I feel there are two main strategies to get more from life: maximizing and simplifying. Although you can do both, it seems that most people tend to pick on strategy or the other. Both of these strategies work, but I think they produce different outlooks on the same challenges.
Maximizers tend to solve problems by adding more. The assumption for a maximizer is that life will trend towards boredom and meaningless tasks if you leave it to chance. As a result, maximizers will improve the quality of their time by squeezing out the boring and unimportant. Add more highly important and interesting activities and the waste will be forced out of your system.
Simplifiers tend to solve problems by using less. The assumption for a simplifier is that life will trend towards busyness and overload if you leave it to chance. As a result, simplifiers will improve the quality of their time by eliminating and reducing. If you cut out the fat, you’ll have to focus on the important and interesting.
Which Type of Person Are You?
I think it should be obvious to people who read this blog which category I fall into. I’m definitely a maximizer. I’m always adding on new projects and activities. My passion for productivity developed as a by-product of chronically taking on more.
The difference in strategy is like being right or left-handed. I don’t feel any direction is better, because they both arrive at the same destination. Whether you simplify or maximize, you’re still spending more time on the important and interesting parts of life. And while some people are ambidextrous, most have a dominant approach.
Pitfalls to Avoid if You’re a Maximizer
While the end result of both strategies is the same, the in-between phases can create different by-products. Maximizers, if they mismanage their time, can wind up burning themselves out. Taking on too many activities and interests at the same time can overload you if you aren’t careful.
Maximizing can also lead to disorganization. Because the reduction step comes afterwards, you might not be able to create productivity systems in advance. As a result, organization skills are critical.
If you combine a maximizer with a goal-setter, then your life can become skewed. A maximizing approach focused on one area of life can unintentionally squeeze out the important, but hard to measure, parts of life.
Despite these weaknesses, maximizing still has strengths. Boredom is unlikely because you are always adding new activities. You are also able to act more quickly on new opportunities because your approach is to act first, reduce later. Maximizers may also have an increased tolerance for activity because they occasionally face high workload situations.
Pitfalls to Avoid if You’re a Simplifier
A simplifier will end up in the same place as a maximizer. Simplifiers, however, focus on reducing areas of life, then adding in more interesting activities later. If you manage it perfectly, you’ll wind up in the same place. But if you can’t, you’ll face different problems than a maximizer.
Simplifiers are more likely to face boredom. If you reduce before you add new activities, you may have temporary emptiness while your time needs to be filled. This can lead to workaholism or laziness if you eliminate leisure or work without filling it with something different.
A simplifier might have more difficulty acting on new opportunities, because the tendency is to reduce current activities before trying to add new activities.
The advantages of a simplifier is that you can have a more relaxed focus to your goals. Instead of facing occasional periods of overload, you can smoothly work towards an objective. Simplifying also helps you stay organized as you can rework productivity systems before adding new aspects to your life.
Simplifying also makes it easier to take a whole-life perspective. While a maximizer is more likely to get caught up in current tasks, a simplifier will have a greater ability to slow down and see the big picture.
One of the reasons I think Leo has had great success with ZenHabits is that most self-improvement comes from a maximizing perspective. Leo is a minority of writers in the field that takes problems from a simplifying angle.
Obviously I’m generalizing and reducing reality. Even if your focus is on simplicity, you still end up adding more. And when your focus is on maximizing, you’re forced to eliminate and organize afterwards. But I think it’s interesting to see how these two different perspectives change how you take on challenges in life.
Where do you feel you fit between the two strategies?