Any darn fool can make a day more complicated than it has to be; it takes a touch of genius to make it simple again.
Your days fill up so fast, and they are so rushed and packed with distractions – sometimes they literally seem to be bursting at the seams.
I know exactly how you feel. This used to be my life too.
Before I started simplifying my life, I was being pulled in dozens of different directions every day and never had enough time to get everything done. Naturally, I wanted to do a great job with each obligation I had, and somehow I had convinced myself that I could do it all. But the reality was I was stretched way too thin, and thus I was doing a lousy job at everything and completely stressing myself out in the process.
This feeling of being mind-numbingly busy and overbooked is a huge source of stress for most people, and stress is perhaps the single most important determining factor of whether we’re healthy and happy, or sick and tired, in the long run.
Unless you want your health to decline and your stress to continue to skyrocket, you must start simplifying.
So how can you simplify your days? It’s not as hard as you might imagine…
1. Know what your perfect day looks and feels like.
Visualizing your perfect day is important not necessarily because it will be a recurring reality, but because it’s crucial to understand what a “simple day” really means to you. It’s different for everyone – for me, it means practicing my morning gratitude meditation, quiet writing and reading time, and spending a few quality hours with Angel and our son, Mac. For others, it’s a long morning walk, afternoon yoga, a productive day at the office, and a hot bath before bed. And for others, it’s simply lots of time to focus on an important life goal, while still leaving enough time to get a good night’s rest.
Take a few moments now to visualize what a “simple day” means to you.
2. Determine what’s most important to you.
Besides the art of getting things done, there is the often-forgotten art of leaving things undone. The simplicity and efficiency of a day relies heavily on the elimination of non-essentials.
The foundation of simplifying is this:
- Identify what’s most important to you.
- Eliminate as much as you possibly can of everything else.
So take time to identify the most important projects, people and experiences (5 at most), and then see what activities, tasks and commitments fit in with that list.
3. Say “no” to unnecessary commitments that do not support your priorities.
Once you’ve identified what’s important – your priorities, along with your vision of the “perfect day” – you need to start saying “no” to things that do not support what’s important to you, and that are getting in the way of your perfect day.
The best thing you can say “no” to is an unimportant commitment. Think about it…
Today you say yes to a Facebook party invitation, tomorrow you say yes when a neighbor asks you to help him move some furniture, then you get asked to a quick lunch meeting, then you decide to volunteer at your son’s youth group. One yes at a time, and soon your days are too busy and complicated and you don’t know where you went wrong.
List and evaluate your commitments (professional, personal, civic, etc.), especially the recurring ones, and say no to at least one of them today. It just takes a quick call or a short email, and you’ll instantly feel a weight lifted.
4. Limit your daily tasks.
Take time every morning to identify 1-3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day, and cut out the rest as much as possible (not counting little, necessary things, like tying your shoes or dropping the kids off at school). Address your other obligations right then and there, and tell the associated people that you really want to help, but your plate is full today. You can’t serve them well, so regretfully you must say “no.”
Once you’re down to a manageable list of tasks (1-3 is ideal, but certainly don’t try to do more than 7), it’s best to give each some allotted time – a few hours for one, and then a few hours for another, etc. Instead of being in a stressful task-switching state of mind, just take your next task, let everything else go, and just be in the moment with this one task for the allotted time.
Do this, and you will notice a difference. Limiting your tasks like this helps you focus and embrace the reality that you’re not going to get everything done in one day.
5. Schedule at least one distraction-free time block each day.
Once you know you’re actually working on the right tasks, eliminating all distractions for a set time while you work is one of the most effective ways to get things done. So, lock your door, put a sign up, turn off your phone, close your email application, disconnect your internet connection, etc. You can’t remain in hiding forever, but you can be twice as productive while you are.
Do whatever it takes to create a quiet, distraction-free environment where you can focus on what’s important.
6. Do ONLY one thing at a time.
Again, let yourself be immersed in the task at hand by letting go of the feeling that you need to quickly rush through it – that you need to move on to the next task waiting for you. There will always be a next task, because that’s the nature of TO-DO lists – they’re never-ending. So let those later tasks come later. Just be 100% in this one task, like it’s your entire world.
Bottom line: Slow down. Breathe. Review your commitments and goals. Put first things first. Do one task at a time. Start now. Take a 5-minute break in an hour. Repeat. (And remember, results are more important than the time it takes to achieve them.)
7. Batch the smaller, less important tasks.
There are a lot of little tasks you need to do throughout the day. Don’t let them disrupt the more important stuff. To be more productive, batch them up and do them all at once, preferably later in the day. For example, instead of checking your personal email throughout the day, handle all of it once a day, perhaps at 4pm as the day is winding down. Do all your miscellaneous paperwork at once (bills, forms, etc.). And once you’ve completed a batch of small tasks (like processing all your email), cut yourself off and move on to the next small thing if necessary.
The key is to make sure you don’t let the small things get in the way of the big ones. Do NOT get stuck on one small thing all day, or even half a day.
8. Leave space between everything.
I may sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s crucial to understand that overcommitting is the biggest mistake most people make against living a simpler life. It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the day with tasks. Don’t do this to yourself. Leave space.
The space between the things we do is just as important as the things we do. So leave a little space between your tasks. Take a break to stretch, take a short walk outside, drink a glass of water, perhaps do some simple deep breathing exercises. Enjoy the space, and breathe.
Your overarching goal is living a life uncluttered by most of the things people fill their lives with, leaving you with space for what truly matters. A life that isn’t constant busyness, rushing and stress, but instead mindful contemplation, creation and connection with people and projects you love. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Simplicity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
9. Practice gratitude.
A simpler, more positive mindset can be created anytime and anyplace with a change in thinking. That’s right, frustration and stress come from the way you react, not the way things are. Adjust your attitude, and the frustration and stress evaporates. The simplest secret to doing this is letting every circumstance be what it is in the moment, instead of what you think it should be, and then making the best of it.
It’s about being grateful for what is, and then working WITH it, not against it.
This kind of humble gratitude always makes life easier to deal with. Because happiness comes easier when you stop complaining about your problems and you start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have.
The floor is yours…
If you’re up to it, I’d love to reflect on #1 for a moment with you:
What does your perfect day look and feel like?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.
Photo by: The 10 Cent Designer