Sunday, 15 February 2015

5 common misconceptions about minimalists

Think back over the last 48 hours, and if you’re anything like me, the best things you’ve experienced have had nothing to do with physical objects: a really good conversation with a friend; feeling the warm sun on your back after some bitterly cold days; watching your child’s excitement about acting the part of the Minotaur in the upcoming school assembly play. And these are just a few examples!

This is what minimalism essentially is all about: less stuff and more experiences. Many people have embraced a minimalistic lifestyle because they want to get more out of life and don’t see much point in modern society’s passion for possessions. Joshua Becker, who has written popular books on minimalism, encourages us to concern ourselves less with possessions, but more with living.

Minimalism is about less stuff and more experiences

A few misconceptions about minimalism are common, and I want to set the record straight:

Misconception #1:
Minimalists own just 100 things.

The reality:
Some minimalists in fact own just 100 things. However, minimalism means different things to different people. It is a rational, flexible lifestyle concept that can be tailored to anyone’s individual circumstances.

Misconception #2:

Minimalists do not like things.

The reality:
Minimalists do like things and in particular value the things that they own, while removing from their homes anything that is neither functional nor beautiful. What minimalists, on the other hand, do not like is clutter in all its guises.

Misconception #3:

Minimalists have turned to this lifestyle because of a lack of money.

The reality:

The maths behind it is really easy: spending less money on unnecessary stuff means more money is left over for the things that you truly need or desire. In fact, minimalists often even opt for the more expensive, high-quality products when buying new things, which have to “deserve” a place in their homes.

Misconception #4:

It is impossible to be a minimalist with children.

The reality:
It is harder to be a minimalist with children, but not impossible. No one denies that kids should own toys as they help develop their intelligence and imagination. As parents we can teach our kids basic minimalistic principles: that less is often better than more; that always returning things to where they belong will eliminate the need for major search operations etc.

Misconception #5:
A minimalistic life is boring and stark.

The reality:
A minimalist’s home that has been stripped of many things does not necessarily lack warmth or personality. Removing all clutter means you can then display the things that you most value. Spending less on things frees up money to spend on experiences like cinema trips, massages or holidays. Cutting down on commitments means being able to focus better on what really excites or matters to you.

Impossible, boring and stark? Not at all!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Working from home – and getting things done!

The other day I was chatting to one of the dads at my kids’ school about the potential pitfalls and distractions of working from home. I mentioned to him I knew exactly what those pitfalls and distractions were, but that over the years I’d developed techniques to avoid them.

Believe me, it has taken me years to get there: The following techniques have proven most effective in helping me manage my time more efficiently, stay on track with work projects, work full time and be a parent too, and ultimately not just increase my income, but also carve out more free time to enjoy.

Delegating tasks

First of all, a huge thank-you is owed to my husband, who does more than many guys would likely be willing to do, especially in connection with parenting duties and shopping. (I can’t even count the number of times I went to the supermarket last year on the fingers of one hand!) I have learnt to delegate tedious tasks, e.g. preparing and filing my tax return to my accountant, which has freed up more time for work projects.

No Facebook for business

I don’t do Facebook for business. I know some translators are very good at and have carved out substantial time for promoting their businesses on Facebook. In fact, as translators we are constantly encouraged to boost our online presence via social media platforms and I can definitely see some of the benefits. However, I’ve realised Facebook is not for me in that it is something I have neither got the time nor the head for. I do, however, have a Facebook account for personal use. I haven’t really used it for half a year or so, but I know it’s there should I need it.

How about not doing Facebook for business?

Switching off from the outside world

When I’m working, I’m working. This means that sometimes I can be switched off from and unavailable to the outside world for as long as 8 or 9 hours in a row. I’ve always had a dedicated business phone, so any calls coming through on our family land line go unanswered during that time. My smartphone is also usually switched off then. I’ve always suspected I am not good at multitasking. Recent research has indeed confirmed that, in fact, human brains are not wired for multitasking.

Human brains are not wired for multitasking

Ruthless email management

I am ruthless about handling incoming email. I have half a dozen email addresses, and my main email client is set up to only receive time-sensitive work messages. All other email is directed to a different client, which I check just once every day. As I have little time for physical shopping, I have a dedicated email address just for online shopping. Translation is a busy industry, and as I am required to either confirm or turn down new projects constantly, I have defined email templates to that end so as not to lose valuable time while answering mails.

Managing lower priority tasks

Relevant research suggests that working on related tasks in batches is way more efficient than doing them in dribs and drabs. So I have set aside a window of time each week for lower priority tasks during which I reply to any emails that I need or want to reply to, but that did not require immediate attention at the time they came in. I then also pay invoices, download bank statements, fill in forms, work through the contents of my to-do drawer etc. Anything else that comes in after this window of time will be filed away immediately; it’ll simply have to wait for another week. That way I can get straight down to work once I switch on the PC again.

Tracking work time will increase efficiency

Tracking work time

I track work time even when I’m not paid by the hour to be able to better control what I’m doing and keep distractions down to a minimum. So by the end of the week I know exactly how many hours I’ve worked. I usually try to keep translation and revision activities down to 35 hours per week, so following two recent really intense weeks of 54.5 and 42.5 work hours respectively, this now leaves me a nice, big chunk of time that I am going to take off to make up for all those long days – and to indulge myself!