if you seek tranquillity

If you seek tranquillity… do less [PMP #119]

One of the few email newsletters I’ve signed up for is the Daily Stoic. Each day you receive a thoughtful email about how to live a better life by following stoic teachings.

Last week, I received an email that really resonated with me. In a nutshell, the email was saying, “If you seek tranquillity… do less”. I love the simplicity of this quote and thought it would be worth deconstructing a little further.

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This word, “tranquillity” comes up a lot in stoic teachings but is rarely used in daily conversation. What exactly does it mean?

At first glance, it’s tempting to define tranquillity as simply being happy. But it’s more than that. When you dig into it, being in a state of tranquillity is about being calm and at peace.

To elaborate, here’s a little more context from the email:

“Most of what we say and do is not essential,” Marcus Aurelius reminds us. “If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?'”

Now the above statement makes more sense. If you have less to do and if you focus only on what is essential, you will be less distracted, calmer and at peace. I think we can all agree with that logic.


Focus on fewer tasks and projects

This idea of doing less and focusing on tranquillity directly applies to our personal productivity. If you read top productivity books like Essentialism and The One Thing, they’re saying the same thing: Focus more of your energy on fewer tasks and projects.

And you’ve probably heard of the 80/20 principle. I’m paraphrasing, but it basically says:

80% of your desired outcome is the result of just 20% of inputs

So if you’re going to get 80% of what you want by doing the top 20% of the tasks or projects, then why spend the remaining 80% of your time on things that are only going to generate 20% of the outcome you’re looking for?

Following this advice is easier said than done. We all get the logic but identifying the 20% of tasks isn’t easy. This is why it’s so important to know what you want and set clear goals so you can evaluate ideas and projects against one another.

When you reduce the tasks and project you’re working on, it’s easier to stay organised and your focus isn’t spread too thin. With this comes a state of tranquillity, peace and calm.

Less email

Email is probably the thing that most people feel overwhelmed by when it comes to productivity. I recently wrote about how to reduce your email and if you're currently drowning in an inbox that is overrun with unread email, there are two quick and easy things you can do to reduce email.

  1. Sign up to Sanebox. Sanebox is an amazing service that quickly sorts your important email from the non-important ones. First, you connect your Gmail, iCloud or Microsoft account to Sanebox. Then, with incredible accuracy, Sanebox cleverly works out if an incoming message is important or not. If it’s not important, it puts it into a ‘SaneLater’ folder and everything that’s important goes into your main inbox. While this isn’t strictly reducing your email, it does mean you can get to the important stuff quickly.
  2. Unsubscribe from newsletters using Unroll.me. There are numerous unsubscribe services out there. Unroll me is just one of them. What it does is highlights all the newsletters and marketing emails you’re signed up to and puts them all into a list so you can quickly unsubscribe from the ones you no longer want to receive. NOTE: Unroll.me received some negative press a few years ago regarding how they use your data. Please do your own research and make sure you are comfortable before connecting your email.

Another underrated way to receive less email is to send less email. It sounds funny but it’s true. It’s much easier to send an email than it is to pick up the phone. When you put emails out into the world, you will get them back. So before you send an email, see if there’s a more efficient way to reach the outcome you're looking for.

With less email to deal with, your inbox becomes a useful tool rather than a source of anxiety and overwhelm. By doing less email, you can enjoy a state of tranquillity.

Less consumption

Consumption of material things can harm our ability to achieve tranquillity. Firstly, we become insatiable. The satisfaction gained from purchasing a new pair of jeans today quickly wears off and we need to buy more stuff to maintain this feeling.

Hayley, and I have been thinking about buying a bigger car. But the number one thing holding us back is that I know after a few weeks the novelty will have worn off and I our lives will be no better off. The car we have now serves us well and a new car provides very little extra utility (except making it easier to put the pram away).

Secondly, when you over consume, your environment feels more disorganised and messy. Just look at some of the examples in Marie Kondo’s new documentary. From massive shoe collections and exploding wardrobes and to the junk in the garage, these families frequently talk about how guilty and stressed this clutter makes them feel.

By consuming less we can achieve a state of tranquillity by not making our happiness conditional on stuff. By decluttering and tidying up your space you can unlock some of that much needed inner calm and peace.

Less social media

The same argument can be made about our consumption of social media. When we overconsume content on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube we end up on a treadmill of consumption where we feel this irrational need to read all the articles and ‘keep up’ with everything that’s going on. We also start to compare ourselves to others and question why our lives aren’t the same as the filtered pictures we see online.

When you reduce your consumption of social media, you’ll notice a weight being lifted off your shoulders as you no longer feel this urge to follow everything that’s going on. With this comes a feeling a feeling of peace and calm.

Focus on ‘enough’

Finally, rather than obtaining ‘more’ in every aspect of your life; more money, more stuff and more responsibility, focus on ‘enough’

A few months ago I published an interview with Paul Jarvis where we discuss this idea of growing a business or your income to the point where you are just earning ‘enough’. Enough to cover your expenses and live comfortably (whatever that number might be for you). Because your life really doesn’t get much better after you earn a certain income, focusing on earning ‘enough’ rather than the constant pursuit of ‘more’ means there’s less pressure on you to keep growing.

By defining what ‘enough’ means to you and only buying, consuming and earning enough to make you happy, you can eliminate unnecessary waste and tap into a greater sense of calm and contentment.