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Minimalism at work: what holds you back from simplifying and eliminating!

"Less is more"! I love this idea. But who manages to implement it at work?

Minimalism is a trend that has taken off tremendously in a world of overconsumption. The climate crisis invites us further in this direction: buying consciously, rethinking our living spaces, and simplifying our lifestyles. At work, for a long time, Eisenhower has invited you to focus on the important and Pareto to work with his famous principle.

You dream of it: a simple, deliberate, and rich life, far from excess. I'm talking about the serenity of a minimalist space, carefully chosen relationships, and a calm and well-structured mind. No more rushing, no more overflowing. Time to do things, savor them, learn, and connect. Time also to do nothing, to take a step back, and to devote yourself to the essentials.

Except that's not quite it, is it?! How is it that we struggle to apply a basic principle of subtraction?

This is not a post about tidying your desk or sorting your wardrobe. This is a post that tackles what's probably preventing you from implementing these aspirations and depriving you of its treasures...

Yet it's the primary performance lever!

Setting the stage. Professor Morten Hanson from Berkeley studied the performance of 5,000 people worldwide, across industries and functions, and produced the excellent book Great at Work. He deduced nine principles that the most successful among us follow. And voilà! "Do less, then obsess" is the most important lever! Obviously, focusing efforts and doing less will benefit you and your company... So why is it so difficult?

Vase with a leaf on a desk
When Simplifying Makes a Difference! Credit: Unsplash, Sarah Dorweiler

Busy is still the new cool! The underlying issue? This latent belief is "I'm very busy, therefore I'm important." Who wants to eliminate something with such a backdrop? Note that there are different variations to choose from: important, efficient, committed, etc.

The deep root of the obstacle

The idea of simplicity and this kind of aesthetic of "less" has appealed to me for nearly 15 years. And yet, I have only been able to grasp its essence in the last few years. It's as if simplicity does not let itself be approached easily…

I hypothesize that we do not achieve minimalism, consciously or unconsciously, often out of fear of being different. Our ability to conform, to do as others do, is a source of security and connection as a child. In fact, given our dependency in this stage of life, the principle of survival inevitably drives us, as highlighted by British therapist Marisa Peer. She adds that despite transitioning to adulthood, we tend to hold on to this survival principle even though we have become independent. The mysteries of the subconscious mind.

I, therefore, suggest that your difficulty in embracing minimalism (assuming you see its potential benefits) comes from a fear of asserting a certain difference. Asserting "yourself." Because being busy is precisely what characterizes the vast majority of us. Rushing around to feel alive, consuming to fill a void, and living the incredible to compensate is a form of normalcy in our latitudes. It’s even the life that media and society tend to sell us. As a result, there's almost audacity, even courage, in daring to do less, to do differently, to do with simplicity.

What if you became a little more yourself?

If the hypothesis resonates, how do you proceed? Emptying your apartment and organizing your office will be easy first steps but will have their limits. Daring to embrace difference means appreciating yourself enough to free yourself from others' gaze. It's understanding and integrating that your childhood needs are no longer your adult needs – conforming is no longer necessary. It’s about reclaiming all your facets, knowing where you're heading, and daring to joyfully embark on the path of less.

This is an inner work that will reflect outwardly. As author Greg Mckeown says, essentialism is a choice. And it very much is a form of self-assertion. This same self-assertion relies on a solid and healthy self-esteem. These foundations will allow you not to succumb to the sirens of the latest high-tech gadget, to dare to set boundaries or to deviate from the well-trodden path that your profession offers. They will create "your" version of minimalism, ultimately a very personal concept.

"The more I appreciate myself, the less I need to do, possess, show others to feel recognized."

It was a long road for me. Rocky road... But the most beautiful journey I’ve made. The joy of a cup of tea on a couch on a rainy Sunday was a concept that made me smile gently when I first read The Art of Simplicity. Today it’s a reality and, boy! It feels good!

Beyond contentment performance

Have I become contemplative as a result? Not really. This satisfaction you can find when, according to Professor Brené Brown's principles, you feel "worthy of love and belonging" is the gateway to a new world. A new momentum.

As soon as you no longer need to please, conform, or think that when you have accomplished this or that then you will feel good, you regain tremendous energy!

And then, Professor Hansen's performance is within your reach (if you seek it, of course): according to him, choosing a few priorities (doing less) is only half the equation. The other half is the obsession to excel in what you do. It's not just about doing less, but striving for excellence in that less.

"Working smart means maximizing the value of your work by selecting a few activities and dedicating intense, focused effort to them." Prof. M. Hansen

It’s this combination that makes it the major performance lever, according to him. Have you heard of the 10,000 hours of practice that make you an expert? Well, there you have it! And for that, you'd better stop worrying about your navel and what others will say…

The benefits of the approach

Despite myself, my private daily life has been substantially disrupted over the past 15 months. Nothing normal. Nothing conforming. Nothing plannable (Horror for the project manager that I still am). A real boot camp of agility and resilience! So, when all the landmarks disappear, knowing how to savor the joy of the present moment and orient yourself based on what is essential is infinitely precious.

The result? I must admit that it’s more than enough to keep moving forward! The bonus? Starting to concentrate your effort on the essential gives at least as much direction as it does grounding.

In a nutshell,

"Less is more" is a strong principle with many virtues. Yet, it can be difficult, despite the allure that the approach may inspire.

In reality, often unconsciously, I suggest that we're stuck in an old pattern of conformity that it's time to shed. Your relationships and your sense of belonging do not depend on the different choices you can make! On the contrary, this asserted difference is probably a step towards more authenticity, a step towards yourself. You're no longer dependent on anyone!

So to sincerely and kindly look at what separates you from the joys of minimalism and performance, Ask yourself

  • what keeps you from simplifying, clearing, and eliminating?

  • what prevents you from daring to stop doing certain things?

  • what do you still gain from what you no longer enjoy doing?

Because more than just a tidy office, a minimalist wardrobe, and the sale of the second car, identifying what's holding you back deep down will cause all these dominos to fall, one after another...

I look forward to hearing what you will eliminate starting today,

Have a zen week ;-) !


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