8 tips to simplify your life


John Vlasach

Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being – Lao Tzu

Twenty-four hours in the day is usually not enough time for most of us. How do we find time for ourselves?

The simplification tips I offer here may appear to border on the mundane. We can look for answers in the big stuff but I hold that small changes in the little aspects of our lives holds equal impact. That’s not to deny the value in making the big changes but they can be difficult and unnerving to make. Start with the small stuff first. Here are eight you can try out.

  1. Cancel your magazine subscriptions. This removes you from the global advertising machine that is designed to increase your need for goods and services that you didn’t know you wanted. Whilst we choose to deny the fact, newspapers and magazines are funded through advertising revenue. The editorials of women and men’s magazines are unashamed pitches for the latest coat/lipstick/smartphone/robotic vacuum cleaner that you never knew existed. Cut the noise at source and you will find yourself less driven to spend.
  2. Check emails only once a day. Emails have an incredible power to make us feel busy yet ensure we’ve produced little at the end of the day. Emails are about responding to other people’s agenda for the most part. Turn off email for most of your day. Let your colleagues know you only look at email once a day (ok, twice will also work). Use mornings for big thinking stuff (it’s when your pre-frontal cortex is at its best) and save emails for other times of the day. (See my blog post on how I tackled my email demon)
  3. Reduce your daily to-do list to 3-5 Most Important Tasks. High achievers are great at getting things done, and usually even better at being a safe pair of hands for a new project. If you have a to-do list, then it probably runs to most of an A4 page, and new tasks get added with the same speed as tasks getting completed. Choose to do 3-5 most important tasks each day and decide these as part of your morning getting ready ritual. A MIT is something that takes up to 2-3 hours. The brilliance of this approach is that you experience the sense of achievement at the end of the day, and you have more time in your day, as you aren’t responding to other people’s priorities. (See my blog post on how I stumbled across the concept of MITs.)
  4. Cancel your gym membership. Go on – admit it. You aren’t making use of the membership anyway, right? Membership to clubs, personal trainers, naturopaths or whatever other support system we have is a luxury of the wealth off and a first world problem. Take ownership for your health and your body. Blend exercise into what you do, walk to the next client meeting or walk up the stairs. Find a way to spend time with the children and exercise. Run with the dog. Cycle to the office. Exercise shouldn’t be a punitive measure to counteract our abuse of our body in overeating and excess drink. As humans, movement is who we are.
  5. If it’s not working, stop doing it. This category can include relationships, our job or our choice to party late several times a week. It also extends to our physical body. We take pills to soothe our indigestion – try not eating the pizza and beer in the first place. We take liver tablets to heal our alcohol-bruised livers, and head tablets for the sore head brought on by stress. Just because there is a pill for it, is not an invitation to behave in a way that doesn’t serve you. If it’s not serving you – and its time to be honest with yourself, then stop doing it.
  6. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is not a human super power so lets stop pretending we are any good at it. The cost of multitasking is high. It takes more time to get the tasks completed if you switch between them than if you completed them one at a time. You make more errors switching. Whilst time lost in switching on one task is sub-seconds, the cumulative effect in a day is a significant hit on productivity. The switching also drains your pre-frontal cortex and undermines our decision-making abilities. So stop kidding yourself you can cook dinner, supervise child’s homework, and talk to Mom on the phone. You can’t. And it’s very freeing to accept this and put full attention on each task and enjoy it.
  7. Learn to say no. Seriously, saying no is more possible than we think. I’ve come to think that many of us area driven by the belief that ‘nice people don’t say no.’ It’s one of those beliefs under the surface that when we shine a light on it seems rather ridiculous. Intellectually we can grasp that nice people say no but we are programmed not to. Saying no has fewer consequences than you think and people care less than you think
  8. The best things in life are free. We suffer from a first world malady of thinking we have to spend money to be on the go. We revel in action and fill our spare time with movies, theatre, opera, holidays, and pop up restaurants. It’s not my intention to demonise these activities but to highlight that we prefer to be ‘doing’ stuff than just ‘being’. As busy professionals, we yearn for quiet or down time yet choose to fill our own time with business of doing. It’s in the quiet moments that we find the peace we are seeking. And these quiet moments are free. Depending on you, it could be a walk on the beach, watching the sunset, listening to your favorite record, spending quiet time with people we care about.

We are at choice in how we run our lives. We choose to not listen for the signal in the noise. It’s a painful realization but we are always at choice. You can choose to simplify your life in ways that serve you.

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