33 Ways To Simplify Your Life (And Be Happier For It)
Illustrations by Mr Harry Haysom
Research shows that the average person makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. While many are complete no-brainers, “decision fatigue” is a recognised form of stress. By rationalising your daily routine you can streamline the process and make better choices that will ultimately leave you feeling happier and with more time to do the things that really matter. Read our list below and consider adopting some new practices for better mental (and physical) health.
Create a morning ritual
“Create a ritual that gets your morning off to a more positive start,” suggests Mr Mark Whittle, a performance coach and host of the Take Flight Podcast. “The night before, lay out your clothes, pack your bag. Set your alarm an hour earlier than you need and start your day with purpose. Go for a run, visualise your goals. You’ll jumpstart your day with clarity and energy.”
Do lunch before bed
“Cook up a big meal on a Sunday and keep some in the refrigerator for re-heating during the working week,” suggests Mr Joe Warner, personal trainer and creator of the NewBodyPlan. “Hot-pots, casseroles, stews and chilli dishes made in large measures, ‘decanted’ and re-heated in moments will taste great and provide a healthy pre-prepped meal that’ll deter you from snacking or eating fast food on the hoof.”
Three a day
“Each morning, decide on three top priorities for the day and give 100 per cent of yourself to these,” adds Whittle. “You’ll be a lot more productive and time-efficient when you have a clear structure to your day.”
“You can practise tiny moments of mindful awareness doing anything, even washing your hands, by just being aware of the movement of your hands,” says Mr Gelong Thubten, author of the best-selling Monk’s Guide To Happiness. “Mindfulness is about bringing your mind to where your body is.”
Have a daily uniform
Some of the most successful men on Earth – from Mr Mark Zuckerberg to Mr Steve Jobs via Mr Karl Lagerfeld and President Barack Obama – have employed this tactic to maximise mental energy and dodge decision fatigue. “Simplifying your workday attire makes mornings easier and saves brain power for the bigger decisions you need to make,” suggests personal growth guru Mr Kev Scheepers.
Get the droids you’re looking for
While it is healthy to be suspicious of some intrusive or anxiety-inducing technology, we should embrace things that can simplify our life. Think: robotic vacuum cleaners, smart thermostats with voice control and a front-door camera for your post.
Make the first move
“Do some type of movement first thing in the morning. Even if it’s five minutes of light mobility work, a 10-minute walk or a gym workout,” insists Dr Marc Bubbs author of Peak 40: The New Science Of Mid-Life Health For A Leaner, Stronger Body And A Sharper Mind. “Building a routine of ‘moving’ first thing in the morning – before the madness of the day sets in – sets you up for success in the long-term.”
Manage your email
“The longer one spends on email in [a given] hour the higher is one’s stress for that hour,” the authors of a University of California study noted when they hooked-up 40 office workers to heart-rate monitors. Limit your communications checks to certain times of the day, for a set amount of time. Try using an auto-responder along the lines of “I am currently checking emails twice a day”.
Tidy your workspace
Research published in the Journal Of Neuroscience shows that clutter and mess induce mental stress, affecting our ability to focus and sending signals to the brain that work is never done.
Do the tough stuff first
Research shows that people who execute their most difficult tasks first are generally more productive. “Work on your most important task at the start of the day,” says Mark Whittle. “Give yourself a short break, and then start on your next most important task. Get two or three of these done in the morning and the rest of the day will be a breeze.”
Men especially benefit from strong, solid friendships that can be true life-savers researchers from the psychology department at Brigham Young University in Utah found. Simplify the demands on your social life by prioritising the quality friendships you value most.
Do one exercise
“The simplest, biggest bang-for-your-buck single exercise is classic burpee,” says Joe Warner. (But with a bit of twist: adding in a press-up element for more upper-body benefit.) “It works your heart and lungs hard for greater fitness and cardiovascular health, and becomes as close to a complete-body move as one single exercise can be.” Beginners should do five sets of three to five press-up-and-burpee leaps with 60 seconds rest between sets.
Psychology Today has previously reported a 40 per cent drop in productivity when we attempt to multitask, while research conducted at the University of Michigan shows that the human brain simply isn’t set up for it.
Make a date with yourself
Treat your “me time” with the same priority you’re giving to work, or more. Block book your gym sessions or time with friends. “Use tools like planners and apps like Thrive (NHS-backed mental health app) to ensure you schedule in wellbeing time,” suggests Ms Johanna Scheutzow, business psychologist at Thrive Therapeutic Software.
Be true to yourself
“Ask yourself – what do you find really meaningful or enjoyable?” suggests Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide To Resilience. “Perhaps there’s a hobby you haven’t engaged in for a while, or maybe it’s about being part of a team challenge that gets you enthused. First of all, revisit it, and then see if you can introduce it into your working life for greater pleasure.”
Stretch for happiness
Watch your posture – slumping constricts breathing and drains energy. “Have a stretch, and make the most of the neuroplasticity of your brain too with a bit of gratitude,” suggests Dr Tang. “Stretch your arms and think of one thing you are grateful to have, or stretch your legs and think of one person you are grateful to know. This gratitude practice is related to activity in areas of the brain that dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) stimulates.”
Put off procrastinating
Sometimes the things we put off can easily be done in two minutes. Follow the “two-minute rule” – if a task comes up and can be done in two minutes, then just do it.
Picture it, then pass it on
Weed out old CDs, DVDs, memorabilia and take a photo before donating it all to a charity. A 2017 study published in The Journal Of Marketing revealed how people were more willing to part with redundant possessions if they’re able to keep its memory by photographing it.
Workout through lunch
Don’t bank on a post-work trip to the gym that you’ll easily defer if you feel tired. Simply use your lunch hour for exercising. “Combine a walk around the block with a few ‘sets’ of 10-20 stairs to build more muscular strength,” says Dr Bubbs. “If you walk past a park bench, then perform push-ups on the back of the bench to build some upper-body strength.”
E for easy reads
Make space and still get pleasure from books by converting classics to digital downloads. It’s easier to read five ebooks on a beach, train or plane than to packing five hardbacks in a case.
“Meditation stops stressful thoughts and emotions controlling us,” says Gelong Thubten. “There’s a misunderstanding that you’re supposed to clear your mind of everything to meditate. The more you try and push thoughts away the louder they shout back. You simply focus your mind on your breathing or on physical sensations for a short period.”
Damp down debt
“Conduct a financial awareness audit,” says Dr Tang. “Do you know how much you are spending? If so, you can make changes, or be pleased that when you treat yourself, there was a fund to do so. For a professional who manages a budget this is also a positive work habit.” If the audit result isn’t so great, tackle any high-interest debts (credit cards) first, then loans, etc, by paying off more than the monthly minimum.
Learn to say no
“If you are saying ‘yes’ to everything, you risk spreading yourself too thinly and not only does the quality of your work suffer, but you may even begin to resent the people you originally truly wanted to help,” explains Dr Tang. Own your choices and get into the habit of saying “no”, if that’s how you feel.
Take four steps away from stress
Employ this four-step TIPP technique from dialectic behaviour therapy when stressed. Change Temperature – stress often makes us feel uncomfortably hot, try opening a window. Change Intensity – focus on counting the seconds on a clock to get yourself out of your head for a moment. This will slow your breathing, too. Paired muscle relaxation; tensing and relaxing pairs of muscles is a simple calming ritual. Paced breathing; breath in for four, hold for two and out for six, for three or four cycles.
Commute a different way
People with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life. That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by Canada’s University of Waterloo. Research published the Journal Of Transport Geography, however, found that when people view commuting time as a “break” – engaging in pleasurable activities, such as listening to music or podcasts – it helps combat the negative effects.
Communicate a traditional way
Face-to-face engagement isn’t just more productive than an email chain research shows, but meeting or delivering news in person will also give you more peace of mind than an inbox waiting to be emptied.
Put the phone down
We spend an average of 148 minutes on our smartphones each day. “That’s an example of how our minds are incredibly busy and it's made us feel overloaded,” says Thubten. Designate no-phone times when you’re at meals with friends or family, or when you're watching a movie with your significant other.
“Spring clean your social media so that only the accounts that contribute positively to your life remain,” says Dr Tang. Research from the University of Pennsylvania highlights how the hostility which stems from social media has an adverse effect on heart health and wellbeing.
List before bed time
Of course, there are far more therapeutic things to be doing in bed at night, but, research published in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology does show that people who took a moment between the sheets to write to-do lists, fell asleep faster and experienced a sounder, deeper sleep than those who left that task undone.
Tick the “paperless” billing box every time you’re asked. It’s one less piece of junk filling your home and it’s better for environment. And while you’re at it, unsubscribe from unnecessary emails. A survey of 1,000 employees reported in Personnel Today found that emails are now a main cause of stress for office workers.
Work from a green home
“Plants at home can increase your energy and help you feel more relaxed and productive,” says Scheutzow. “If you’re working from home more these days, consider growing houseplants, bringing nature inside to achieve indoor-outdoor living.”
Make self-care a non-negotiable
Jot down a gratitude list of the things you do that improve your mood: meeting friends, cycling, yoga. “Make these become habit,” says Dr Bubb. “It’s much easier to cement new habits when they’re oriented toward your values and what's important to you as a person.” For example, it's not just about losing weight, but being more energetic and optimistic when with your kids and family, etc.
“The benefits of outsourcing your most disliked activities (cleaning, DIY, etc) far outweigh the cost of hiring someone to do them,” insists Dr Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School and author of Time Smart. Whenever possible outsource the tasks that take up an undue amount of time.