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Simplifying my life and writing

Mar 15, 2017 • writing

For a while now I've wanted to simplify my life. When I tell this to people, almost everyone can relate. But the move toward simplicity isn't just about removing busy-ness. Simplicity lets you focus on the things you actually want to do, rather than those things you feel obligated to do but have no desire to do. I have a goal to simplify my writing style as well, using tools such as the Hemingway app and basic simplicity principles.

In Zen Habits, the short list on how to simplify your life involves just two steps:

  1. Identify what’s most important to you.
  2. Eliminate everything else.

Although outside commitments look small, they start to build up. Pretty soon you may find yourself spending more time than you want involved in these activities, in meetings with people (that you might not be especially fond of) when you’d rather be at home with your family or simply doing other things, like writing or coding.

In identifying what’s important me, I decided to reduce my outside commitments as much as possible. For example, I started saying no to present at STC chapters or give webinars. I transitioned my program management, webmaster, and media recording/publishing roles in the STC Silicon Valley chapter to other people. I stepped down from my co-organizer role in the Write the Docs SF meetup group. I’m only attending one conference this year.

For a while I removed the contact information from my blog as well, but this Reddit thread changed my mind, so I re-added it.

My efforts toward simplification don’t mean reducing my writing/blogging activities. Writing is one of the activities I enjoy. In fact, I want to do more writing. I especially want to start writing e-books for Kindle. Primarily I want to finish converting my API doc course into an e-book.

I also want to simplify my writing. In editing my wife’s academic essays, I’ve realized how wordy and unnecessarily complicated writing often gets. I’ve started pushing much of my writing through the Hemingway app to look for ways to simplify it.

I also try to follow the ASD-STE100 guidelines of communicating just one idea per sentence. It’s much harder to make content simple and readable than it is to do brain dumps in long, complex sentences.

I also started using Kanban workflows more diligently at work and at home. Kanban reduces the number of items in progress and lets me focus with more sanity and less scatter-brainedness.

In other simplification efforts, I “archived” a bunch of clothes I never wear. I continue to ride my bike to work (reducing the need for my own car). My kids aren’t involved in a million extra-curricular activities (they actually have time to be kids).

I play basketball several times a week because it’s another activity I enjoy. But I turned down invitations to play in recreation leagues. I don’t like commitments that pin me to specific times and places.

You may see me focus less on tools in upcoming posts. I love Jekyll, but at my work I’ve realized that our best web publishing strategy is simply to deliver plain HTML to the web publishing team and let them run with it. They’ll stuff it into templates and move it through publishing pipeline. I want to focus on content, not tools.

Same goes with support. While I could respond to forum threads, Stack Overflow questions, and other channels, I want to let support interface with these groups.

If I wanted to go extreme, I’m sure I could find more ways to simplify. But these baby steps have already made me feel more free.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.