Experiments in Less: Ideas to Simplify and Improve Routine


We’re (mostly) creatures of habit. We repeat certain actions till they become ingrained routine—which can be a good, and not so good, thing.

The biggest advantage of routine is efficiency. We automate part of our lives and act without questioning. And there lies the biggest disadvantage—we become robots following a program that can become unnecessarily complicated.

Complexity and excess have a price: stress. In other words, we become stressed out robots.

So, from time to time, we need to pay attention to what we do, and tweak routine tasks to do less … but better.

I’ll discuss a couple of areas I’ve reduced and reshaped. They’re not rigid steps, but ideas for you to personalize to your own preferences and situation.

Communicate like it’s 1989

Today, most of our communication is digital—emails, texts, social media. The routines we’ve developed to communicate evolved with technology—not necessarily for the better. Smart phones turned us into reactive scattered notification junkies. We read fast, respond faster, and wait for the next hit.

Here is an exercise that will help you simplify your digital communication.

The phone and voicemail analogy

Looking back at the time when we communicated by phone, this is what we did.

  1. We left each other messages—when we needed to. No one called you to tell you what they had for dinner.
  2. We didn’t keep messages forever. Voicemail had limited storage capacity, and no filters.
  3. We called back only when needed. You checked your messages when you were home, and called back, if you needed to say something.

From the above, we can create a routine:

  1. Say something when it’s important.
  2. Set up your inbox storage capacity. You get to decide how many messages to keep.
  3. Process and delete as you go. Keep what’s important, and manually file (or tag) email messages.

This routine can be applied to any interaction. Would you pick up the phone and call to say something? Or, better, would you go visit someone to tell them what’s on your mind?

The answer will reduce the reactive actions that take time and energy but provide little value—to you and others.

This may not be the most popular choice, but it’s the most effective way to stay in touch and not go overboard. You’re optimizing the use of your limited time and energy and focusing on what matters.

In the last year, I eliminated 90% of email (over 15 filters, 25 folders and hundreds of messages). Now I have a couple of folders and less than 35 messages in total. This is my current routine.

  1. Check email once.
  2. Keep material to be read (yes inbox for reading).
  3. Respond, if I need to.
  4. File (manually) what needs to be kept—for now. I use 2 folders: Deal (waiting for more info/action) and Bills for current bills emails.
  5. Delete everything else.
  6. At the end of the day, read and delete. If it’s not read by the end of the day, it still goes in the trash.

This routine is not set in stone. I’ll change it whenever I notice any struggle.

I use text messages occasionally and delete them once the conversation is over. As for social media, I apply the 1989 communication reminder and say something when I need to, which is infrequent.

Less personal care products

How we wash our hands, shower, or perform other basic life skills can be examined occasionally. Here are a few ideas that worked for me.

No shampoo: I gradually reduced using shampoo and completely stopped by August 2016. Now I use water and baking soda (if needed). And as a result, I eliminated conditioner, anti-frizz serum and gel. A spray of water usually tames my hair. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.

Less soap: Whenever I reached for the soap pump, I pressed twice, or more. I intentionally started using less when washing my hands, or in the shower. The cleanliness level is the same. My skin feels better, and I have less soap scum to clean up.

Less toothpaste: I used to squeeze toothpaste along the length of the toothbrush. Now I use a third of the quantity and it’s working fine.

Less exfoliation: I used an exfoliating glove regularly. It made me feel clean but also agitated my skin. I ended up applying lotion to combat dry skin. Now I exfoliate once a month or less. My skin is much happier.

Less hot water: Switching to warm water reduces skin and scalp dryness. Also, hot water opens up skin pours to absorbing more substances that can be harmful.

Less facial cleansers and other products: Many years ago, a dermatologist told me (after examining my face) the skin is a smart and resilient organ; let it do its job. He recommended that I wash my face with water, and not use creams or other products unless they were absolutely necessary. I still lightly apply lotion in cold drying weather. Other than that, I let it be. And I haven’t regretted it so far.

Look at the products you use every day and think of areas where you can cut back. The payoff is worth it. On a personal level you’ll pay less, use less, clean up less, and reduce the buildup in your home’s pipes and drains. And collectively we’ll reduce consumption and pollution for future generations.

Habits are hard to change, especially when we’re moving away from social norms. It’s easier to follow the same routine—even if it’s unnecessarily excessive. But once you consider all the time, energy, and money you expend for no reason other than this is how it’s done, you’ll feel motivated and inspired to change.

I invite you to examine your habits and simplify your routines. It can transform your life and our planet. No change is ever too small to matter.

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