How to Simplify: Part 1 - Balancing Media Consumption


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.-Da Vinci

In design the one question I ask myself again and again is ‘How can I simplify this further? What else can I cut out?’ The perfect design would be a single red button that when pressed reads your mind and does exactly what you need. We’re not quite there, but it’s the ultimate goal to shoot for. In writing and drawing simplicity is getting as much information in as few lines as possible.

I hold by the mantra Keep It Simple, yet default to absurd complications. Instead of breaking down a problem and reducing it to a series of steps I’ll look to solve everything at once, and end up in a pool of chaos. I make it increasingly more complicated before realizing the need to simplify.

For example, the theme of this post was ‘How to simplify all aspects of my life.’ The intention was to strike away all of the unnecessary activities and leave only the crucial acts that improve me as a person. I’m currently over 5,000 words in with subjects ranging from blog updating to analyzing improv. I detoured to dozens of subjects before getting to the major issues of simplifying my life down. Reducing this post to its simplest form has become a game of making it into a series of posts on reduction. The irony is not lost on me.


The question I set out to answer in the next series of posts is: What can I take away without losing a thing?

We’ll start with the simple and escalate. A major time drain is my RSS Reader. I have almost 200 subscriptions (View code for XML), split into 10 categories, and while I love them, they detract more than they add. Let’s strip them away, one category at a time:

News1.jpgNews. Cut it. I read the news to understand connections that tie the world together, and a daily news article cannot provide that depth. If I need to know what’s going on look to books. Tell Me No Lies is a great starting point for finding the very best Investigative Journalists from Greg Palast to Seymour Hersh.


BB1.jpg Random. Cut. This is literally a waste-time folder.


animation1.jpgAnimation. Cut. If I need to see good animation I’ll stick with Disney. Until I get back into animating, I have no right following the latest.


paint1.jpgArtists. Cut. While some are incredibly talented, looking at an endless stream of pretty pictures doesn’t help me. For inspiration look to art books, museums, gallery openings, figure drawing, and sketch crawls.


comedy1.jpgComedy. Cut. I imagine you’re starting to get the idea. A funny youtube video can’t compare to a good show, book, or movie.


design21.jpgDesign. Are you listening? Cut it out. There’s better resources out there.


movie1.jpgVisual Effects. Cut. Better to get work done than spend time on how others approach it.


writing1.jpgWriting. Cut out the daily dreck and replace with revolutionary works of art. Reading a blog on writing is useless compared to great books like Robert McKee’s Story.


It’s the same for all of the categories - don’t read a blog when there’s a more useful, more informative alternative out there. My blog reading is reduced to the two categories remaining.

friends1.jpgFriends. I like my friends, and only a couple have blogs, so these will stay.


events.jpgLos Angeles. One bastion of usefulness is finding fun one-off events. Sorting through 100’s of entries is a sucker’s game, so I downloaded NetNewsWire and set up a Smartlist searching for the term “Los Angeles.” Problem solved.


In addition what’s left are posts that inspire and challenge: Hyperbole and a Half, XKCD, and Stephen Pastis all have hilarious quality material. Kottke and Waxy collect the best of the best, scouring the web for places to inspire, limiting it to no more than an article or two a day. Drawar writes fantastic articles on design. In time I’ll learn to drop this as well. Timothy Ferris is the sort of workaholic that makes me inspired to get off my lazy ass every time I hear him talk.

I have stripped away the fat, given myself time, and only started on the path to simplification. I ask again, What else can I cut out?

Next post - How to unify Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, my blog, and every other bit of the web into a simple whole.

BloggingJeremy Shuback