Life gets a lot simpler when you clear the clutter that makes it complicated. Bring your attention back to what’s important, and move forward with your life.
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 life? 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 life” 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 Marc 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. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Simplicity” chapter of the brand NEW volume 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.
(Note: Marc and I customize and implement all of the aforementioned points with our students in the Getting Back to Happy Course & Coaching.)
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.
(Finally, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.)
My “Perfect Day” looks like this:
1. Waking Up
2. Meditation and Gratitude
3. A cup of green tea or coffee
5. Writing in my journal
6. Working on monologues
7. Working on scripts
8. Reflecting on my day and releasing
PS. I’m really enjoying your most recent conference recording. I’ve been watching it as part of my daily self practice. 🙂
Amie Evans says
My perfect day is:
1. Cuddling my dog and son in bed for 15 minutes before getting up
2. Having breakfast with my son
3. Dropping my son off at school with enough time so he can play with his mates
4. Coming home and tidying the house for the day, may put a load of washing on
5. Check personal emails while relaxing on the couch with a coffee
6. Have a shower to get ready for work
7. Take a few mini breaks throughout the day to sit in the sun and meditate
8. Intense 3-4 hours of solid work
9. Making my son afternoon tea when he gets home from school and hang out chatting to him about his day
10. Another 2 hours of intense work
11. Prepare dinner, sit down and relax
12. Do a bit of Internet surfing to read some personal development tips
13. Shut down, meditate and go to sleep (hopefully for 8 hours)
That is my day and I love each and every one of them. Sometimes I throw in the odd catch up with friends and/or outings but basically that’s it.
Reading Specialist says
How can I have a day like yours? Please tell me.
My perfect day is one during which I feel energized and fulfilled nearly all the time.
A few quiet moments in the morning help me a lot, to remind me of my place in the bigger scheme of things. Helps launch me off in a positive frame of mind.
I like to have a hearty breakfast: tastes good and confirms my self-image as a healthy person.
Then I tackle the most challenging task in my main current project. This is a spurt of intensive work. It often helps me break through with a critical insight, or at least grapple satisfyingly with a tough problem. It makes me feel capable.
Then a break, a few slightly mindless tasks, and back to intensive work.
A walk outside if the weather is good, even better if I meet some new people to talk to for a while. A light lunch.
Then another spurt of intensive work, possibly on an important secondary project.
A break to take care of urgent stuff which has deadlines.
A final spurt of intensive work, followed by a good workout.
Then some housework, perhaps cooking a delicious meal from stuff I know will make me feel good. Sharing the meal with the people I love most, unwinding, chatting. Maybe watching one of those great wildlife programmes on TV: always fascinate me.
Then a little time to brush up on my latest personal learning project, before bedtime.
This pretty much works to make every day energizing and fulfilling for me. If I can plan my week to make this happen every day, it’s a great week for me.
If it’s a holiday then I like to be surprised, preferably in good company.
Matt Gaines says
My days are most fulfilling when I spend my time with my 6 F’s
I used to do the 5 (or so ) F’s, only mine included Fine Arts and Fermented Fruit Drinks.
Excellent post Marc. Great ‘tools’ for thought!
My perfect day is a grateful one. Gratitude is a mindset I’ve developed gradually with your assistance over the past few years. In fact, a Seneca quote that you shared in your book has become the mantra of my “perfect” days:
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”
I like the way you see things.
Perla Milner says
The perfect day ( which is not every. day). Gratitude and morning meditations. Exercise. Trying to keep positive thoughts no matter what. Focus on being calm.??
Deborah Clarke says
Ha! I used to have the perfect day, but now that I am divorced I run my own cleaning service and AirBNB. There is honestly no down time- I am caught in a vicious cycle- I think my happy day will be when I sell my house and buy a fifth wheel – I will live 6 months in NY and 6 months down south for the winter- I’m smiling already!
My perfect day.
Up just before sunrise to enjoy the piece and solitude. Seeing the sun break through the trees as I drink a cup of coffee. Make a smoothie. Read some fiction to keep some distance from all the “Noise.” Gym for an hour followed by a Yin Yoga class. Intense time in my office working on my music. Cooking a delicious dinner and enjoy some wine. Into bed by 10:00.
Cathy Ross says
I have found that gratitude has really changed my outlook on my life. Every night before bed, I take a few minutes to thank God for the day and what it has brought me. Even on the most challenging days , I always find something to be grateful for.
OMG! I love reading everyone’s perfect day. Mine are sometimes on Sunday if I don’t have to catch up on work from my 11 to 12 hour work days as a nurse practitioner. Now I know why I always feel overwhelmed and tired! I get up at five thirty and start pre charting at six am. Leave for the office at six forty five continue working on the computer till eight when the first patient arrives. Sometimes have 45 minutes at noon to eat, I mean chart, unless a visit is long and the patient before lunch is always late arriving then see patients unti five or later and chart till six. Then get home by seven make/eat dinner. Go into a comma and then bed at eight thirty to nine. Friday’s are sometimes better if I have an admin day to chart and review labs and call patients. I am tired just thinking about it. Anyone have any ideas?
When I was a younger man, I had a job that I actually enjoyed to a point. Made decent money but worked 5,6, sometimes 7 days a week. On-call around the clock except the one week of vacation I had a year. Days were usually anywhere from 4:00am, maybe 6:00am to 3:00 or 4:00pm. Could be physical at times as well. Not only had very little extra time but began to drink more than I should’ve. After some physical and mental health problems, including being tested for MS – all stress induced – I turned to what I thought would be a long shot; Yoga. If you can find 3 or 4 one and a half hour spots throughout your week, this may be very helpful. I felt by magnitudes better, put life in perspective and learned to value only what REALLY mattered. A neat, orderly environment with little physical clutter will decrease your mental clutter as well, which is freeing. Research your local studios well. The right Yogini can change your life. Many studios offer classes 7 days a week and evenings.
By the way, no one should have to work those hours. I’m very sorry.
Best of luck
Nitya Rambhadran says
Loved your article!
Especially the 3rd and the 6th point.
My perfect day usually happens on a weekend- catching up with friends and family, watching series or a movie on Netflix and just relaxing.
A day that starts with a little extra time to prepare is always a less stressful one.
One thing I’ve been really focusing on putting in my days lately is exercise. Not the burn-calories, maximize-sweat kind of exercise I’ve done in the past (although I still do some of that), but also walks and hikes and jogs with my favorite podcasts in my ears. It feels so good to start and finish my days with some movement.
Loved this article, Angel! Sharing asap!
My perfect day is having anything to do with business taken care of right away and not having things by others drag it out. My perfect day is also sewing something everyday or continuing sewing every day , which calms me and delights me when sewing project is finished. When I go to a pretty park and relax or get in a pool or to carry picnic basket with a tasty lunch. When I get rid of clutter and donate , leaving me more room and less stressed. When lying down and open the window and delightful breeze kisses me. When I continually see I’m my own best friend. When I become one with nature. When I take pictures well. So many things.
My perfect day for me is:
1. an hour of breakfast with my husband, and a cup of coffee at hand;
2. Having cleaned a portion of our home; and
3. Taking a nap.
donna scro samori says
my perfect day looks like
staying in bed for a few minutes to reflect on my day
having a cup of coffee before everyone gets up
writing my thoughts
making my list for the day
some sort of movement or exercise
some sort of quiet time
connecting with my kids
cuddling on the couch with my love
a good nights sleep
Sally Chermside says
My perfect day is grounded on overcoming my inner critic and allowing myself full creative flow.
In practice – this means waking at 5am, yoga practice 6 – 715am, drinking a superfood smoothie (tumeric, ginger, berries, banana, vegan protein etc) working listening to spoundscapes and no customer service distractions until lunchtime.
Afternoon is a run or swim at the beach and early vegan dinner before being in bed by 8pm.
Tahnk you for helping us all be closer to the people we can be.
I love reading articles on this topic!
I’m all for living a simpler, yet productive life and one thing that’s helped me a ton is to figure out my rhythm when it comes to getting things done.
I’m happy to say that I no longer feel overwhelmed or burnt out by work, as a result.
Steve Williams says
What a great first statement, “Know what your perfect day looks and feels like.” I have worked at self improvement for 5 decades and I think this is a first to see this concept simplified and up front in trying to manage my life better. I don’t know what I have expected my perfect day would look or feel like but I am stimulated and a foot to find out. I will comment again after my journey to figure out my simply perfect day. Thanks for the food for thought.
João Mattos says
You take note not to forget what you really need already helps, and deleting from your phone for example distracting applications and games helps you focus on what really matters. Loved the article.
Dani Santos says
I loved the article, focusing on the important things and setting goals helps a lot, I loved the tips.
Tenzin Nyima says
Thank you so much. I just got here through another blog and it was simply amazing to read.
I think in the end the secret to feeling good about yourself and others is to have total knowledge of yourself … if you don’t feel good with your self it will be very difficult to be comfortable with others.
Kellie Duzan says
My perfect day…
rising by 5:30
time spent with God
prioritize my day and check planner
enjoy and energizing protein shake
put in daily load of laundry
coffee shop date with a friend or simply with myself
enjoy lunch with husband when he comes in from office
read for a bit after lunch
tie up loose ends for day
read/relax/visit grandchildren/enjoy the evening
I love this! Life so easily gets away from us. I especially need to work on the third one “Say “no” to unnecessary commitments that do not support your priorities.” This is such a hard one for me! I hate to disappoint people and I just want to do everything all the time.
My perfect day is :
Light jog with the person I love
Having breakfast together
Washing myself and going to work
Now and then texting each other
Walk back to my place after work
Refreshing tea with my partner
Dinner plus watching TV together
Going to sleep