Minimalism is not just about owning less stuff.

Although, owning less stuff is a great place to start because most people find that decluttering, organizing, and letting go of things creates more calm, more time for loved ones, and more money in their bank account.

The idea is that when we become acutely and intentionally aware of the meaning (or ‘value’) we give things, then we can discern whether or not we’re giving those things greater priority than our health, our relationships, or overall wellbeing.

My favourite definition of minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it by Joshua Becker. It’s simple and it’s not bound by any rules. It means that we first need to get clear on what we value. Then, we need to get clear on what’s distracting us from that.

Many people see minimalism as a way of living (owning less stuff, tiny home, simpler wardrobe, intentional eating) but it can also be a way of working. I recently wrote about the 10 decisions that helped me design my minimalist business. I made a number of intentional choices for my work, my business model and my process so that I could reduce my stress and focus on what matters most. The article generated a lot of interest, curiosity and questions.

If you’re feeling ‘maxed-out’ (overwhelmed, chronically stressed, racing against the clock) it may be a hint that you could use some minimalism. Start with these two questions:

What do you value the most?

What distracts you from this?

If the thing distracting you from what you value most is “work,” then it may be time to consider different work OR a different way of working. For most of us, quitting our J.O.B. is not a viable option. So we need to find a different way of working.

What if minimalism was the way forward?

There’s no one way to DO minimalism, especially if you consider how varied work can be from person to person. So let these ideas percolate and see if you’re inspired. The more you experiment, the more you’ll find what works for you. The idea is to push back on some of your assumptions and find new ways to approach your work that align with what you most value by decreasing those things that distract you from it.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down it’s the way you carry it.” Lena Horne

Here are 5 ways to bring minimalism into your work so that you can feel more ease, calm, freedom, and fulfillment in your life.  

 

  1. Maybe there’s no app for that.

We all know the convenience of working online combined with global reach has literally changed the way we do business. But just because the internet is always on doesn’t mean we need to be. Consider which digital communication tools actually bring you happiness. Get rid of apps, accounts, subscriptions, groups, memberships, followers etc. that don’t. We don’t need to be everywhere. We don’t need to respond within milliseconds. We don’t need to assign too much meaning to followers, likes and comments. Numbing out online could be draining your energy, self-esteem, and creativity.

 

2. Cluttered desk, cluttered mind.

Our work space can have a direct effect on our mood and ability to focus. So whether you work out of your spare bedroom or in the corner office on the 80th floor, it’s important to think about inspiration and workflow. If minimalism asks us to remove the things that distract us – in this case, from the important work at hand – how distracting is your crowded furniture, cluttered desk, pile of files? The extreme might be a room with nothing but a desk, chair and computer but that might be overdoing it. The goal is to remove distractions, not to leave you uninspired. Consider how you might personalize your space in a way that supports your work flow and creates pleasure and joy.

 

3. Follow Darwin’s Schedule.

It actually did take a genius to prove that we don’t need to work longer hours to get more done – thank you, Charles Darwin.  The research on optimal hours for productivity continues to point to a maximum of 3-4 hours of concentrated work per day. Not four consecutive hours of work, either, but two blocks of 90+mins with breaks in between. When my daughters were younger, I had a short window (9am-1pm) to build my coaching business, so it forced me to focus on a few important tasks each day and rigorously prioritize my time. Now my girls are older and more independent, and I still honour that 4-hour schedule. It turns out that’s all my business needs from me to be sustainable and successful. So even though I could work longer days, I choose a minimalist work day instead.

While there are few openings for part-time presidents and CEOs, many of my C-suite Executive clients still honour the concept of a 4-hour workday. They focus their most important “thinking” work in the morning when they’re at their most creative, and push meetings, calls and routine admin tasks to later in the day. This way, they work distraction-free, and prioritize their natural rhythms of productivity.

But for those of you who are self-employed – you have room to be bold! Experiment with a 4-hr workday and see not only how much you can accomplish but how creative you can be.

 

4. Develop a strong REST ethic.

In our culture, we have an overdeveloped work ethic and an underdeveloped rest ethic. Now that you’re moving toward a 4-hour workday, what will you do with the rest of your time? Nope, the answer is not: Netflix. The answer is: give your mind time to wander.

Alex Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, explains that neuroscientists studying MRI’s in the 90’s found that our brain operates between two different networks. When we’re in a relaxed state and letting our minds wander, we activate what’s called the Default Mode Network (DMN). Being in a DMN state provides two distinct benefits 1) it connects together parts of our brain that aren’t usually connected during deliberate thinking and 2) it cuts out the part of our thinking that does all the editing and filtering. In DMN our brain gravitates to things that happened in our past/recent events and consolidates this information to help us make sense of memories and problem-solve current challenges. And that’s why you come up with your best ideas in the shower.

Pang goes on to suggest that we should fill the downtime immediately after work periods with activities that are physically engaging, like going for a long walk. Walking doesn’t require deliberate thinking. During this kind of rhythmic activity, the brain gets to wander and turn over ideas that elude our conscious efforts. Darwin created a “Thinking Path” at the back of his home; remember: the guy was a genius.

When we develop a strong ‘rest ethic’ we prioritize time to think subconsciously. To work out problems. To let creative ideas emerge. To process information and complicated concepts on a deeper level.

Minimalism emphasizes the importance of solitude, inward focus and contemplation. Not only will we be able to think more clearly and find solutions to challenges, we also experience the many psychological benefits of being alone with our thoughts.

“Real relaxation doesn’t come from doing nothing at all if you’re a busy person but from doing something different — an alternative outlook, a change of atmosphere, a diversion of effort is essential.” Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime

 

5. Make it less about the work.

“What do you do? Oh, I’m a business coach. What do you do?”

Our identity is so tied up with our work, we’ve even been conditioned to lead with it. I’m a big believer that when we find our ‘right’ work it can be an incredible source of fulfilment and contribution. However, the slippery slope is when our work doesn’t have boundaries and begins to take priority over our health, relationships and general wellbeing. We can all agree that workaholism is not a desirable -ism.

“The problem is when labor becomes the only thing that defines who we are. When we come to see things like rest as a negative space defined by the absence of work. When we fail to recognize the value of rest for building our sense of self.” Alex Pang

The challenge for many of my fiercely-dedicated-to-their-work clients is not having a resonant answer to the question what am I interested in outside of my work? One client put it this way: Entrepreneurship changed me. I’m trying to find out who I am outside of my work but it’s often easier just to work.

Then the questions posed by minimalism come into play. What do you value the most? If your answer is “my work” – that’s not a bad thing, but it does cue the need to have a closer look at your health, relationships and general wellbeing, to make sure you’re not treating those important things as mere distractions.

It’s a long journey to reclaim the parts of ourselves that slip away over time, and the parts that get lost in the unrelenting busyness of work and life. When we lean into minimalism we create more space for rest and reflection. Then the answers to our big questions can start to emerge in beautiful and unexpected ways.

My best advice is: Do it like Darwin. Work creatively, not constantly. Follow your own ‘thinking path’ and notice what ideas your rested, uncluttered, unplugged mind serves up. As an example, I’ve designed a retreat – the Captain’s House Retreat  – that invokes some of these minimalist guidelines. It’s four days tucked away in nature with time to engage and then reflect. The decor is sun-bleached and spare, the pace is slow, the beach invites thinking. It’s an opportunity to step away from distraction to explore the way you work, what you value, and how to blend the two in a way that best suits and sustains you.

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Comments

(4)
  1. Since moving to a more rural coastal lifestyle, I’ve noticed that when I’m stuck – either in thoughts that go round and round with no ‘solution’, or in an increasingly stagnant feeling work mode – my natural impulse is to be outdoors and moving. So I go out {weather permitting, which it hasn’t much lately!} and walk the coast path until I feel like I’m ‘back’. And often new ideas come then too {I’ve never been a person who has them in the shower}. I come home feeling completely different – reset. I loved the part about rest not having to be actually doing ‘nothing’ – I actually don’t find that very restful, so to learn that it can be just as effective to simply switch to a different mode or pace is really encouraging. Great article Jac – thanks!

    1. Thank you, Tara! Your pics of the coastline speak right to my heart. There’s definitely something about the rhythmic nature of walking and of course the salty smell of the sea that re-sets us in powerful ways (which is also what I notice during my seaside biz retreats!) Thank you for reading. Rest on! Jac xox

  2. Thank you for this, Jac! As always, beautifully considered and inspiring. I just LOVE the thinking path: I’ve GOT one of those now! In fact, I think I’m going to head out there right now, because I’ve got a gnarly question stick-it notes and wringing my hands won’t answer….

    1. Thanks Jess! The ‘Thinking Path’ was my favourite part of this post too! When my girls were smaller and upset about stuff I use to say “go walk it out”. It helps on so many levels. I hope you had a fabulous walk and that your subconscious kicked forward some ideas and clear thinking. xox

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