Experiment 3: Less, but Better

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This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. After the first 4 weeks, I learned that adding new activities to an already-busy life can make that life even busier. I’d like to carve out some space.

Enter Experiment 3.

I consider myself a minimalist when it comes to physical items, but not so much with tasks, activities, and inputs – especially related to news and social media. So, for this experiment, I attempted to slow down a bit, reduce noise, add silence and experience a little boredom. My hope is that “addition by subtraction” will bring time and energy to spend with the people I love and the activities I most enjoy.

Day 1: Phone Cleanup
I removed all social media apps from my phone: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. I also reduced my podcast subscriptions from 20 to 10. If I did nothing else for 2 weeks, this made a huge difference in my daily experience.

Day 2: Disable Notifications
I unsubscribed from all the email newsletters and notifications I could find.  No more pocket-buzzing for LinkedIn requests or e-mails when people react to my witty tweets.

It was early 2017 as I began this experiment, so it was difficult to avoid the news of a controversial presidential administration. I did manage to stay away from the news until after work today, which elicited internal questions: Am I being irresponsible? Do I even care about the world, the vulnerable, the marginalized? What if the President tweets something ridiculous? What if Betty White dies?

Day 3: Quiet
More unsubscribes, both at work and home. I noticed a significant difference in my Inbox after two days. I also recycled 40 magazines I had “planned to read someday.”

I finished an audiobook and did not start another. I paused all podcasts, at least for a couple days (an experiment within the experiment), to find out what silence might sound like.

Answer – Silence is scary as hell.

Day 4: Irony
After 30 minutes of early morning “pacifier-sucking” via e-mail and social media online, I set three priority To Do tasks and knocked them out before noon. My wife and I shared a late lunch out, brought to us by essentialism.

I discovered an Evernote folder called Minimalism, chock full of notes, articles, and book recommendations. This seemed incongruent with the ideas of minimalism. I deleted the folder.

Day 5: More Quiet
I subscribed from seven more e-mail newsletters, including some I really like. I told myself I could add them back after the experiment (Two months later, I haven’t missed them). On a no-headphones walk with the dogs, I accidentally discovered an elegant, previously-elusive solution to a difficult problem at work.

I ran a quick errand tonight with no audio soundtrack. Driving alone in the old Camry, I was joined only by my thoughts, feelings, and the smell of takeout Thai.

Day 6: Unplugged Saturday
I attempted no internet today. It was weird. While waiting for my turn at the hair stylist I literally did nothing. No screens, no magazines. Nothing. I sat quietly, staring at discounted shampoo while others stared at phones. I was legitimately concerned that people might think I was crazy.

In the afternoon I read a story that was printed in a book. A book, made of paper, that had been crafted from a tree. A tree!

Day 7: I skipped the Super Bowl and lived to write about it
Full disclosure: I watched 15 minutes of the Super Bowl: the 10-minute halftime show and 5 minutes of overtime. Instead, my son and I fried homemade donuts.

Day 8: Snow Day!
Miracle of miracles – a Snow Day in Seattle! I reworked priorities to take advantage of extra time with my family. While fixing dinner, instead of listening to a podcast or book via headphones, I switched to music, filling the house with sound. It attracted attention. I enjoyed impromptu dancing with my wife and the requisite head shakes and eye rolls from the kids. It was awesome.

Day 9: Oops
Rookie mistake today – I answered the phone from a number I didn’t know. It was a sales call that wasted everyone’s time. Lesson re-learned.

Day 10, 11, 12 – Taking Essentialism on the Road
I usually cram a lot of inputs into business trips. I work on the plane until the laptop battery dies, listen to podcasts, and consume the latest business or self-help book. This time I changed the focus from input to output. bringing only a poetry book and journal.

In the mornings I kept the hotel room TV off, swapping local morning news for a 30-second scan of newspaper headlines. It turns out people love to share news when they find out you don’t know what happened, so I just listened.

On Friday I avoided work e-mail all day, downloaded it to my laptop at the airport, and processed it in an hour on the plane. I spent the next 5 hours with a Steve Jobs biography, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, and my journal. I got bored on the plane for the first time I could remember. It was uncomfortable and annoying and generated tons of great ideas. Boredom played a vital role.

Day 13, 14: Less is More
Another No Internet Saturday, which freed up time to bag up giveaway items for the Goodwill, spend some quality time watching movies my family, and read my tree-paper-book.

I wrapped up the experiment by skipping the Grammy Awards. I figured if something amazing happened I could watch the performance later online.

I never did.

 

If you want to dig deeper on this topic, I recommend choosing any one of these, and applying what you learn while reading it: The Power of Less, Everything That Remains, The 4-Hour Workweek, Essentialism, or Deep Work

Photo Credit: Ingrained Builders

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