inspiring focus, simplicity, and purpose

Rules vs Guidelines


Recently, I wrote a blog post titled Our Family’s Simplicity Rules.

In there I described some of the “rules” which our family follows when it comes to simplifying and keeping our home clutter-free. It’s fun writing that post as I one by one realize what we’re doing as a family.

Then just right now I read about Leo Babauta’s Mindful Simplicity: Decluttering, Cleaning & Leaving No Trace at Zen Habits. There he mentioned some guidelines about decluttering, and I suddenly realized the difference between Rules and Guidelines.

What I was talking about in my blog post were rules, while what Leo was talking about in his were guidelines.

You think it’s the same? I don’t believe so.

Here are some thoughts I have on the difference between Rules and Guidelines:

  1. Guidelines encourage thinking, while Rules don’t. Guidelines are only guidelines. They are not items to follow strictly and legalistically. You can modify it to fit your style and needs, or you can create an even better guideline from an existing one.

  1. Guidelines encourage freedom, while Rules don’t. Guidelines allow you the freedom to be yourself. As Leo had pointed out, they are “guideposts against which you can check yourself.” When you are working or moving in a guideline system, everything is easier and you become better and more efficient.

  1. Guidelines encourage creativity, while Rules don’t. As I’ve mentioned in #1, guidelines give us the flexibility to create an even better one depending on the circumstance. It makes us more responsible, as we were given a sense of ownership on a particular guideline.

I’m not saying it’s not good to have rules. There are certain areas where rules are needed (i.e. traffic rules, bank rules, game rules, etc.). But great leaders need to recognize when to use rules or guidelines on their followers depending on the situation.

As in every thing in life, there should be a balance between the two. Having too many guidelines disturbs the focus, direction and vision, while having too many rules makes robots out of people.