The Danger of a Distracted Life13 min read

Published by Zach on

Have you ever had a drawer where everything goes into? For me, that’s my kitchen drawer. When I get home after the hospital or after a night out, everything gets stuffed into that drawer.

The annoying thing is that I usually need items from that drawer. But it’s an absolute mess. My keys, wallet, random coins, post-it notes, exploded pens, dead batteries, passports, credit cards, sunglasses, and many other things I can’t even identify find their way into that drawer. The drawer is so stuffed I can’t even close it anymore.

Notice that half of the things in the drawer aren’t even necessary. I really should clean it up. Simplify it.

If you can’t tell what I’m doing here, I try to be fancy and create an analogy. The drawer is like our lives. We push and cram and squeeze everything into our lives because we feel “that’s what you meant to do.” But, in reality, sometimes we add too much. Sometimes we have too many things in our lives.

Initially, I was ok with having my drawer full. The build-up of everything could be easily pushed aside, “I’ll get to that later; I’ll create another list! That will only take me a second.” However, eventually, the drawer was unusable; my life was overstuffed. I was living a distracted life, it felt like I was trying to do so many things that my brains were literally falling out of my ears.

Sometimes, we need to take action; we need to clean out the drawer, to simplify our lives. Why do we keep stuffing things in there anyway?

In this post, I’ll tell you how to clean up that drawer (we all have one) and simplify your life.

The Only Two Rules for a Simpler Life

In reality, to simplify your life, there are only two things you need to do:

  1. Find out what’s important to you
  2. Eliminate everything else

That’s it, game, set, match. Everything else is irrelevant. Thanks for reading, see you in the next post.

If only it were that simple; doing one and two is extremely difficult; here are some ways I would begin to attack these two steps.

First, Figure out What’s important

The whole basis of my strategy will revolve around putting everything you do into three categories:

  • Important Things
  • Unimportant Things
  • Commitments (things you have to do)

Let’s start with the hardest ones to identify, the important things.

1. List out the top 4-5 important things

This is very, very hard; I’m still figuring it out. Some answers might be things like:

  • My Passion (is it work? a Sport? Art? You may not know the answer to this; I don’t. Part of me wants to say being a doctor, part of me wants to say making YouTube videos, part of me wants to say quitting all of that and living in Italy for a year, so I listed “medicine, YouTube, exploration, family, health”)
  • Family
  • Health
  • Friendships
  • Time to myself, to think alone
  • Being in Nature
  • Reading

2. List out 10 unimportant things

Now, this is easier; certain things are unimportant in your life. Here is my list:

  • Having a fancy car
  • Being super involved with Instagram and Twitter
  • Drinking and staying up super late with my friends on the weekends
  • Having lots of clothes
  • Watching TV and movies
  • Researching or discovering the next medical breakthrough
  • Playing video games
  • Feuds with friends or relatives
  • Being the best video editor in the world (I just hired someone to edit my videos)
  • Being the best workout designer, video researcher, calendar organizer, and chef in the world (I don’t have enough money yet, but I want to hire people to do all of those things eventually)

These things will never dominate my life; hopefully, eventually, I can eliminate or minimize the unimportant things as much as possible.

3. Evaluate what you have to do

There are certain things, however, that we all need to do. This could be work, family, religion, home, hobbies, school, favors; the list goes on and on.

So, list out everything that you need to do under each of these major categories. So for my school my list might look like:

  • Show up to clinical rotations
  • Complete Residency application
  • Write a Personal Statement essay
  • Go to volunteering commitment
  • Go to a peer teaching commitment

Then I would create other lists for work, family, home, hobbies, and so on.

So, you have a massive list of things; what’s next?

Start to think critically about every bullet point and ask yourself, “how necessary is this? How does it line up with my goals in life? Is it adding complexity to my life unnecessarily? What would happen if I stopped doing this thing?”

4. Evaluate what time you have left

Then, before we start the great chop-suey karate of decluttering your life, evaluate what time you have left in the broad sense and the immediate sense.

In the broad sense, I mean, how much time will you have left on this planet? It’s not that long; how much of that time have you already been through? If you are 30 years old, you might have 3000 weeks left (if you’re lucky), having already used up 1,500 weeks. How much time might you have left? How significant a role do you see all of these important things, unimportant things, and commitments playing in the time you have left on this earth?

Next, get a general sense of how much “free time” you have every week; the time when you have nothing you have to be doing. Usually, having “free time” is perfectly OK. We all need free time; in fact, I love that some companies are starting this thing where every Monday is a “back-up” day, where there are no meetings; the company technically isn’t even “on.” But, if you are behind, you can show up and work and get things done on Monday, or just take the day off if you are ahead.

However, when I have too much free time, I find myself resorting back to the things that are unimportant to me, like playing video games or watching TV, or buying clothes on the internet. Wouldn’t I be happier, on a hike? Or having dinner with a close friend? Probably.

Pay attention to how much time you have left in the grand scheme of things (hint: it’s not that much time) and then also evaluate how much free time you have every week. We will now take two more steps to simplify our life.

Second, Eliminate Everything Else

Now we are onto the good part, where we can change our lives.

Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.

Henry David Thoreau

It’s time to simplify and get rid of some things. Importantly, this should be a slow process. Small changes made consistently are much more likely to stick than careless large changes.

1. Eliminate what you can

We know what’s important, we know what’s not important, and we know our required commitments (what you have to do).

Let’s start cutting from those three categories.

I found it easiest to start with what I have to do. What are your commitments at work? Can you reduce those? What would that look like? How could you make a reduction in your commitment desirable to your employer? Maybe, you work from home a couple of days a week and show your boss you are actually more productive from home? In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim says:

Don’t underestimate how much your company needs you. Perform well and ask for what you want. If you don’t get it over time, leave. It’s too big a world to spend most of life in a cubicle.

Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek)

For example, I found out early on in my education that I was doing a lot of wet-lab research, but I never asked, “why.” When I drilled down to it, I was only doing it so it would look good on college applications. I wasn’t enjoying it; I wasn’t making an impact; I was a glorified lab technician. I should have quit it sooner. Try and find some places at work or necessary commitments where you can pull back a little.

Next, you can look at the unimportant things; those are easier but less impactful to eliminate.

Staying up late and drinking a lot on the weekends? I simply don’t do it anymore. I eliminated that.

Having lot’s of clothes? I threw away or donated 90% of my clothing a year ago after realizing I seem only to wear the same outfit > 80% of the time. I applied the Pareto principle to my clothes. I always by the same shampoo and body wash now, I always get my groceries delivered. Eliminate the things that are unimportant, like deciding on body wash or shampoo (they’re all virtually the same) or handpicking out my groceries (a humongous waste of time).

All-in-all, what are things you can eliminate right now? Make an action plan. For the bigger things, like work commitments, this will require an in-depth plan to make sure you are still contributing to your work while also simplifying your life. For the simpler things, just do it now.

Sometimes, however, we just can’t get rid of certain things. For example, I’ve made a valiant effort at eliminating the below but they still seem to creep into my life:

  • TV
  • Video Games
  • Twitter and Instagram

So, for now, I will minimize those things.

2. Minimize what you can’t eliminate

Eventually, the goal is to eliminate the things we minimize. But what we can’t eliminate, try to minimize.

Take a look at the list of things that are not important to you and your commitments. Hopefully, there are a couple of arrows next to those things that say, “eliminate! I will eliminate this by doing XYZ.”

However, there are probably many things in the unimportant list and commitment list that you just can’t eliminate; my guess is, though, you can minimize those things in some way.

For example, TV and video games have been challenging for me to eliminate. So, I’m allowed to just partake for seven hours a week or one hour a day for TV and video games. If I watch three hours on Monday, I will have four hours left to split between the remaining 6 days.

For Instagram and Twitter, I spend one hour a week, on Sunday, allowing that scrolling addiction (as a side note, I deleted Tik Tok two years ago after noticing I would scroll through it for 15-30 minutes every hour when I woke up). I remember when I used to go on Tik Tok my mental state was definitely worse. The time lost was terrible, but the worse thing was I constantly compared myself, even if I didn’t think I was, to these beautiful and well-coordinated people on the internet.

3. Don’t add in non-important things, say “no”

Hopefully, as you’ve eliminated things from the two categories of unimportant things and commitments, your life should start to free up more. Notice how your life didn’t blow up as you eliminated and minimized things. No one even noticed these changes probably except you.

When I began ruthlessly cutting things out of my life, including people, I thought something terrible would happen. It didn’t. Instead, I realized how important it was to simplify my life whenever possible and how the only consequences were I needed to figure out what to do with my extra time.

I found as I entered this newfound and hard-earned nirvana, that people and things will try to break you out of it. Again, not because they notice you are cutting things, but because you are more aware of your time. Your most valuable asset.

It would help if you learned to say “no” more without lying. You are not busy; you are not sick; you are not tired, so don’t say those things. Be honest. I tell people all the time, “I just don’t do that anymore,” or, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite one, “I don’t want to.”

You must must must be a strong defender of your time because no one else will. Say “no.”

4. Simplify everything you interact with

Finally, once you cut everything out possible, cut a little more.

Here are some ways people can simplify their life even more:

  • Clean out your living space, clothes, and clutter – donate and throw away 80% of everything, seriously.
  • Remove all junk food from the house
  • Organize your computer files
  • Pay attention to routines, mainly morning and night. If you don’t have a morning and night routine, create one
  • Have a place for everything
  • Distance to work: being able to walk or bike to work is golden; maybe this means moving, perhaps this means getting a new job.
  • When buying things use the rule of only removing negatives; improving positives does little.

Third, Add in The Important Things

If you’ve done all of the above, you should have freed up time. I like to do deep analyses at least once per year, but sometimes do it as frequently as once per week when feeling overwhelmed. Now, carefully, you can add things back in. Worthwhile things. Such as:

  • Anything on the important list that you aren’t doing
  • Family or friend dinners or adventures, I like nature stuff
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Sleep

Find a place; maybe it’s once a day, perhaps once a week, to introduce at least one of the above. Start slowly, and see how it feels to add one of these things into your life.

One of my important things is nature time, and because I don’t get crazy on the weekends anymore, I have Saturday and Sunday mornings free. Therefore, I slotted in some nature time on Saturday or Sunday mornings. It has become my favorite thing to leave my phone off in my backpack and go for a sunrise hike with a friend.

And that’s what I am continuing to do now—removing things as much as possible and slotting back in the important stuff. And this is the most important sentence, the most important lesson in this whole post. Seriously, I’ll say it again because I have been amazed by how much better I feel: Remove unimportant things from your life as much as possible and slot in important things.

Keep simplifying, minimizing, and eliminating until the only things left are the things that are important to you; simplify until your drawer is tidy, you can find everything in it, and you can close it.

This is probably one of the most important posts I will ever make, yet, it will probably not be as popular because I am not giving exact strategies and tips. I wish I could, I wish I could tell you precisely what to do, but I can’t. I can’t because you have to figure out what’s important to you. You have to cut out the unimportant things. You are in charge of changing your life

Well, I hope that was helpful, and if you enjoyed this somewhat unusual video from me, you might like my weekly email newsletter. In it, I put my thoughts and something I learned that week. I dive a little deeper into more touchy-feely topics like this one and include actionable tips to improve your everyday lives. Like in my most recent newsletter, I listed out my current morning and evening routine for a simpler life.

The newsletter also has my favorite thing I read of the week, watched of the week, or listened to for the week which is usually a podcast. Like this week my favorite thing I listened to was a 3-hour podcast from Naval Ravikant on how to get rich without getting lucky, which I’ve listened to four times at this point.

So, if you are interested in getting that every Sunday morning, click the link here and subscribe to my newsletter; thanks for reading! See you in the next one.


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