- Eliminate clutter, increase productivity, and be a happier person.
- Flickr/Gabriela Pinto
Last year, Business Insider published a list of easy ways to simplify your life, featuring comments posted on the Quora thread, “How can I make my life simpler?“
Since then, the thread has ballooned to nearly 700 answers, with users from all over the world weighing in on how to eliminate physical and mental clutter, increase productivity, and ultimately be a happier person.
We picked out 13 recent responses that offer creative strategies for streamlining. Read on to find out what you can do to make your daily life a little bit easier.
- Jacquelyn Smith/Business Insider
1. Make time for “meta-work.”
Advance planning is key to simplicity because it helps prevent the panicky feeling that you’re not focusing on what’s most important.
“Organizing your to-do list or clearing out your desk don’t seem like productive things to do,” writes Haider Al-Mosawi. “I call them ‘meta-work.’ They don’t substitute for actual work (you want to do the tasks on your to-do list), but they do help cultivate mental clarity and allow you to become more productive when you are working.”
2. Learn to prioritize.
Now that you’ve crafted that to-do list, it’s time to pare it down, says Nistha Tripathi, by eliminating any nonessential tasks.
Tripathi quotes Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“: “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”
- Flickr/Garry Knight
3. Abandon the idea of a “bucket list.”
Don’t see your life as a race to accomplish goals that other people have set for you.
Writes Jim Stone: “If you read an article titled ‘100 movies you must see before you die,’ don’t buy into it. If you do, you’ll either wind up watching 70 boring movies to get to 30 good ones, or you’ll feel guilty about not finishing the list. Either way, it adds to your mental burden.”
4. Be early for appointments.
“This will help you to make your time of travel a time of rest and relaxation instead of stressful,” says Olivia Skumps.
And simplifying your life is all about eliminating unnecessary stress.
If you’re having a hard time being punctual, let alone early, you can try some simple but effective tricks like overestimating how long it will take to get ready and planning for worst-case scenarios.
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5. Use the 10-year test.
The fact that you turned in your project proposal 30 seconds late might seem devastating right when it happens. But a decade later, you’re unlikely to even remember it.
Here’s Nelson Wang’s tip: “Ask yourself, will this matter in one year, five years, or 10 years? If it won’t, you need to stop stressing out about it. Move forward.”
6. Don’t leave unfinished business.
“When I look around my house,” says Tanya Zyabkina, “most of the ‘junk’ is simply a material representation of a decision that has not been made or a project that has not been finished. That parcel box on the floor? Still thinking whether to return it. Stack of pictures on the desk? Need to finally frame them.
“Make that decision now. Take the action right away. Don’t let unfinished business accumulate.”
Zyabkina’s suggestion sounds similar to David Allen’s “two-minute rule“: If you get an email that can be dealt with in two minutes or less, deal with it now instead of letting it linger in your inbox.
The basic idea behind both strategies is to make decisions whenever possible instead of putting them off.
- Wikimedia Commons
7. Automate most of your day.
“If you want to make your life more simple,” writes Mike LaVere, “automate as much of your day and routine as possible. “
LaVere cites a phenomenon known as decision fatigue, explaining that willpower is a finite resource and the more you use it, the less you have left.
That’s why you should eliminate as many choices as you can, from what you eat for breakfast to what you wear to work.
In fact, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg say they wear the same outfit every day because they have to focus their energy on making other, more important decisions.
- marc falardeau/Flickr
8. Learn to say “no.”
“If you don’t want to do something, just say no,” writes Amrisha Vohra. “You don’t need to keep everyone happy.”
We know: It’s not that easy. Remember that you can still be polite by saying something like,”I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can.”
You can also turn the question around to the person asking. For example, if your supervisor asks you to take on more than you can manage, you can respond, “I’m happy to do X, Y, and Z; however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?”
- Scott Olson/Getty Images
9. Focus on what you can control.
So you’re running late for work because of a traffic jam ahead. Getting angry is natural – but not especially productive. You’d be better off taking a breath and using that time to mentally prep for a meeting later that day.
Writes Gary Wu:
“Your days are filled with random events that are out of your control. Getting emotionally and mentally worked up over them is a waste of energy. … You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you react. That itself can often be the deciding factor between outcomes.”
- Flickr/daniel sandoval
10. Craft a personal mission statement.
Rohan Sinha recommends having a “vision” for your life that you update regularly.
Think of it as an abbreviated version of the personal statement you’d submit to a grad program: What do you hope to accomplish and why is it important?
In fact, The New York Times reports, a mission statement can be a better predictor of change than a New Year’s resolution. That’s because, with a mission statement, you identify the motivation behind the changes you’re hoping to make.
- Flickr/João Lavinha
11. Spend time alone.
“Start spending time with yourself,” says Abhinav Shahi. “This is the most important thing, as you and only you know what is best for you and what do you want in your life.”
Make sure you leave your phone behind so that you truly experience solitude and engage in deep introspection.
12. Do one thing you love for five minutes every day.
“When you are happy you will bother less about the complexities,” writes Mohd Arshad.
This idea is backed by scientific research, which suggests that trying deliberately to feel happy backfires – but that organizing your day to include activities you like improves well-being.
- Flickr/Mike Tungate
13. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness “teaches you to live in the present, to do whatever you are doing with utmost passion and devotion,” says Rhishita Jha.
The main idea is to unclutter your mind by zeroing in on what you’re thinking, feeling, and doing right now, as opposed to the anxieties of yesterday or tomorrow.
You can start a mindfulness practice simply by paying close attention to your breathing and noticing what you’re sensing in any given moment.