rnilo

Making Life Boring 🥱

I recently endeavored to make my life more boring in order to reclaim my time and attention, generate better ideas, and live a calmer, more fulfilling life.

Last week, I unironically thought to myself, “Damn, I’m bored…” And that’s when I realized that I’d done it!

Was it easy? No. Worth it? 100%.

Here’s how I did it:

Step 1 - Identify the Issues

After tracking my day-to-day activities, these were the biggest weeds in my boredom garden:

Once the issues were identified, I spent the next few months methodically removing or minimizing them.

Step 2 - Remove Inputs

“Good ideas require boredom. If you constantly ingest new information, the existing information can never be digested.”1

I deleted all social media and news apps from my phone and unsubscribed from all email newsletters.

Step 3 - Add Friction

If the urge to use social media, read the news or engage with other media struck, I’d have to reinstall the app or open up my browser, type in the url and use the subpar mobile site.

This friction provided just enough time to ask,

Do you really need to do this right now?

The answer was always no and upon this realization, I’d close the browser. Eventually, the urge to check them faded away entirely.

There were a few media and news sources that brought actual, tangible value to my life, so I have them delivered to me via email once a week. More on that later.

Step 4 - Disable Notifications

My phone and tablet are on do-not-disturb mode 24/7 now, with one exception for calls from my partner in case of emergencies. This way, notifications are basically off by default for everything.

Step 5 - Batch, Remove or Delegate Admin Tasks

I have one day a week called “Bullshit Friday” where a 1 hour timer is set and I power through as many admin tasks as possible.

For everything else, it gets:

Step 6 - Eliminate Commitments

My staff and I now have a one hour-long weekly meeting to go over anything that needs to be discussed as a group. Everything else is discussed and worked on asynchronously via our task system.2

I can count on one hand the amount of necessary external meetings we’ve had in the past 10 years, so we now ask for succinct emails instead of a meeting. If that’s not possible, the request is declined.

I no longer attend most weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. because I prefer to see those I love and care about in more intimate settings, and these events have hidden time and energy costs:

Does this make me a jerk? Probably. I’ve tried the other way of letting people dictate my time and attention, which didn’t work. So I’m now unapologetically selfish about deploying these invaluable resources.

Step 7 - Quit All Hobbies

They were originally started to help me relax and enjoy free time. Instead, they became another thing to do and think about, which added more frustration and anxiety onto the heap. Now I don’t do anything outside of my Focus List, discussed further down.

Step 8 - Use Email For Everything 3

For any media, blogs or news I find valuable, I use a service that pulls data via RSS and delivers it to a special email inbox that I check on BS Fridays. At most, I have to click a link to watch a video and, at least, since the service scrapes all source data, I read everything directly in my email app.

I moved my mobile number to a voip service to deliver all text messages and transcribed voicemails to a special email inbox. My phone hasn’t buzzed in months and it’s been glorious.

The only person who has my new “real” mobile number is my partner in case of emergencies. Everyone else gets my voip number, where I reply via email to text or or call with a voip app, at my leisure.

All postal mail is sent to a special mailing address that scans and emails everything to me so I can quickly process it on Fridays.

Step 9 - Mono-tasking

I switched to an iPad full time specifically because it sucks at multi-tasking and forces me to do one thing at a time. This may not work for everyone, but as a former commandline junkie4, I have to say that it’s been very effective.

Point or swipe with my finger and start typing. That’s it. No commands to remember or look up, no dependencies or updates to fix. It’s simple and easy. While I miss tmux and vim greatly, those babies had to go out with the toxic bath water.

Step 10 - The Focus List

"Focus is the secret of all personal power, happiness, and success. Focus means doing less; being less. Focus makes less more. Few people focus, yet focus is easy. Focus expands individuality, the essence of being human."5

I now keep a simple “Focus List” which you can see below, with a maximum of 6 projects to work on at any given time. Anything not listed here is placed in a Someday/Maybe doc and forgotten until there’s an open spot on the list.

Step 11 - Organic Reminders

Every time I touch a potential time and attention sucking device, I want a reminder of why I’m using this tool and a shot of inspiration.

rnilo

I have an apple notes widget that shows my focus list and a widget displaying a random quotation from books and articles I’ve read. Hat tip to Nate Eliason for the inspiration.6

The rest of the apps are for reading, writing, music or audiobooks.

How is it going?

Better than expected.

I’ve been able to slow down and savor the things in life that make me feel happy, productive and alive. I have more time to think, read, write, exercise, meditate, see friends and family and devote as much time as I want to the focus list.

I now have the pleasure of asking myself this question every moment of every day:

Does this improve or bring joy to my life?

In the beginning, the answer was usually no. But as the months have gone on and the cruft of life was removed or minimized, the answer is a resounding yes.

It’s the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time.

Any issues?

There’s been a few, specifically with my partner.

Issue 1

They didn’t like that I was unreachable in emergencies, so I whitelisted their number in the do-not-disturb settings for calls in such cases.

Issue 2

They weren’t happy about the eliminate commitments rule. We’re still navigating how this works and they’re skeptical about the unofficial rule we’ve been following: They can ask for an exception if they really want me to attend.

They requested I attend a professional event this weekend and while I can’t say I enjoyed it, they felt my presence was important, so I obliged. I’ll hopefully get to abstain from most others in the future now.

Issue 3

The holidays aren’t defined in the eliminate commitments rule. I love seeing friends and family during the holidays, but my partner’s family is huge and they love throwing big parties for the holidays.

As an early riser who doesn’t enjoy loud music, dancing, drinking or small talk with random cousins until the wee hours of the morning, they go from fun to exhausting in a few hours. My partner and their family would be upset if I skipped them, so we came up with a compromise:

We’ve booked a nearby hotel so I can peel off when tired and they can stay and party as long as they want. We’ll see how that plays out.

Other than that, there’s really been no other issues to report.


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Further Reading

References

  1. Fermenting Great Ideas

  2. Trello

  3. Using Email For Everything

  4. When Hammers Don’t Hammer

  5. Living the 80/20 Way

  6. Nate Eliason’s Site