I speak English, sarcasm, and stress. In fact, I think I seek stress out. It seems like every time someone tries to make my life easier, I end up thinking, “Naw, I’ll do it this way.” making my life much much more difficult. Then, I sit there and boo-hoo because I am so stressed out. But, let’s get real for a second. Western culture celebrates stress. We encourage business and evaluate others by how busy they are. We equate the so called busyness with productivity. This post is not a discussion of the state of the the world, and it is not an expression of why we keep ourselves so busy that we end up with no choice but to order pizza for dinner 4 times a week. (Who me?) But, maybe you are stressed. And maybe you are sick of it. So, this post is here to give you a way out. A way to simplify your life so that you can focus on only the things you truly enjoy or desire. A way to effectively save your sanity.
Notice, the post title does not mention “easy.” Guys, this is going to take some major soul searching. Some of you may be very aware of what is most important to you in life. Others, like me, may really need to take some time to actually prioritize the claims on your time and energy. We are not talking about a dream board or a list of likes and wants. Bare bones. Break it down. Figure out exactly what you value in life and cut out anything that is not feeding into that.
So brew yourself a cuppa something hot, grab a device or go old school with a pen and paper, put on some inspiring tunes, and let’s get started.
Just a quick note, simplifying your priorities and simplifying your family’s priorities are very different things. If your whole family is feeling harried, taking care of you is the first step. However, to build a more simple life for your family, all of these steps should be done as a family.
What things are most important to me?
Do you have that device or pen and paper handy? It is time to start one of my favorite things. A list. Ask yourself “What is most important to me?” Write down all the things that are most important to you. We are looking for long or short term goals. Add anything you already commit time to that is important to you. List anything you would like to do, but have not found the time for. Your list could be short –three-five things, or very long–twenty+ things. Either way, lay it all out.
Do you volunteer on a monthly basis? Is that very important to you? Write it down. Do you have a long term goal to pay off all your loans? Write it down. Are you wanting to get a different degree? Write it down. Would you love to travel more? Write it down. Exercise, healthier eating, spending more time with friends, reading more, taking your children on outings, catching a favorite show every week, getting a new job? Anything that is important to you goes on the list.
What can I not live without?
I really like to think of my goals and aspirations in two different ways so I make sure not to miss anything that is truly important to me. So, once you have a list of what is important to you, ask yourself a different question. “What can I not live without?” Get a highlighter and start highlighting the things on the list you absolutely cannot live without. Maybe it’s family time or exercising. It could be a dream or any other activity that you have a passion for. If you think of something not already on the list, write it down. Take a minute to really think here. For this step, you have to really think about the things that are most important which helps me when you start to prioritize your time. (more about that in a minute) It also helps you to identify what you do with your time that is not as important or can be shifted to the back burner for now.
When you get serious about simplifying your life, you are making an active choice to do less. Of course, you still have commitments that cannot be changed, such as work. That being said, some of the other things you commit to can be cut out of your schedule to give you more time for the things you truly enjoy.
Break it down.
How busy do you want to be? For Hubs and I, things have gotten a little out of hand, and we know some things will need to go. This is the reason we identify what we cannot live without. We know we are going to have to remove some commitments from our schedule. We might have to take a break from things we do really enjoy, but we have limits. And we have goals. And we are a little tired of being stressed and busy all of the time. I know I will still be a busy bee when all is said and done, but I can reduce how much I do by prioritizing my list.
Making a decision of how long you want to work each day is vital to knowing how much you can take on. Think about your current schedule and break it down. What would you like it to look like? How long do you want to spend working each day? What do you want your evenings and days off to look like? Are you wanting to spend more time relaxing with a good book? Do you want to go hang out with friends more often? Do you want to take your family camping every weekend the weather is warm? Basically, what is the ideal life you would like to live? Think it through as we move on to the next step so that you can make the decisions that will help you get there.
One, two, three
It is inevitable. You have to commit time to things like work, school, preparing healthy meals for your family, PTA, cleaning, chores, and exercising. Before we finalize our priorities, we need to write down the necessary commitments that may not have made it onto our dream list. Start writing down everything you are currently committing time to. Yes, add the time you spend watching your favorite youtube channel or cleaning the dishes after a meal. Be honest. I always surprise myself by what things I have committed time to without consciously realizing it. Pinterest, anyone? If you are going to live a more simple life, you will need to make conscious decisions about what is valuable to your time. So, really, list every. Little. Thing.
- Create a master list of the things you cannot live without.
You listed things you absolutely could not live without earlier. That list is very important right now because you do not want to crowd your schedule with commitments and forget to make time for the things you really love. We are ultimately working on adding value and joy to your life, so don’t skip adding those things that you find value into your schedule. Make sure to add them to your list of commitments. I call this, the master list. It will include every little thing that you are doing or want to do. It might be overwhelming, but stick with me. We are going to sort it down to just the main priorities to try and give you some time to yourself.
- Prioritizing your master list.
- Write a 1 by the things that are most important to you.
This can change over time. What is most important to Hubs and I right now will change in the summer; then it will change again in August. We base what is important off what we need to accomplish in each season. Right now, a number one priority for us is camping. I know it seems silly, but I am planning on beginning my master’s coursework in the fall, and we want to get in as much camping time as we can before my weekends are eaten up by homework. I am teaching right now, so a big priority is balancing the housework between us. We are also working on building a house and until that is done, it will stay a number one priority. However, by summer, things will change a little as the weather gets too hot to comfortably camp and our house is (fingers crossed) finished.
The tasks you prioritize as a 1 are the ones you want to spend the most time on right now. In the future, other tasks and commitments will move their way up. But today, what is most important to you? What will add the most value to your life?
- Write a 2 by things are important but have a little more give than 1’s
I’ll be honest. A lot of my commitments end up in the number two priority slot. I assign so much value to my goals, I just cannot let them go. Number two priorities are the ones that are up and coming. If you have time for them right now, excellent. Otherwise, as your number one priorities begin to shift or the goal is met, you can move a number two priority up. These priorities are the ones you can let go if you need to. If you have time for a “two” commitment, great. If not, you need to be ok with letting it go for a few days until you have time again.
- Write a 3 by things that are the least important to you.
If something is just not that important to you, it can be a number three priority. These are the things that would be nice, but just don’t have a place in your life right now. Do you really need to check Facebook every day? Is saving for a new car a top priority or can it be moved down a little to make room for better things? Can you condense your grocery list so you don’t end up at the store 5 times a week? Did you really not want to be on that committee at your child’s school? Get these things off your list! And do not feel bad about it. Making conscious decisions about what you are going to spend your time on is not selfish. You cannot add value to others’ lives as well if you are always stretched so thinly and so stressed that you are not enjoying life yourself. Do less and do it better than you could if you were overwhelmed.
Prioritizing time can help you meet goals effectively.
By prioritizing a list like this, we can focus on and complete tasks and reach goals in shorter periods of time. Doing less means we are able to heighten productivity since we are no longer distracted by things that are not as important right now. The hardest part is that you have to drop some things off your plate. But, as you move things to the bottom of your priorities, you open up the chance to finish long-term tasks such as starting a business, getting a degree, or paying off loans.
I know in our life, one of the things falling under our number uno priorities is paying off our debt. We realize this is not going to be a quick fix. It is going to take a lot of hard work and some sacrifices on our part. But, that is why it is in a number one priority. But, once we pay off our loans, we will not have to do it again (you know, as long as we make smart credit decisions-but that is a whole different post). Then, we can move on to focusing on another big, long-term goal-owning property in the mountains. But, if we try to save for the property and pay off our loans, we are splitting our resources. It is more effective to prioritize, complete the goal, and then move on to a new one.
To summarize prioritizing=effectiveness. Try not to spread your focus too thin. Instead break down your goals and priorities so that you can reach goals more quickly, feel less stressed, and ultimately get more out of life.
What can you easily fit in your schedule and still live the life you want?
Remember when we asked ourselves how busy we wanted to be? Now that you have thought through what you want your schedule to look like, limit your activities to only those that can easily fit in your schedule. Start challenging yourself to focus on tasks and finish them more quickly. Give yourself time limits on how long you will work on X project. As you start to add commitments to your schedule, make sure you are choosing the most important ones first. Then, you can fill in extra time with other priorities and commitments. You want to fit these tasks easily into your schedule. If you are classically optimistic about how long things take, get a little more realistic or set better time limits on how long you can spend on any one task.
Do not, I repeat, do not overcrowd your schedule. If you want more time to spend with your family in the evenings, do not schedule extra tasks or commitments in the evenings. Or set aside a family night where you cook dinner and do a fun activity together and keep it open. You are busy at that time. Busy with your family. Do not plan something that will jeopardize that. Your time will always be in high demand. But it is too valuable for you to just let it go anywhere. Take control of your time and make sure you are the one deciding what you will do with each day.
Remember, this is the life you want. Not the life Jane Doe over there wants. Maybe she wants each of her children in 3 competitive sports so she is willing to be running around until 9:30 every evening. Maybe she wants a perfectly clean house all of the time. Maybe she wants to look glamorous every single day when she leaves the house. If those are not your priorities, do not feel that she is doing something better than you. It is ok for your life to look different than your friends’ lives. Commit to what is important to you and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Celebrate your friends’ commitments, but don’t compare yours with theirs.
Reduce stress. Do less.
Stress is detrimental to our lives. But don’t just take my word for it. According to an article written by Habib Yaribeygi, Yunes Panahi, Hedayat Sahraei, Thomas P. Johnston, and Amirhossein Sahebkar for the EXCLI journal (stick with me), stress can affect the brain so much that the brain will atrophy. In turn, negatively affecting memory and cognitive function. The same article also discusses how stress negatively affects the immune, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems. (The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI Journal) In other words, stress = bad things for the body. Cutting out activities can be difficult. You will have to make hard decisions, but living in a more focused way will help you not only feel less stressed, but it will also help you be a more productive and healthier human. By focusing on things that are most important to you in whatever season you are in, you will have a chance to meet the goals you need to meet right now. That accomplishment alone will help you feel less stress because you will be able to track your progress.
Taking the time to prioritize your activities and demands on your time also helps you live a life that is focused around your passions. It releases you from the major claims on your time that are actually unimportant or overwhelming. The best part is, you have time for those number one priorities, the things you cannot live without. You can live your life around your passions and the things that build value in your life and the lives of others.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go practice what I preach and finish my own lists. Hubs and I are ready to make some hard decisions to help us meet some of our future goals. I hope you find this helpful as you work to simplify your life, have more time, and more joy.
If you are looking for more tips like this, check out Benefits of living simply at www.ManagingMeghan.com
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Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The impact of stress on body function: A review.” EXCLI Journal, 21 July 2017, doi:10.17179/excli2017-480. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/