Moderate Minimalism: The Key to Living in the Moment

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

We were on a date night with our two best friends.  After grabbing drinks, the women decided that they wanted to go to a store to buy some product that makes their face shimmer before we went to dinner.  My buddy and I didn’t have any interest in making our face look like shimmering mermaids, so we did the next most logical thing.  We went to Golf Galaxy to hit golf balls in the simulator.  (I have been known to spend money on golf drivers…)

Naturally, this turned into a competition.

We would each hit three balls with a driver and see who could have the furthest carry distance (i.e. how far the golf ball goes before hitting the ground).  As the friendly competition ramped up, I told my buddy, “I am going to come out of my shoes on this one!”  Without taking a moment to pause, I started my swing. As I came back, my muscles tensed as hard as they could, and as my driver came back down to earth to hit the golf ball… I hit a terrible shot.  It didn’t even carry 200 yards. And that was with a driver, which I normally carry 220 yards with ease.

So, my friend said, “Hey man, take a deep breath and focus on swinging the club at 80% of your max. Make good contact.” After letting up a little bit, and focusing on good form, I smoked a ball that carried 250 yards and rolled out to almost 300 at rest.

Sometimes in life working harder is not working smarter.  And sometimes working harder simply causes worsening burnout.

Moderate Minimalism

There is an infinite number of golf balls to hit in this life.  In fact, my golf bag is currently full of enough golf balls to last me a few months.  However, golf matches have a defined beginning and end.  You might decide to play 9 holes or 18, but you know when to stop.

For some, stress in life results from big decisions that must be made, like buying a house, where to get a job, or your direction in life.  However, these sort of things are not what stresses me out.  Big decisions have always been easy for me.

Most of my daily stress comes from having a never ending list of things that need to be done.  And I’ve been feeling that stress a lot more lately.  With blog post deadlines, vetting sponsors I can recommend to my readers, and the every day stress of work and life… it has become a bit much.

During one of my multiple hours long sessions of getting things done, it dawned on me that I didn’t want this anymore.  Never ending hours are not something that interest me.  My goal has always been to get to the point where I control my schedule and can take part in the things I am passionate about as often as I want.  I need to be able to relax.

I realized that no matter how much work I do, there is always something else that can be done.  It can become obsessive, particularly for people like me.  So, today, I am going to talk about some ways that I’ve decided to become more present in the moment.

These are my first five steps into moderate minimalism.

1.  No longer Instantly Available

For years, it has been my goal to be available for people anytime they need me. I’ve always had my phone near by ready to respond to the most recent text, email, or direct message.  This might be caused by FOMO (i.e. fear of missing out).  It might be caused by finding my self-worth in helping people.

However, I’ve come to realize that when I decide to spend my time on something, I am unintentionally deciding not to spend my time on other things that are more important to me.

In deciding to become more intentional with my time, I’ve decided to place my focus on what lights my fire. I will no longer drop whatever I am doing to answer messages and ignore the person across the table from me.

One concrete example of this, is that I’ve stopped “pushing” emails to my phone.  For example, my work emails now come to my phone every six hours and only when I am on a WiFi network.

This has helped greatly in not feeling the need to respond to emails the moment that they hit my phone.  And, you know what?  People haven’t said a thing.  No one has sent me an email saying, “Jimmy…I sent you an email an hour ago. Why didn’t you answer it yet?”

2.  Buying a Dumb Phone

Speaking of technology, I have a secret to confess.  I am addicted to my smart phone.

When the notification or text alert goes off, my interest is immediately piqued.  I am no longer engaged in whatever conversation is going on in front of me.  In fact, I don’t even need a notification.  The urge to check my stats on this site or to see if anyone has purchased my book is obsessive.

When it comes to addiction, radical actions are often required.  If it is causing you problems, you need to cut it off.For this reason, I decided to back an IndieGoGo campaign for the first time on something called The Light Phone 2.

The Light Phone is a product that serves as a slave phone (or companion phone) to your smart phone.  It can call, text, and provide simple directions.  It can even call Uber or a cab.  But there are no apps.  No social media.  Email does not come to the phone.  It provides a way of going “light” and unplugging.

The Light Phone 2 is supposed to ship in July, and I intend to use it a lot.  I’ll intentionally leave my smart phone at home as often as it is reasonable.  For example, when I go on dates with my wife.  Or when I am hanging out with my kids at the park.  Or golfing with friends.

That way, I will limit the temptation that is my smart phone.  In the mean time, I’ve decided to place my phone on silent the moment I get home (if I am not on call).  It’ll be placed on my bedside table.

3.  Committees and Meetings

I don’t know if this is unique to academics, but young faculty are constantly asked to be on committees and to provide opinions at meetings.  There is always something to discuss.

Given my priority to find work-life balance and to place my family first, I’ve started putting a halt to these.  I instituted my “Hell Yes Policy” where if something doesn’t make me say “Hell Yes” then I just say no.  I turn down the opportunity no matter how great it seems.

This has been driven by the fact that I care very little these days about what others think about me, and how other people define “success”.

It has also been driven by the fact that all of these things steal time from me at home.  And, if my goal is to spend as much time with my friends and family as I can, then meetings need to be minimized.

If I am on a non-working shift (academic day or post-call), I do not attend meetings these days.  And, on the occasion that I do,  I set firm limits on how long I’ll stay.  Particularly if my kids have a tee-ball game or I have some other family commitment.

4.  Deep Work

There is a book called Deep Work that argues that humans are not meant to multitask.

In fact, it argues that when we multitask to get multiple things done, we do the opposite.  We sacrifice quality when we do not place our entire focus on a single task.  This results in a bunch of half-hearted efforts.

For this reason, I’ve decided to make two intentional changes.

First, I am going to schedule my week out (which is NOT my personality).  This will place guardrails on when I am working, and when I am not.  It will also cut out the time I spend trying to figure out if I should be writing a blog post right now or focusing on social media promotion.

Second, when I am working on something, I will try to do this in a private and quiet environment.  My email will be closed on my laptop, the phone will be on silent, and the only thing I’ll have on is the music in my ears (which actually helps me focus).

In fact, as I write this right now this is the exact environment that I am in, and instead of this post taking the typical two hours that it takes while I get constantly distracted, I’ve hammered this thing out in about 30 minutes.

It’s amazing what you can do when you do “deep work” instead of trying to do ten things in a shallow, distracted way.

5.  Virtual Assistant

Speaking of deep work, I’ve decided that I want to focus on two things when it comes to this site:  creating content that will make my most popular blog posts and interacting with my audience (subscribe here!).

That’s it.  Anything else that takes away from that is going to go the way of the DoDo Bird.

So, I’ve hired a virtual assistant.  She will be helping with promoting posts on social media and editing posts – which is sorely needed since I am not a detail-oriented person.

This will free up a few hours each week to spend time on what I need to focus on.  And when I do, it’ll be deep work, instead of the typical distracted work I’ve been performing.

Take Home: Moderate Minimalism

It is amazing what can happen when we stop trying so hard and focus on the things that matter most to us.  If we can avoid the distraction, moderate minimalism can provide a lot of additional time to our weeks that we didn’t know existed.

Sit down.  Be intentional.  And decide what deserves your attention.  Then, cut out everything else that fails to provide joy or meaning in your life.

If you do this, you’ll find yourself better able to live in the moment.  You’ll find your family and friends appreciate your efforts.  And, you might even be able to hit a golf ball further, too.

Have you defined what is most important to you?  Have you found yourself distracted from these things?  What steps have you taken to find moderate minimalism? Leave a comment below.


1 Comment

  1. Dr. McFrugal

    Great post and I totally subscribe to this mantra. I am currently reading deep work right now and I like it a lot!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also be interested in…

Budgeting That You Won’t Hate: Backwards Budgeting

Budgeting That You Won’t Hate: Backwards Budgeting

Let’s be real. Most of us hate budgeting. I know that I do. That said, I am a big believer that unintentional plans lead to lots of people ending up broke. What if I told you that there is a way to budget that you won’t hate, and it will accomplish all of your goals automatically? Too good to be true? Read on to find out…

Tips for Moonlighting in Residency: Making Extra Cash

Tips for Moonlighting in Residency: Making Extra Cash

As a PGY-4 in my anesthesiology residency, I easily doubled my salary by moonlighting in residency. Many opportunities exist for moonlighting, and the pay usually ranges from $60/hour to $150/hour depending on the nature of the call.  Today, let's hammer out the...

Time is money, but money can’t buy time

Time is money, but money can’t buy time

Please, tell me I am not the only one who thinks like this?  My monetary mindset currently revolves around our biggest (current) financial goal: Paying off our student loans. I hope that some day I can truly learn that Time is Money and that money is a means to an end. It’s not an end in itself.

Are you ready to live a life you love?