The great Green Bay Packer’s football coach Vince Lombardi was once asked why his world championship team, which had so many multi-talented players, ran such a simple set of plays. “It’s hard to be aggressive when you’re confused,” he said.
One of the benefits of creatively planning your life is that it allows you to simplify. You can weed out, delegate, and eliminate all activities that don’t contribute to your projected goals.Another effective way to simplify your life is to combine your tasks.Combining allows you to achieve two or more objectives at once.For example, as I plan my day today, I notice that I need to shop for my family after work.
That’s a task I can’t avoid because we’re running out of everything. I also note that one of my goals is to finish reading my daughter Stephanie’s book reports. I realize, too, that I’ve made a decision to spend more time doing things with all my kids, as I’ve tended lately to just come home and crash at the end of a long day. An aggressive orientation to the day—making each day simpler and stronger than the day before—allows you to look at all of these task sand small goals and ask yourself, “What can I combine?” (Creativity is really little more than making unexpected combinations, in music, architecture, anything, including your day.) After some thought, I realize that I can combine shopping with doing something with my children. (That looks obvious and easy, but I can’t count the times I mindlessly go shopping, or do things on my own just to get them done, and then run out of time to play with the kids.) I also think a little further and remember that the grocery store where we shop has a little deli with tables in it.
My kids love to make lists and go up and down the aisles themselves to fill the grocery cart, so I decide to read my daughter’s book reports at the deli while they travel the aisles for food. They see where I’m sitting, and keep coming over to update me on what they are choosing. After an hour or so, three things have happened at once: 1) I’ve done something with the kids; 2) I’ve read through the book reports; and 3) the shopping has been completed.In her book, Brain Building, Marilyn Vos Savant recommends something similar to simplify life. She advises that we make a list of absolutely every small task that has to be done, say, over the weekend, and then do them all at once, in one exciting focused action. A man icblitz. In other words, fuse all small tasks together and make the doing of them one task so that the rest of the weekend is absolutely free to create as we wish. Bob Ko ether, who I will talk about later as the president of Infincom, has the most simplified time management system I’ve ever seen in my life.
His method is this: Do everything right on the spot—don’t put anything unnecessarily into your future. Do it now, so that the future is always wide open. Watching him in action is always an experience.I’ll be sitting in his office and I’ll mention the name of a person whose company I’d like to take my training to in the future.“Will you make a note to get in touch with him and let him know I’ll be calling?” I ask.“Make a note?” he asks in horror.The next thing I know, before I can say anything, Bob’s wheeling in his chair and dialing the person on the phone. Within two minutes he’s scheduled a meeting between the person and me and after he puts down he phone he says, "Okay, done! What’s next?“I tell him I’ve prepared the report he wanted on training for his service teams and I hand it to him.” You can read it later and get back to me," I offer.“Hold on a second,” he says, already deeply absorbed in reading the report’s content. After 10 minutes or so, during which time he’s read much of what interests him aloud, the report has been digested, discussed, and filed.It’s a time management system like no other. What could you call it?Perhaps, Handle Everything Immediately.
It keeps Bob’s life simple. He is an aggressive and successful CEO, and, as Vince Lombardi said, "It’s hard to be aggressive when you’re confused."Most people are reluctant to see themselves as being creative because they associate creativity with complexity. But creativity is simplicity. Michelangelo said that he could actually see his masterpiece, “TheDavid,” in the huge, rough rock he discovered in a marble quarry. His only job, he said, was to carve away what wasn’t necessary and he would have his statue. Achieving simplicity in our cluttered and hectic lives is also an ongoing process of carving away what’s not necessary.
My most dramatic experience of the power of simplicity occurred in1984 when I was hired to help write the television and radio advertisements for Jim Kolbe, a candidate for United States Congress running in Arizona’s Fifth District. In that campaign, I saw first hand how focus, purpose, and simplicity can work together to create a great result. Based on prior political history, Kolbe had about a 3 percent chance of winning the election. His opponent was a popular incumbent congressman, during a time when incumbents were almost never defeated by challengers. In addition, Kolbe was a Republican in a largely Democratic district. And the final strike against him was that he had tried once before to defeat this same man, Jim McNulty, and had lost.
The voters had already spoken on the issue.Kolbe himself supplied the campaign with its sense of purpose. A tireless campaigner with unwavering principles, he emanated his sense of mission and we all drew energy from him.Political consultant Joe Shumate, one of the shrewdest people I’ve ever worked with, kept us all focused with consistent campaign strategy. It was the job of the advertising and media work to keep it strong and simple. Although our opponent ran nearly 15 different TV ads, each one about a different issue, we determined from the outset that we would stick to the same message throughout, from the first ad to the last.
We basically ran the same ad over and over. We knew that although the district was largely Democratic, our polling showed that philosophically it was more conservative. Kolbe himself was conservative, so his views coincided with the voters’ better than our opponent’s did, although the voters weren’t yet aware of it. By having each of our ads focused on our simple theme—who better represents you—we gained rapidly in the polls as election night neared.The nightlong celebration of Jim Kolbe’s upset victory brought a huge message home to me: The simpler you keep it, the stronger it gets.Kolbe won a close victory that night, but he remains in Congress today, more than 10 years later, and his victory margins are now huge. He has never complicated his message, and he has kept his politics strong and simple, even when it looked unpopular to do so.It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re confused. When you simplify your life, it gathers focus. The more you can focus your life, the more motivated it gets.