Startup Tools: How to simplify your life?

Note: This article was originally published in The Arizona Republic’s “Getting Started,” a column by Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business faculty on entrepreneurship. The author is Sidnee Peck, director of W. P. Carey School of Business Center for Entrepreneurship.

Question: In a world of falsely titled articles such as “5 simple steps to become an entrepreneur,” it makes me wonder: Is there really anything that is truly simple that can improve my life while I run my company? Or am I stuck in chaos?

Answer: Ah, simplicity. My strategy to simplify life involves taking a look at the two ends of the spectrum: things that are non-negotiable and those I can live without. All the stuff in the middle will make the most noise, because they involve circumstantial decision making. I don’t mess with those things, but when thinking about the two ends there’s no ambiguity at all. Here’s a plan that will help you sort it out.

Next time you’re waiting in line, grab a pen and paper or your phone and start these two lists:

  • What are the things in my life that are so important I want to do them regularly, no exceptions? Maybe you write down reading a bedtime story to your daughter every night or having 15-minute one-on-ones with your management team once a week. Consider personal health and wellness, relationships and professional tasks.
  • What are the things in my life that I really don’t want to be doing, that do not add value, but I continue to do them out of habit or guilt? This list may include those poor food choices you make because you haven’t made time for grocery shopping, or you work harder on an individual client basis because you have not taken the time to create efficient management systems.

Once you have these lists, pick the top three in each category: These are the behaviors we are going to change in the next 63 days. Pick one from each list to start. For 21 days you are going to develop a habit that maintains the important things and eliminates the junk. Then you’re going repeat the process two more times, until you’ve addressed the habits on your lists.

What can you do every day (or every week) to get yourself there? Here are two ideas:

Daily habits. Making something a “must-do” before you head out the door to work (or sit down at your home office) increases the chances that it will get done, even as the pressures of the day build. Double check your calendar to make sure you can be done with an event or a meeting leaving enough time to get home and read that story; call your friend and confirm rhw time and place for a game before you have the chance to cancel.

Simple accountability. Yes, this one really is simple! Not easy, but simple. Keep a log of your lists and the detailed habits you’ve committed to practicing next to your bed. Jot down YES or NO if you kept the habit that day, and then a reason or two that made you feel strong in the habit or that prevented you from maintaining it. When you wake up each morning, read your report card from the day before and set a vision for the day to overcome whatever holds you back or supports your efforts to do what’s working.

Set a date on your calendar 63 days from now and take stock. How’d it go? Should you do it again?

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