Simple Living is not just about getting rid of physical clutter (though that’s nice of course) … it’s about making space throughout your life, including reducing the amount of things you stuff into your day.

How do you declutter your time?

Start by getting rid of the big things that take up your time. For example, while little things can cause clutter (checking email, running a quick errand), the biggest time-consumers are things that take up big chunks.

That means big commitments, in your work, social and personal lives. Some examples:

And so forth. These are responsibilities we’ve taken on over the years, requests we’ve said “yes” to, roles we’ve taken on.

What You Should Know About Commitments

Please note a few things about these commitments:

  1. They aren’t bad commitments. Coaching or teaching or volunteering or helping people are all great things, individually. And if that’s all you had going on in your life was that one volunteering commitment, that would be fine. But it’s when you add up all your commitments, big and small, that you realize you’ve allowed your life to fill up with lots of things and you’re now overloaded.
  2. They seem like you can’t get out of them. When you’re coaching something, for example, how can you get out of that? How can you get out of driving your kid to ballet? Well, everything can be gotten out of, if you’re willing to make priorities. Is it more important to coach a team or have time for your kids? And it’s best to think long-term: you can tell the team that you need to stop coaching (for example), and say you’ll stay on for two more weeks while they find another coach. For most commitments, you can just call people up and get out of it (more on saying “no” below), but for others you might need to stick with the commitment for a little while until a replacement is found or a season is over, etc.
  3. Commitments build up over time. We get emails every day, and many of them are requests for your time. Sometimes it’s just a short request for information, other times they want you to do more involved work, sometimes it’s a future engagement like a party or meeting, and still other times they want you to commit to something for a longer period of time. If you say yes to just a fraction of these, you’re still building up more and more commitments. This happens continuously, unless you say “no” to things.
  4. It’s really, really easy to say yes, because we underestimate how much time it will take, and overestimate how much time we’ll have in the future (it seems wide open). But when the time comes to do the commitments, we often regret saying yes. Remember this, and say “no” more often.

How to Reduce Commitments

Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Make a list of all your commitments. As many as possible, big ones and small ones. If you think of more later, add them in. You’ll forget a bunch at first, so revisit the list over the course of a few days.
  2. Pick the 4-5 most important ones. They’re all important in some ways, or you wouldn’t be doing them. But which ones are truly important to you, and which are secondary?
  3. Start saying “no” to the secondary ones. Send an email, make a call. For a few of the secondary ones on your list, you can get out of them immediately, although it might not feel so nice telling people that you can’t. Simply tell them that your plate is too full and you can no longer commit to this. They won’t be absolutely happy, but most people will survive.
  4. Start planning on an exit for the longer-term ones. There are some that are not so easy to get out of, but if you tell them this will be your last season, or last gig, they can start preparing.

This won’t be an easy process, but you’ll free up a ton of time this way.

Now, you have to learn to say “no”.

Say No So You Can Say Yes

When I suggest that people simplify their day by saying “no” to commitments, I often hear people say, “But I’d rather say yes!”

Of course — saying “yes” sounds so much more positive! But each thing you say “yes” to takes time, and we have to admit to ourselves that there’s a limit to how much we can do in a day, and that our days are already full. We have limits.

So we have to say “no” first. We have to clear up some space by saying No to things we’d like to do, but that are taking up space in our lives — space that could be used by something we really really want to do.

Say “no” to all those things we said “yes” to over time, that have accumulated and piled up like driftwood.

Saying Yes is Not Really Saying Yes

Saying “yes” to everything means you really have time for nothing. You can’t possibly say “yes” to everything, because where will you fit it all? Want to go to every meeting, every event, every coffee? Want to do every project that comes along? Your days will be crazy, and you’ll have no rest, and what’s more, you’ll likely not meet all your obligations.

Saying “yes” to everything means you’re not really saying “yes” — it means you’re not setting priorities. You’re not making a serious commitment. You’re not being conscious about your life.

Instead, I propose we adopt Derek Sivers’ idea: don’t say yes anymore. Either say Hell Yeah, or No. Say “yes” to less, and simplify your life.