Category Archives: Productivity

A complete guide to minimalist writing

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart
~ William Wordsworth

This post is for all of my fellow writers out there – aspiring bloggers, authors, journalists, poets, playwrights. Even if you don’t call yourself any of these things, this post is still relevant to you because almost everybody writes something or should be creating or doing something with this wonderful thing we call language.

I’ve been riding a roller-coaster of writer’s block/flow over the past few months and have tried almost everything and anything (legal) to get back on track. Everyday, I like to sit by myself in a few moments silence in meditation. But my main problem is that as soon as I slow down for a few minutes, my mind gets fired up about things to write. However, when it come to actually sitting down and writing, I get the first few sentences down and then… I’m stuck.

“What’s next? Does this make sense? Should I write about that?”

As with most things I’m not particularly good at (like karaoke) I adore to do write anyway. I probably even find it more ‘meditative’ than actual meditation because there’s something about it that gets all of my thoughts ordered and my mind cleared up in a different way than practising Zazen does. Part of the reason why I’m minimalist is so that I have more time to travel, explore and write.  Being a ‘minimalist’ doesn’t mean that I do everything in smaller quantities, as long as I keep only the essentials, even posts like this can be as long as I like.

I’m no professional at writing, but some of the things I’ve learned from just simply sitting down and getting words out has amazed me. I’ve learned so much about myself just by answering prompts, or just digging into my mind and writing 750words on it. Other times, I just open up wordpress, stare at the blank box for a few minutes with my fingers hovering over the keys, and before I know it, I’m writing a post about writing ;). If you love to write as well, but find yourself without motivation or time or generally unsatisfied, hopefully this guide will help you get started.

a guide to minimalist writing

Why ‘minimalist’? I don’t know how other people create, but for me, writing is almost all or nothing. If I’m writing to publish, I don’t do a half-ass job about it. And if it’s a journal entry, I don’t hold anything back. I’m quite passionate about it, just like I am about my minimalist approach to life. And once again, I found that using a few minimalist principles, I was able to get my writing back on track.

Here, I’m not going to distinguish what you’re writing about, or go into how you do it – such as the pros and cons of handwriting or typing. It’s up for you to decide what you feel is best and no way is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. What matters is that you simply just write.

1. Find solitude.

Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’  to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.
~ Paul Tillich

When you are alone, you realize things that you can never see if there are other people around to distract you. When there is nobody to please and no expectations, and you have a pen and paper or laptop or whatever your weapon of choice, you can write something, anything, without giving a crap about:

  • who will read it
  • grammar or spelling
  • what it’s all about

It’s extremely liberating to have the freedom to just be yourself. Finding the time to be alone is the first and foremost step towards writing a lot and writing well.

2. Create first.

Anything that creates a spark is going to start, potentially, a big brush fire.
~ Victor Hill

One you’ve found a little bit of peace and quiet, the next step is to simply create first. Don’t worry about how that sentence sounds or if you’ve used the same word twice. Don’t worry about if it’s too long or short or childish or difficult. It doesn’t matter how you should start or end. Just put those damn words on the page and worry about editing it later, nobody is going to read your draft, so why care?

At least once you have a draft you can cut and sculpt it later on, but without it… I mean, Michelangelo didn’t carve his statues out of thin air. The reason why this works is because as much as we like to think that we can multi-task… we can’t. If you’re thinking what to write and how to write what you want at the same time, you’ll end up with almost nothing.

So if you think you’re stuck in a rut, it’s because you’re already criticizing your ideas before you’ve put them down (“I can’t write about that/I think x person has already written about that/Hm, that doesn’t sound good enough“). Ignore your critical side and let your creative side roam free.

3. Pour your heart out.

There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
~ Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

Even if they don’t intend to, a lot of the time people write as if somebody will read it one day. It could depend what you’re writing – whether it’s a journal you’ll lock away or a blog post that you plan to publish. They’re scared that someone will think worse of them, so they hold back. But for me, either way, I pour my heart into what I write. True, I may be selective about what I write (you guys probably aren’t interested in what I had for breakfast) but for every blog post, I don’t hold back my conviction.

When I write a blog post, I pour all everything I have into it. I’m here, right now, writing. There’s nothing else I do except using words to create, convey and communicate. There’s nothing left but to do it to the best of my ability. In that moment, writing and breathing is all I do.

If you haven’t already, I implore you to try my sanity saviour 750 words (I’m going to keep pushing because it’s worth it). Pour your worries and hopes and thoughts out once in a while, your heart will appreciate it.dc

4. Don’t wait for motivation.

Unfortunately, (or rather quite luckily) the ‘perfect’ time to do something is often when you’re already doing it and there’s no turning back.

People often use an excuse like ‘I don’t have the motivation today to do x‘ which is sadly usually followed up by ‘…I’ll do it tomorrow‘. When you think you’re out of motivation, you have two options. You can a) quit or b) can push on without it. Quitting achieves nothing, so if you’re okay with that then fine. But if you’re not satisfied with having written nothing, well then you do have some motivation after all! So if it’s there, use it!

And if you need more, entice it to come out. How? Hunt down some awesome inspiration. Go read some great blogs or read that book you love again, then come back and start over. You’ll find yourself wanting to emulate the writers you admire, or at least knowing that it’s possible that anybody can create something amazing.

If that doesn’t work, don’t give up just because you ‘don’t feel like it’. Sit still for a few minutes and try to clear your mind of distractions, what’s on your ‘to do’ list and so on.

Search deep inside for the writer within you, what does he/she want to say?

5. +3 Geek.

If you’re really desperate, you can totally geek it up by using various software to help. The best kind are plain and simple – no fancy fonts, borders or backgrounds. Just you, the page, and good sweet words. Sometimes a word counter forces you to write at least a certain amount, or some kind of calendar to make sure you’re writing as many days as you can. Apart from 750/NaNoWriMo, you can alternatively try completely disconnecting from the internet, and for that there’s Darkroom, Write or Die, and even trusty old notepad. Once you’ve eliminated social distractions and opened up a writing program, you’ll have no choice left but to write or give up. It’s all or nothing from here.

Now stop reading, and write something! (Start by leaving a comment!)

And if you enjoyed this post, help me out by tweeting it up!

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Time to prioritize

In the field of Economics, one of the first things that you learn is that resources are scarce. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is little of it. There many things that there are almost unlimited quantities of. Almost.

But the one thing there is never an unlimited quantity of is your time.

Even with all the money in the world, you can never buy enough time to do everything you want.

Opportunity cost is what you sacrifice in order to be able to do something with your limited time. You can’t go out and study at the same time. You can’t join all the clubs. You can’t have the convenience of fast food and be healthy. You can’t please everyone. You have to choose. There are rarely times you can have your cake and eat it too.

On top of that, there isn’t an unlimited amount of you. Whenever you are stretched too thin, you’ll find yourself with a large quantity of things, but without enough time or money to develop quality.

You can know a little about a lot of things, or a lot about a few things. You can have lot’s of friends that are really just acquaintances or you could  invest time in cultivating good, longer lasting friendships. You can help make a tiny impact on many people, or a change the life of a few people.

Neither is really wrong. By prioritizing what is important to you can discover for yourself which is better for you. Whichever you decide, quantity or quality, can be adapted in different situations; course, friends, clothes, food, skills, activities, to suit you. Sometimes it’s quantity that’s better, sometimes it’s quality.

When it comes to buying things, having stuff, minimalism is about definitely about quality over quantity. More wholesome and nutritious food over vast quantities of junk. More high quality, versatile and longer-lasting clothes/furniture/equipment over cheap and disposable stuff.

If you really want to get things done properly, you have to prioritize – choose what you want the most, because you can’t do them all, and it would be a shame if it was because of that you ended up not doing anything at all.

On that note, I’m prioritizing writing for Minimal Student as part of my Five Focus of 2011. This year, I’m aiming to publish more frequent, shorter posts like this one, tell me what you think! You can also follow my Twitter which I now update daily with what I’m up to, minimalist tips and awesome links.

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Minimalist Christmas Countdown Challenge

Christmas is approaching fast. November is coming to an end and people have already started shopping for presents, things to decorate their houses with and even for food.

I get a lot of questions asking me my opinion about Christmas. Of course, I enjoy it as much as the next person, and I have some very fond memories of this time of year. We would have big family gatherings – where it would be loud with chatter and laughter and everyone would have a great time.

As I grew older, I began to realize that there are aspects Christmas that are not so good (post coming soon). So, I’ve decided to counterbalance it this year with a Minimalist Christmas Countdown Challenge.

the challenge

Starting Dec 1 until Christmas day, I will be posting short daily prompts on my Twitter feed on how to de-clutter various aspects of your daily life – productivity, money, food, clothes, health etc.

Every week, I will publish a few of the prompts on the blog with some reader’s comments I’ve received and add some of my own.

You don’t have to do a challenge everyday, but if you do, leave a comment on the blog to let everyone know how you did, or any problems that you might have encountered. You can also tell me anything you’ve learned or found interesting, and even suggest a prompt if you would like!

Or, you can @minimalstudent me with links to your blog posts about a prompt and I promise to do my best to read all of them.

UPDATE: I’ve decided to schedule the challenge into 4 weeks, with each week focussing on a different category of minimalism.

  • Week 1: 1st ~ 5th Dec – Minimal Money Week
  • Week 2: 6th ~ 12th Dec – Digital/Info Purge Week
  • Week 3: 13th ~ 19th Dec – Minimal Health/Lifestyle Week
  • Week 4: 20th~ 25th Dec – New Year Cleanse Week

So if you’ve been meaning to get going on applying minimalism to your life for a little while, or you want to take it to the next level, sign up in the comments now!

minimalism 101

I’m very happy to announce that this week, I was featured in the UK The Times newspaper magazine.

It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my short lifetime, and it’s incredibly humbling to realize that there are people who will listen to someone like me has to say.

So, with honor, I would like to say, welcome The Times readers!

This post is for you, but also for my current readers as well as my friends and family who I have kept this blog a secret from for so long. It’s a complete definition of what in the world ‘minimalism’ is, I predict that only a small percentage of people will actually read this post from beginning to end, but I can guarantee that you will be a different person by the end of it if you do.

If you’ve never heard of minimalism before, I should warn you that I’m going to make some pretty bold statements, but if there is anything this blog has shown me, is that there are also many people apart from myself who absolutely believe them to be true.

what is minimalism all about?

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”

Minimalism is all about having enough. It’s about having only what you need, no more, and especially no less.

‘What you need’ can refer especially to your possessions, but can also include your commitments, relationships, work and lifestyle.

All our lives we’re told that we want to have more money so that we can achieve ‘our dreams’ of owning a big house with a pool in the back, a fancy sports car and expensive shoes so we can gain the label of ‘success’. We’re told to know the latest gossip, watch the latest shows, know what everyone is doing on facebook, and jump from relationship to relationship otherwise we’re labelled ‘loners’. We’re told that we should always be ‘busy’, because if we’re not busy we’re being lazy. We’re told all of these criteria and more about how we ‘should’ live our lives and what we should have so that we can be ‘happy’.

But that’s not the whole story. In real life, there are people that have and do all of these things, and yet they’re no happier than the people who don’t. And there are people who have none of these things and are very happy with their lives. Clearly this means that it can’t be the above things that make people happy.

But despite this, there are people who wake up in the morning only to look forward to an hour of sitting in their car in bad traffic, then sitting at their desk doing a job that makes them bored or tired, then going home exhausted and sitting in front of the TV, then spending their weekends spending the money they earned to buy things that ‘make them happy’ when all they’re really doing is perpetuating the cycle.

If you ask these people what they look forward to the most the answer is usually something like their next vacation abroad, or they’re saving up to buy something big and special, or they’re waiting for their retirement… all of which are things that only occur occasionally, whilst the rest of the 90% of their lives are spent… just waiting.

a new way of thinking

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.
-Vernon Howard

What’s the secret to happiness? This topic has been researched extensively, but I know many people have already found the answer.

It’s minimalism.

Do you think I’m making a pretty bold statement here? It’s up to you, but here are my reasons.

Essentially, minimalism is about breaking out of the mould of always wanting more. It’s about finding happiness in what we have already, instead of chasing something that is always out of reach. Once one gains something they’ve wanted for a long time, they only find temporary happiness.

Think about all of the times you’ve gotten what you wanted, do you still want them now? Of course not, because you got it. But my guess is that you want something else right now. So you have moved on from that thing you orignially wanted so badly. Don’t worry, everyone does it, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but minimalism helps you break out of exactly this vicious cycle.

Why do people want things, like the latest gadget, car or in-season clothes? Most of the time it’s to boost their ego, or to show off how much money they have, or to fit in or to confirm that they are doing well in life. These people aren’t bad or selfish, in fact, I used to be exactly like that because we hadn’t been taught any other way. But now I have, and I’ve stopped worrying about what others think of me and started making some real friends who love me for who I am, not what I have.

realism or idealism?

Well that’s all well and good, but I have to pay the rent and my credit card bills“. I get this remark a lot, because people are focussing on the the wrong issue. They think minimalism is about being practically homeless – with few possessions, looking ugly and hoarding all of their money, but that’s not it at all. I have always said that minimalism is different for everyone, and it cannot be measured in set rules like that. Sometimes, it’s impractical for people to give up their jobs, especially if there are people who rely on them. If you have kids and you’re wondering what this has all got to do with you, I would suggest checking out Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker (somebody who I’ve looked up to for a long time and had supported my blog in it’s early stages), who manages very well with being a minimalist and a parent.

But there is always something you can do. If you downsize from a huge house, you can probably afford to live in a better location. If you just get rid of the clothes you know you’ll never wear, then maybe it won’t be so hard to open and close your wardrobe. If you spend less time watching trashy TV shows you’ll forget about in a week, or films you’ve seen before, then you can spend more time with friends and family or developing a skill or doing a hobby. If you spend more time cycling than driving, you can spend less time worrying about traffic, your health and the environment.

You don’t have to give up everything, it’s about reducing to what you really need. You can still dress fashionably without wasting money on brands, watch TV that is actually worth watching and drive a car when you need to. Just do what feels right for you. If you know me, or any other minimalists, you’ll just see a regular person. We’re not that different on the outside, just the inside.

Some people think that minimalism is against human nature. They think that if humans stop wanting more, things will stop progressing. If people have no ambition and drive, then ideas and innovations cease. People will stop working hard and just stick to their lowly jobs. This is not true. You can be happy with everything you have, and still improve yourself and society. The difference is this: as long as you are happy right now and not basing your happiness on obtaining the next thing or stage, then you’re practising minimalism, because you’re already happy. From then on, you’re working because you love what you do, not so that you can obtain happiness – because that kind of thinking never works, you will always be hanging on for ‘the next thing/stage’ , and when you get there, there will be another thing and then another thing… We should have more faith in human nature than thinking it is to be greedy.

Every human being is born to be happy. That is our life purpose. From those born poor or rich. Even the bad villains we see in movies are just trying to find happiness in their own way.

We deserve more than to be constantly waiting for happiness.


Live simply so that others may simply live.
HH Dalai Lama

A post that has been consistently popular since I published it is ‘Why minimalism brings happiness‘. People are looking for an answer.

But what is happiness exactly? How do we know if we are ‘happy’?

What happiness means is different for everyone, and in my opinion there isn’t one complete definition, but for me, happiness means that

I am feeling how I want to feel, I am doing everything I want to do, and I am at peace.

How do I want to feel? I want to feel good about contributing as little as I can to the waste and pollution of the Earth. I want to feel good that I have enough time and money to give away to people who need it more than me. And finally, I want to feel that I’ve made a positive impact, no matter how small, on the people around me and thus a difference in the world. No matter what, I’m determined to leave this world in a better state than how I entered it, that is what happiness means to me.

why I became minimalist

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

So let’s keep it simple. Apart from being happy, I became a minimalist for three reasons. For my:

1. Health. Minimalism keeps me healthy. Just check out my previous posts on a minimalist diet, my minimalist kitchen, minimalist exercise, cycling, runningand so on.

2. Study. I am a student, who is in love with her major. Through minimalism, I’ve been able to be where I want to be. If you want to find where I am, check out ‘the big reveal – my year abroad‘.

3. Dreams. Finally, I became minimalist so that I can eliminate distractions from my life. Without things that don’t matter cluttering up my life, I can focus my time, efforts and money on my dream of being able to travel the world because I am a firm believer of experiences over possessions.

I am happier now than I have ever been. And I predict in the future that I will be even happier than I am now. Hopefully, my happiness will never stop because I find myself wanting something I can’t have, or because I put my life on hold to get something I want. Of course there will be ups and downs, but what can I say, I’m an optimist.

An optimist is a person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness.
Mark Twain

make a difference

When I started this blog, I did it anonymously because I thought it was so that I could chat about minimalism with people who felt the same. But in the Times article, my identity has been revealed to everyone, including my family and friends who had very little idea about what I was up to. Why did I agree to reveal myself in the article? Believe me, it wasn’t for fame or recognition or anything like that, I don’t care about that stuff.

This blog is my way of expressing the message of minimalism. It isn’t a cult, or a religion to follow, and I never preach or push about it in real life. Minimal Student blog is my way of spreading the word and to making the small change in the world that I have always wanted. I just want others to be happy, and if this is the way they’ll find it, that makes me even happier.

where to go from here

I’ve linked to a few of my past posts above but they are by no means all of them. If you want to read more, check out my most popular posts or read a little about me. You can also check out a few series I’m currently working on Simple Philosophies, 5 Life Lessons and Minimalist Meditations.

I have already mentioned some of these blogs above, but just in case you didn’t check them out, I want to thank the following people who have inspired me:

Finally, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. Thank you for reading and thank you for your helpful comments and encouraging emails. If you find any of the posts helpful to you in some way, please help me keep Minimal Student going by making even just a tiny teeny donation.

If you can’t see the donate button, please click here!

Have you changed even just a little since the beginning of this post? I look forward to hearing from you.

My minimalist morning routine

Just because I’m a minimalist, doesn’t mean I’m an early riser.

Are you surprised?

I used to be a strong supporter of the idea of waking early (I still am) but I have discovered over the years that I have so many reasons not to (even though I very much admire people that do). For example, my brain tends to be more productive in the evening. If I try to go to bed too early, I know I will probably waste a good few hours tossing and turning around in bed thinking about things I have to get done, when I could have actually done it.

Also, I am absolutely blessed that I live only a few minutes by walk + bus away from my university, so I really don’t need to get up early. If I push myself, I would probably make myself unnecessarily tired during the morning, which is usually a crucial time for me. I’ve found what works for me, which is not too early, but not too late either. You may think I’m trying to make excuses, but being the non-conformist that I am, I would prefer to do what I feel is right, rather than what others tell me.

my morning routine

I’ve been getting a few emails about it, but to honest there’s nothing superhuman or special about it. I have to leave by 8:45, so by trial and error I worked out a routine which I can comfortably follow to the minute. I tried to minimalize as much as possible, so after a month of practising, this is what I came up with:

7:30-: Get up, bathroom, brush teeth.

7:45-: Exercise, put away futon.

8:00-: Make up

8:15-: Hair

8:25-: Change clothes

8:35-: Breakfast

8:45-: Leave house.

That’s it. Simple – exactly the way I like it.

A few tips that I can offer are:

1. Get a pleasant alarm clock. Although my iPhone doesn’t work in Japan (long story) I still use it everyday to wake me up. I have an app called Alarm Tunes which allows me to pick any song I want as the alarm. That way, I can choose nice ‘pick-me-up’ tunes to wake up to, which gives me a pleasant start to the day. If you don’t have an iPhone/iPod, I know you can buy little clocks that you can upload mp3 tracks on to.

2. Don’t miss exercising in the morning. Even if it’s just ten jumping jacks, don’t leave it out. I find just doing five minutes of stretching makes all the different for the rest of the day. If I ever forget or didn’t have enough time for some reason, I definitely feel sluggish or tired for hours. My morning stretch is possibly more important that remembering to brush my teeth.

3. Don’t dawdle. Sometimes I put on music because I can listen to it at the same time as getting ready. But I never watch TV in the morning because it’s almost guaranteed to slow me down in some way. The more time I spend getting ready, the more time I could have spent sleeping, who needs more motivation than that?

4. Pack the night before. It’s such a simple tip, yet it works so well. I just put everything I need in my bag before I go to bed so all I have to do is slip on my shoes grab my bag and go. No running about looking for stuff and NO forgetting anything as I’m halfway up the road. There’s nothing worse that having a bad feeling you’re forgetting something and only remembering past the point of no return 🙂

5. Whatever you do, have a system. If you’ve ever met me, you know I’m a pretty laid back person. I usually like things to be spontaneous and different (my weekends are usually free for whatever life in Japan wants to throw at me) but when it comes to my mornings I’m the complete opposite. I like efficiency. I really do love my sleep and besides that I have better things to do than to waste too much time flaffing about. So even if you don’t have a specific agenda to complete, just trying to wake up at the same time and leave at the same time most days is quite an achievement, it will at least reduce the chance of you waking up stressed and rushed which really does put most people in a bad mood.

So to sum up, the most important thing about your mourning routine is that it sets you up well for the day. Try to find a good that suits you and your own preferences and circumstances, whether your an early riser or not. Every day is a brand new beginning and a chance to live differently, so take it on wholeheartedly and have a nice day!

Update: See my my post on My Morning Routine

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Minimalist surfing with chrome

A few months ago, I did a post about minimalist web surfing. Back then, my primary browser was Firefox, although I was using Chrome intermittently.

Since Chrome released extension support, I’ve fully switched over and have been happy with Chrome for a few months now. Here are the extensions I use to keep surfing minimal.

1. AdThwart. A very intuitive ad blocker. With this extension you can also block particular elements of a page, even if they’re not ads. For example, I like to block chat/twitter boxes from sites, as well as wordy sidebars and footers. I’ve even managed to block the Facebook ‘Like’ button from websites by adding my own filter in the options menu.

2. StayFocusd. This extension does a pretty good job at keeping surfing time to a minimum by making it hard to change the amount of time you’ve allowed yourself to diverge for a day. During my exams, I let myself have 8 minutes maximum per day on sites such as facebook. If I wanted to increase it or went over it would kindly remind me that I have better things to do!

3. Simplified Gmail. Behold the minimalist glory:

Unlike HelvetiMail for Firefox (below), Minimalist Gmail actually get’s rid of even more buttons as well as the header at the top of the page. The search bar appears only when you hover over it. You can also use your own custom theme (I chose white and blue).

^ Not-as-minimalist gmail in Firefox

4. For Google Reader users you have the choice of Google Reader Compact which gets rid of all the extra text, Lucidica which changes the (ugly) default blue theme for a minimalistic white or Helvetireader 2 which goes bare minimal with a silver theme. Personally, I recommend Lucida, not because I need the buttons that Helvetireader gets rid of, but because it’s better looking. Shallow, I know 🙂

^ Original Google Reader

^ Google Reader Compact extension

^ Lucidica extension

^ HelvetiReader 2 extension

Just a quick note about going minimal with browsing, you’ll probably have to learn a few keyboard shortcuts to do the kind of things that the buttons were there for, but in my experience just learning one or two is enough, I haven’t run into problems at all because of this.

Have you got any more ideas? I would love to hear your tips to make surfing more minimal!

Update: For gmail and Google calendar I now use Minimalist for Everything (Chrome) and for Google Reader I use Reeder for Chrome. Beautiful!

5 inspiring ways to feed your soul

After working on the same boring thing all day, no one can blame you for taking a well deserved break. Distractions can be valuable because they give your brain a chance to recharge and concentrate even better when you continue.

With the amount of content and information now accessible to the average person, choosing what to have has become like trying to have a snack at a buffet table. There’s so much out there that, unless you’re very picky, you’ll be missing out on some great stuff.

When you consume content, you are feeding you soul. And feeding your soul good and wholesome food is as important as doing so for your body. So what’s good and what’s not so good for you?

Junk food for the soul

1. TV dramas/sitcoms. Think back to the shows you were watching last year. Has it contributed to you as a person today? Did you learn anything valuable? TV shows are entertaining whilst we’re watching them but it’s not until it finishes or gets cancelled that we realise what kind of things we could have accomplished if we spent all those hours differently.

Studies have shown that filling your life with trashy TV about people arguing, cheating and lying, can lessen your sensitivity to the consequences of doing so. Watching shows about crime, murders and blackmailing can make you more paranoid and afraid than the reality.

I’m not saying all TV is bad, or that we should cut it out altogether. I am a big fan of a few series (ahem, Grey’s Anatomy), and of course a lot of documentaries are very informative, but TV is supposed to be ‘entertainment’ – meaning something to occupy you for a few hours a week. It’s not supposed to be a part time occupation or a way to numb your brain.

2. Evening News. The news obviously cannot report everything that happens in the world, so it has to be selective. Unfortunately, more people are interested about robberies and murders than charity runs. The news has become a medium that dramatises negative events to increase audience ratings. Just check out the front page of any news site and count how many times the word ‘death’, ‘dies’, ‘killed’, ‘stabbed’ and so on appear.

Again, of course we should be aware of what’s happening in the world around us, but in my opinion there’s no need to know about every single thing. Sometimes, it feels beautiful to be disconnected. If another Michael Jackson dies, you’ll hear about it, don’t worry, you don’t need to keep looking out for it.

3. Facebook. It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends, but how much do you need to know about them on a daily basis? Most people have hundreds of friends on facebook, so it’s simply not possible to keep track of what they do anyway. A lot of the time, people live in fear of missing out, so they think their lives would be better if they know what’s going on all the time, but deep down they know that this is simply not true. Letting go of the need to always know what’s going on at this very minute is the key to freedom. Ignorance is bliss.

4. Repeats. This year, I’ve made a quiet promise to myself that I will try not to watch any repeats – especially films. One of my friends is a media student and they’ve opened my eyes to just how much there is out there that it seems silly to watch another rerun. There are literally thousands of fantastic independent films, classic films, controversial films, historical films and breakthrough films that I’ve yet to see, why should I ever re-watch something I’ve seen before?

5. Other internet black holes. Mindless surfing on fail blogs, lolcats sites, youtube and so on is just another way to take our minds off things that really do matter. Life is short, and there are better ways places we can go to take a break…

5 Ways to feed your soul the right stuff:

So what should you do when you want to sit back and relax? Prepare for the link fest.

1. Read brilliant blogs. When I first accidentally stumbled on personal development blogs, I didn’t know that they would change my life. They opened up a whole new (better) world for me that connected with my real world over time. Since then, I’ve become a greener, healthier, more productive and happier minimalist. Over time I’ve read dozens and dozens of different blogs, but I there are a few I always go back to:

Balance in Me – well written tips about how to find balance in a busy world.

Change your Thoughts – redesign how you think about life.

Daily Mind – Eastern wisdom brought to the west.

Marc and Angel Hack Life – how to be more productive and happy, one of the best blogs I’ve ever found.

Stepcase Lifehack – a collaborative blog full of great tips from successful bloggers.

Zen Habits – who has never included Leo’s blog in a ‘best of blogs’ list?

For the minimalist in me:

Becoming Minimalist – contains some pure gems.

miss minimalist – We would definitely be best friends if we ever met.

mnmlist – another great creation of Leo Babatua’s.

stonesoup – combining my two loves: minimalism and food.

Other great blogs:

Lifehacker – …needs no explanation.

The Peak Condition Project – my favourite fitness blog in the world. Patrick knows what he’s talking about.

Zen to Fitness – simple and quick health tips.

Scott H Young – hundreds of articles on life and productivity  for students.

2. Follow daily reminders. These get a category of their own because they are so inspiring.

The Mindfulist and The Mindfulist’s twitter – reminding you to be aware of the little things that matter.

Makes Me Think –  thought provoking life stories in one sentence.

Thought Questions – asking the right kind of questions.

3. …and so does TED. Talks that simply blow your mind. Just some of my favourites:

Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Graham Hill: Why I’m a weekday vegetarian

4. Listen to Podcasts. I’ve mentioned podcasts before because I can’t recommend them enough. (iTunes links)

Buzz Out Loud –  a technology podcast I’ve been following for years.

Nutrition Diva – dispelling common myths about what is good for you and what isn’t.

YOGAmazing – Great yoga instruction videos

Yoga Today – more yoga videos

Zencast – A comprehensive collection of Buddhist talks.

Zen is Stupid – Gwen Bell and Patrick Reynolds (also creators of the Mindfulist) are my heroes

5. Read great books.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens – the book that started it all.

Young Guns – by Robert Tuchman, a guide for fearless young entrepreneurs.

The Art of Happiness – one of HH Dalai Lama’s most widely read books.

The Power of Now – by Eckhart Tolle, changed the way I thought about thinking forever.

The Way of Zen – by Alan Watts, who was one of the first people to demystify Zen and bring it to the west.

The Definitive Book of Body Language – by Allan and Barbara Pease, a down to earth and humorous guide.

What Every BODY is Saying – by John Navarro, an ex FBI’s tips on reading body language and detecting deception.

How To Win Friends and Influence People – by Dale Carnegie, simply classic, which is why it has stood the test of time.

Despite what a lot of people are saying these days, consumption of media and information isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What really matters is doing it right and mindfully choosing the best kind of things to feed our soul with can make all the difference.

5 minimalist principles to help you study

Right now, I’m in the midst of exams, so you could say they’re on my mind. I thought I’d share some ways minimalism helps me make studying easier.

1. Get rid of the unnecessary. Use the 80/20 rule as a guideline: probably only about 80% in the syllabus will actually come up in the exam. That means that if you study everything, roughly a fifth of it would be a waste (if your goal is purely to pass the exam). Because of this, try to identify which areas are the most important, using tips and clues given by the lecturer and look back at things you have covered extensively in class. Don’t just work blindly memorising from the textbook, be savvy and try to get your hands on past papers and become familiar with exactly what they’re looking for.

2. Simplify. Make life easier by breaking things down into small manageable steps. Draw mind maps using different colours to lay everything out. Mind maps are great because the general rule is that you can only use one or two words per branch. Spread out, try not to cram too much on one page and embrace the white space. Giving yourself room calms your mind and allows it to think with more clarity. You might even find recalling things easier if you can remember the layout of your notes.

Download mind mapping freeware here.

3. Know the fundamentals. Even if you don’t think you know everything in terms of scope, taking care of the essentials is just as important. Lecturers tend to set questions that seem complicated, but they are really just testing if you know the basics. Make sure you know them like the back of your hand. You can even make an activity out of it by making a poster summarising the formulae, key points and basic steps and putting it up by your mirror.

4. Focus. Decluttering your desk can make all the difference in your concentration levels. Clear everything off and only put on what you need for the next hour. Chances are you’ll only need a book or two, a pen and paper. If you’re not using your laptop, it might be best to hide it that as well so you’re not tempted to get distracted.

5. Disconnect. Now that I’ve switched to Chrome, I use the StayFocused extension to cut down on the time I spend on facebook and twitter. I finally found an extension that actually works and does a pretty good job at keeping me on track. It even has a ‘nuclear mode’ which blocks all websites for as long as I want. I also turn off my iPhone or at least put it on silent. I have never encountered a situation when I got a call or text that had to be answered immediately anyway.

I hope these tips helped! If you’re in the middle of exams too, I wish you the best of luck. If you have any more suggestions, please share them with everyone in the comments!

Related Posts

5 tips to create and maintain a minimalist desk

Despite many aspects of university education becoming digitalised, students are still not completely free of paper. And it will probably be a long time before we are completely done with it, if ever. Paper – worksheets, assignments, data, sources, references, extracts, forms and letters obtained from professors, coursemates, friends and our own research – can be one of the main culprits when it comes to desk pile up.

Not to mention other things that can contribute to a cluttered desk, such as books, mugs, a computer or laptop, pens, a lamp, knick-knacks, folders and if you’re really messy even clothes or food(!).

why you need a clear surface

If you live in a single bedroom with limited space, desks can get very cluttered very quickly if you don’t consciously keep it clear. A desk packed full of stuff can:

  • Create a distracting environment
  • Encourage procrastination
  • Be off-putting to creativity
  • Make it difficult for you to find things you need
  • Encourage cluttered-ness in other parts of the room

By far the simplest and easiest way is to literally take everything off your desk and put it on the floor. Then one by one put things back only after you’ve carefully considered why you need it. You’ll find that you’ll have to relocate a lot of stuff, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find a home for it if you’ve kept your drawers and shelves pretty minimal.

how to maintain a minimalist desk

1. Dispose immediately. If you think you’ll probably never use a sheet of paper again, just chuck/recycle it. If you leave it to mix with the stuff that you do need, you’ll be put off organizing it because the pile looks bigger and scarier. The worst that can happen afterwards is that you look on your university portal for an electronic copy or borrow off a course-mate. A lot of sheets only have a one time use, keeping them will not benefit you so it’s best to clear it out as soon as you can.

2. Organise. Use fileboxes, trays or folders to store papers that land on your desk. Only you can work out a system that works for you, but for me I find a simple ‘Urgent’/’To Do’ /’To File’ method works perfectly.

Everyday, I deposit all of the sheets in my thin folder into the appropriate boxes/folders (after I’ve done step 1). Sheets that have to do with upcoming deadlines obviously go into the ‘Urgent’ box/folder. General things like homework sheets and long-term assignments go in ‘To Do’, and sheets I want to keep for revision but have no immediate use go in ‘To File’.

Instead of filing one sheet at a time, which can be time consuming, when the ‘To File’ pile gets to a certain level, I sort all of those sheets into labelled boxes. Once everything is sorted out, it’s much easier to identify what and how much you need to deal with at any particular moment.

3. Inbox Zero. Once you’ve deposited all of the things you need to deal with in once place, try to reduce everything in it to zero everyday or every other day. This will help you gauge your workload and do everything in an according pace. In other words, if you see that your work is beginning to pile up, you know that you it’s time to do block out some time to get it all done before you fall behind. If the ‘Urgent’ box is empty, celebrate!

4. Clean. If you must eat at your desk (I do sometimes when I’m watching TED), clean up as soon as you can after finishing and don’t leave it overnight. Clean dust away often and wipe off coffee mug rings. Be adaptable and try moving things around so that you have as little on your desk as possible. You can use bookshelves to store non-urgent folders or things you don’t use often such as reference books. Many people like to keep this stuff on their desk but actually they don’t use them very often anyway.

5. Get rid of knick-knacks. A lot of people keep photos or little figures on their desks which can be kinda cute, but also a little distracting. I used to find myself daydreaming whenever I looked up because I would see a picture of my old friends which got me thinking of home, and sometimes I would find myself on facebook a moment later to check up on them! Also, most of the time you don’t need an entire pot of pens, even if they look ‘professional’ sitting on your desk top. I moved all of my stationary to my top drawer, and since then I’ve stopped getting distracted by highlighters and the hole punch (like a six year old!).

common pitfalls

Once you’ve obtained a beautiful minimalist desk, you’ll have to be careful not to let things creep back on one by one. Also watch out for these other pitfalls:

Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t be tempted to hide stuff by putting it away in boxes. I used to be very guilty of hiding sheets in file boxes without organising them, and in the end they overfilled the box in no particular order and in the end it took hours and hours to sort out during exam revision time. If I had spent just a minute putting the sheets in the right place, I could have stopped myself from wasting time and getting stressed out.

Just clearing the middle. I’ve seen desks that only have enough clear space in the middle for a laptop, and surrounding it are piles of paper and various aforementioned junk. One may be able to survive, but they wouldn’t be working to their full potential because they are being limited by their environment. You should give yourself plenty of room so that you can spread out and work more comfortably.

Since my desk only has my laptop on it when I’m writing, or one book, piece of paper and pen when I’m working, I’ve seen a marked increase in my productivity. I realise that there is a certain amount of motivation required for one to actually get going on the work after they’ve sorted it, but just try it, even for a week, I promise you’ll have less of an excuse to put things off and you’ll be one step closer to being a productivity black belt 😉

5 Ways to Reclaim Ten Minutes a Day


As a student, there is no such thing as ‘free time’. The time you think is ‘free’ – you could actually be using to do something else that is productive, such as finding a book on the course reading list, writing up notes or reviewing the last lecture. Every minute we are encouraged to cram more and more activities in, more socialising, more studying, but there are only so many minutes in a day.

As much as I advocate slowing down and doing less, sometimes it isn’t possible in a student’s hectic lifestyle, especially during exam times. I consider myself a bit of a minimalist, stuffing more isn’t really my thing, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so here are some of my favourite hacks to try to cram more minutes into each day.

1. Read when cooking. There’s a lot of waiting when you’re cooking. Most people flip the tv on, or have a day dream, but I recommend bringing a book into the kitchen and get a few paragraphs done whilst waiting for that pasta to become al dente. Also applies for toilet breaks and long queues.

2. Group activities together. Part of David Allen’s famous Getting Things Done method involves grouping tasks that are in the same context together to save time doing them. For example, if you have to boot up your laptop to do something, why not wait until you have two or three things to do and then you only have to turn on your laptop once to do them all. This may sound obvious, but it does require a little bit of organizational skill in that you have to think ahead to make sure you haven’t left anything out, especially if you’re going to make a trip to a particular place. It’s no good getting halfway back home from X and then remembering  you had one more thing to do! Which brings me to…

3. Write things down. Maybe it’s the people I hang around with (or me) but you’ll be amazed at the number of times I’m walking around campus with someone who suddenly ‘just remembered’ they had to collect or hand in something and turn in the direction we just came. One of my friends even spent one whole day mumbling “I know there’s something I have to do today…” (It turned out she had to ask our lecturer something important, but by then the lesson had already finished and we were on the other side of campus). By jotting things down on a daily basis you can save countless minutes from trying to recall all of the things you had to do.

4. Listen to podcasts. Ok, this one doesn’t save you time, but it’s a way to fill up those idle minutes. It’s no secret that I love podcasts. The best ones are educational and intellectually stimulating. They could be news in an area you are interested in, or debates and discussions around your degree. There’s so much stuff out there, I’ve dipped into so many different subjects, including (and not limited to) economics, astronomy, travel, philosophy, history, nutritionZen,…you can even learn languages via podcasts. They’re a great alternative to looping the same album (however amazing) on your ipod whilst walking or waiting for the bus. Please remember to look out for traffic!

5. Be minimalist. Yes, you knew it was coming. In this case by minimalism I mean having fewer things, which generally means you will be in a much tidier environment. You will save minutes if not hours if you can find everything and anything you need because it’s not lost under a pile of clothes or crumpled at the bottom of your bag. Find a place for all of the things you need everyday. For my keys, I actually hacked a key hook using some blue tak and a piece of wire (the kind you get wrapped around cables of electronics) shaped into a ‘J’. I stick it just above the handle of my door, so I always know where they are. Try to keep sheets and notes as organised as possible, or at least keep them all in one place, so you don’t spend ages looking around for them.

With these tips, you can probably save upwards of ten minutes a day, which doesn’t sound like much, but could add up to an extra hour or two every week.  At the moment, I’m conducting a bit of a hack-slash-experiment which I am trying to reclaim up to an hour and a half each day, but more of that coming soon…

If you’ve just joined Minimal Student, or just want to read more, why not have a look at my current series, The Recipe for Student Success, or check out the Most Popular MS Posts.