Organisation and productivity

Balancing preparedness with minimalism and simplicity

Rain, hail, shine, snow, wind, flood…. how much do we really need to prepare for and still be a minimalist?

A lack of preparation has been the cause of many a project failure. But I’ve also seen the opposite, where over-planning has delayed projects or made them more complex than they ever needed to be.

If the level of preparedness in business has a need to be balanced, it stands to reason that it should also be considered in personal life. For me, this means optimising the level of preparation against the value that I gain from keeping things simple. This might be physical items that enable you to be more prepared but then require storage or to be carried around, or over-egging tracking and goals and cramping the creativity and enjoyment that can come with allowing something to progress more organically.

Quite often, I fall too far on the side of being over-prepared – my day bag always has things for multiple weather events and I have numerous spreadsheets that plan for short term projects as well as long term life goals. Last week however, I took a short weekend trip to a hiking area and erred too much on the side of simplicity, leaving me underprepared for the rainy weather we encountered. To be fair, the weather was a one-in-a-hundred-year downpour, but it definitely reminded me that I’d much rather take a few extra items than be caught out!

The weather was extreme but I still could have been better prepared

Being uncomfortable isn’t that big of a deal, but unfortunately my unpreparedness meant that my mobile phone got totally saturated and now needs to be replaced. The other annoying aspect is that I have all the kit for heavy rain, I just didn’t bring it with me. I decided to use McKinsey’s ‘five whys’ methodology to look back over my trip preparation to see where the root cause of the problem lies.

It might sound a bit over the top, but McKinsey says “Instead of dismissing everyday operating problems as routine, too trivial to bother with, or unfixable, lean organisations seek problems out, search relentlessly to find their root causes, and engage the people most affected by them in helping to develop a cure”. Seems appropriate as at an individual level you are the leanest organisation possible! So here’s my analysis:

Why did my phone get wet? Because I didn’t pack a dry bag

Just before I set off on the hike, I thought that it was probably raining a bit too heavily to have my phone sat in my pocket and that if I’d have brought along a dry bag I would be putting it inside of that. I’ve been on camping/hiking trips before in wet weather and have always been glad of a dry bag for electronics and paper. I even used to keep a small dry bag in my day bag, when my commute involved a 30 minute walk rather than the 10 minute walk it is now. So the answer to the first ‘why’ isn’t because I didn’t wrap my phone up properly, it’s that I didn’t have anything to wrap it up with in the first place.

Why didn’t I pack a dry bag? Because I skimmed over my packing list

Even though I have a packing list for trips, because I packed quite late the night before and was a bite tired, I skimmed over the list. I didn’t have outdoor activities in mind, so when I saw items like ‘dry bag’ and ‘waterproof trousers’ I automatically made the decision that they weren’t needed. My packing lists are organised by type of trip (work trip/camping trip/longer holiday), but lists by activity would probably be more useful. This would help me identify what I need for hiking regardless of whether it’s on a weekend trip or part of a longer holiday. It’s not the root cause however, I need to ask a few more ‘whys’ to get to that.

Why did I skim over my packing list? Because I didn’t schedule in packing time

The week leading up to the trip was quite busy. I caught up with friends for dinner on two nights, work was pretty hectic and I had planned to set off directly from work on Friday afternoon. In addition I had all of my usual weekly routine activities such as exercise and doing my budget. On Monday, when I was planning my week, I failed to put in some time to pack my bag and ended up doing it very late the night before.

Why didn’t I schedule in packing time? Because I underestimated the planning needs for the trip

As we were staying in a motel rather than our usual camping MO, I automatically thought that the amount of planning would be minimal. I didn’t think about the fact that we wanted to do a couple of short walks (even in rain), and I didn’t double check the weather before we left even though we had planned outdoor activities.

Why did I underestimate the planning needs for the trip? Because I like being able to pack ‘minimally’ which conflicted with being prepared

I’m always getting teased a little by my partner about being organised, so I thought well here’s one trip where I don’t need to plan to the nth degree. I can just throw things in a bag and go! I forgot about the fact that even though he usually has a teeny tiny bag for trips that makes my minimalist side envious, he also almost always leaves behind something important. I let the idea of minimalism override the practicality of being prepared, and let that guide my overall approach rather than considering each individual item on my list.

So that’s the root cause – idealism and ego taking over real life decisions, and now I have a kaput phone to teach me a lesson! Thankfully, I can fall back on my financial preparedness and use my emergency budget to buy a new one without needing to turn to a credit card.

Do you have an example of when you have had to balance preparedness with minimalism? Share your story in the comments.

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