although it probably bears re-reading annually – it’s scary how much of it is still relevant today.

      What was Carnegie’s perspective on arguments? From memory I thought his advice was that there was nothing to be gained from trying to prove people wrong.

      • I’m only halfway through the book, right in the middle of the third chapter (the one you need to read again). Here’s an advices shortlist:
        – Never tell the other one he’s wrong
        – Ask questions that will generate an affirmative answer
        – Try to put yourself in the other’s position

        But rule number one is to “not get into an argument in the first place”… Yeah, as if that was easy.
        As you say, this should be read every year, while analyzing what you could have done better in the past year.

  • I don’t like automation completely, because sometimes I DO want to be a little more hands-on and transfer more to this account or that one, etc. But another way to do it is:

    “Do ALL finance stuff only once a month.”
    The first day of every month is when I log into all my accounts, make all payments, pay rent and other offline dues, make or schedule any withdrawals or transfers that might be needed, etc. Then I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the month. It’s also when I total up my sales and business expenses for the previous month and see how I did.

    I use this one for my work/computer time – instead of making strict schedules or to-do lists, I categorize my tasks based on these:

    Priority #1 – Stuff for paying customers
    Priority #2 – Day job stuff (paid cliente work)
    Priority #3 – Stuff for non-paying subscribers
    Priority #4 – Stuff to attract more traffic
    Priority #5 – Entrepreneurship forums/reading/podcasts
    Priority #6 – “Fun” (brainlesss) web browsing

    Then I always check to make sure I’m not working on a lower-priority one before a higher-priority one has gotten done.

    • Like it! I also have a kind of “monthly finances SOP” that covers our company bookkeeping, but it clearly needs revising because some personal stuff always slips through the net.

      I like the simplicity of categorising your tasks in a hierarchy like that – I don’t know if it’d work for me, but it’s a great way to make sure you’re doing the most important thing you can be doing at any given time. And if there’s nothing important to do, browse around without feeling guilty!