Dare To Subtract

Alphabet Block minus

I’m swamped. My life is so busy. I wish I had time for that. I never have a moment to myself. I’m on the go 24/7/365.

Sound familiar? We live in a culture that cultivates busy-ness, that worships a god called productivity. We live amid data, devices that demand our attention, television and radio and internet broadcasts that scream desperately for us to follow them. We live in an economy that demands we buy more even if we don’t need it.

No wonder we’re overwhelmed.

What if we took a step back and subtracted? Omitted from our lives the things that weren’t truly important. Cut away the convenient. Rejected distractions that did not serve us.

What would that leave us? Maybe we get a few more moments to breathe. Maybe we have more time to dive deeper into our passions. Maybe focusing on only things that feed our souls helps us build a more fulfilling life.

Okay let’s do it!

to do list

Um, wait. Wait, WAIT, WAITTTTTT! How can I say no? I might hurt someone’s feelings. I might miss something important! What if I cut the wrong things out?

Subtraction is a muscle most of us use so rarely that saying no can be as difficult as saying yes. And like all muscles, it stays weak until we work out, until we practice and build its strength and build muscle memory so saying no to the noise becomes second nature.

Subtraction is a big theme for me this year. I’m aware that there are plenty of big projects and brave challenges I can take on to transform my life. I’m also aware that one of the biggest, bravest challenges for me personally is to subtract, to create room in my life for even bigger, braver transformation.

Matthew May has some good starting points for subtraction in his article “The Art of Adding by Taking Away.” He suggests a Not-To-Do list, looking through all the things on that big, bad to-do list and permanently deleting the bottom 20% of it. It’s just not that important, so it’s gone. He also suggests asking friends what you should stop doing, and he rightly warns us to brace for unexpected answers. All those things we thought were essential just might turn out to be subtractable.

What are you subtracting?

4 Replies to “Dare To Subtract”

  1. That’s really interesting…and makes a lot of sense. It reminded me of a saying I heard a long time ago. Maybe it could be a corollary to subtraction: “Your focus determines your future”. In other words, use subtraction to make your Don’t Do list and then focus on the things you really want to accomplish.

  2. I feel a strong analogy between the need to get rid of stuff and the need to stop wasting time. As we age & evolve, our tastes, interests, & desires change. So getting rid of things we no longer value makes sense. Converting that unwanted stuff to stuff we DO want makes even more sense. For me, I’m selling most of my Frisbee collection and investing that money for college & retirement.
    As we age & evolve, so does how we choose to spend our time. I’m reminded of John Lennon’s quote; “The time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted.” My twist on that saying applied to “stuff” would be: “The junk you enjoy collecting isn’t junk”. I just don’t value those Frisbees as much anymore and now don’t mind converting them to cash that can be used for investing. Maybe that seems a little sad but nothing is static. Better to evolve than stagnate.

  3. I love this post! I teach work life balance workshops and always teach what I call the “Stop doing list”. It is so fun to see the ah ha! moment when people give them selves permission to implement it!

    P.S. I love your website!

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