the first and best way to simplify anything

If you want to simplify anything in your life, try to automate it.  Take the decision-making process out of it.  Turn it over to an external force.  What does that mean?

  • Retirement: Setup a 401(k) automatic deduction with your company – the money’s gone before you see it.
  • Bills: Have the basic bills – the ones that you know you are going to pay regardless, like the electricity and water – paid automatically.
  • Income: Get direct deposit.  Don’t let that check sit on your desk for two weeks.
  • Fitness: Take stairs.  Sell the electric mower and replace it with a manual one.  Make exercise part of your lifestyle rather than something “extra” you do outside of your “normal” life.
  • Nutrition: Keep NO junk food in the home.  Make it impossible to find junk food in your home.  Bring veggies to work.  Select a belief system – mine is Atkins – and stick to it like you’re allergic.

Those are just a few examples, but in general the idea of automation always works. If you can make that one decision – the decision to take future decisions out of your own hands – you’ll be better off.  Why?  Because we’re all tempted.

Take the 401(k). It’s usually not the greatest investment vehicle.  Sure, it’s tax-advantaged (now).  Almost every plan, though, has a terrible list of funds available for investment.  The tax advantages are touted but the tax penalties – should you need to get your money back before you retire for an emergency – are horrendous.  It’s not the perfect investment vehicle by a long shot.

But a 401(k) has one beautiful feature that makes it worthwhile.  Once you take that one brave step to set it up – to yank 10% or whatever percent you choose off each paycheck – it disappears.  It’s automated, and you don’t even know it’s gone.  You never see that money, and your temptation to spend that money is plucked from your hands.

I know it’s not possible to apply this principle everywhere. But any time you have an opportunity to make one big decision right, and remove the temptation to make smaller wrong decisions in the future, you should.  Reserve life for the things you want to spend time on, not the things you don’t.

Photo by PNNL – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory