By Roy Huff
How many times has life overwhelmed you? It’s okay. It happens to everyone. The world moves at breathtaking speed. You have a hundred times the choices and ten times the work. Blink your eyes, and everything has changed. Where do you start, and when will it end?
Take a breath. Relax. You have permission. You don’t have to drop out or quit to simplify. More importantly, you don’t have to sacrifice your sanity and life’s simple pleasures to get what you want. All you need are these 31 magic tricks.
1. Choose to be happy.
At a young age we’re taught there are winners and losers. Life becomes a game to earn the most points, often measured in dollars and trinkets. Along the way, we lose our soul. I’m not saying don’t set goals, just the opposite. It’s the why that’s important. Goals should be born from your passions and the desire to grow and learn, not to achieve trophies for self-validation.
This requires a decision to be happy, to live in the now. In other words, be grateful for what you have. Appreciate what’s in front of you. When you can do that, it will be easier to achieve the impossible. If you’re stuck on the how, read The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky.
2. Change your mindset.
Mindset expert Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explains that people have either a fixed or a growth mindset. Those with fixed mindsets need constant validation. They see success, talent, and fate as predetermined by genetics or your last name.
Those with growth mindsets see challenges in the world as opportunities to learn and grow. They understand no one is perfect, and that the process and failures along the way creates growth, fulfillment, and achievement. If you want to simplify, embrace the growth mindset and release the baggage of everything else.
3. Imagine it’s the last day on Earth.
Imagine the world is about to end. What would you do, and who would you do it with? Would you quit your job, kiss the girl (or boy), or spend the rest of the day with your family? Or, would your reflection on the time you’ve squandered paralyze you?
Life is too short to waste being miserable. Decide what’s important, and let go of the rest.
Choose to be a victim or forge your own destiny. People may inflict harm but forgive them anyway. While you’re at it, forgive yourself. Don’t let the baggage of what other people have done keep you down. You can’t change events, but you can change your reaction to those events. It’s the sum of your reactions that determines the course of your life.
5. Think about what you would do if you lost everything.
Imagine you are in a building, a tower right after a plane hits. The lights go out. The room turns black. Soot fills your lungs. You’re halfway down the stairs when the stairwell buckles from the collapse of the tower next door. You survive, but just barely. You escape with your life and nothing else. Your job is gone, and so are your friends and coworkers.
That’s the story of what happened to thousands of people after 9/11, and the lessons you can learn from them are many. The simple truth is that life is what matters. No one can take away what’s in your mind, the experiences you’ve had, or the wisdom you’ve gained. Everything else is just window dressing.
6. Reflect on those who have nothing.
Millions of people lack the basics most of us take for granted, things like running water and a bed. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re not one of those people, so what right do you have to complain?
If you want to simplify your life, strip down what’s dragging you down. Don’t worry about what you don’t have. Quit keeping up appearances and complicating your life with unnecessary stuff and the stress that goes with it. Let it go. Focus on what you really want, not what other people expect you to have.
7. Rediscover your childhood dreams.
As a teacher, I hate when other parents, coaches, and teachers tell students to be realistic. Will Smith said, “Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.” Yet, many of us believe the sick twisted lie that we should be realistic. We’re told to set “achievable” goals so we don’t set ourselves up for failure. The irony is that it’s the failures that teach what is required to live a fulfilled life.
Jeff Olson in The Slight Edge explained how he read an article which stated only ten people cry at the average funeral and only one-third of the people who are supposed to go actually show up. The question this raised for him was: Why waste your time worrying about what the rest of the world thinks when they don’t even bother to show up at your funeral?
It’s true you won’t always achieve your ultimate dreams, but it’s not about the dream. It’s about the ride. The one thing that is true, is that you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t try. Don’t listen to those who’ve given up or allowed fear to paralyze them. Don’t waste your time cluttering up your life with other people’s expectations. Discover your passion, stay the course, and I promise you won’t live a life of regret.
8. Discover who adds value to your life.
Your parents were right. Don’t hang around bad people. By bad people, I’m referring to those who don’t add value to your life and who are a net negative.
It’s been said you become like the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you spend time with people who tear you down, you’ll be torn down. Choose wisely and let go of the dead weight.
9. Change your inputs.
Stress, misery, confusion, indecision, and frustration are perceptions reinforced by thoughts. Strong evidence supports the belief those perceptions are reversible if you change the words you tell yourself. Many of us don’t realize it, but we frequently tell ourselves self-defeating things that reinforce negative beliefs. If you want to change those beliefs, elevate your self-talk.
Don’t stop at self-talk, change your other inputs. Listen to or read constructive books, audiobooks or podcasts. Take half an hour a day on your commute or from your entertainment time to listen to something constructive. Remove the clutter of your mind and replace it with clarity and direction.
10. Reflect daily.
Take stock of your day and reflect on your accomplishments. Write them down. Write down what went wrong, when time was wasted, and which irrelevant tasks kept you busy instead of effective.
You don’t have to spend hours at the gym to benefit from the mental clarity and rush of endorphins that comes from physical exertion. Spend five to fifteen minutes a day in your home or outside to boost your energy level, improve your overall health, and allow your mind the chance to decompress. Spend more if you like, but start somewhere.
We have more free time than ever, so why do we feel like life is moving at ever increasing speeds? The answer is information is exploding, and so are devices used to access it. Each notification breaks our focus. We lose time in the shuffle, and our day flutters away.
It’s easy to chase the white rabbit of information down the internet hole. Limit the time you spend on your devices, and take the time to completely unplug and free your mind. Allow yourself time to think. You’ll be surprised at your amazing insights.
Many highly successful entrepreneurs meditate. They do it for one simple reason: It keeps them focused amongst the chaos. I encourage you to try mindfulness meditation. Scientific evidence points to many benefits including improved memory, focus, and reduced stress.
14. Take a nap.
Fifteen to twenty-five minutes a day may be all you need get back on your A-game and regroup midway. I stack my habits of meditation and napping each day once I get home from work. You may do it at lunch. Napping will increase your energy and focus. In the process, you will feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
15. Get enough sleep.
Don’t try to be superman. You can achieve your goals and still get the required seven to eight hours of sleep needed to function at peak performance. If you get enough sleep, you’re more effective with your time, and your body will thank you. If you don’t have enough time, it means you need to let go of what’s keeping you busy instead of effective. There will always be more stuff you can do. Force yourself to stop. Create a daily deadline, and stick to it.
16. Take a few weeks off.
Great epiphanies in life will often come when you’ve removed yourself from the day-to-day clutter and routine. It’s also a great way to enjoy life and recuperate from life’s demands. A few innovative companies are catching on and reaping the rewards. Take advantage of the time you have, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
17. Make a bucket list.
Create a long list of things you want to do, regardless of how absurd they sound. Shape your list around things you want to do, not accomplishments you hope will impress others. When the opportunity presents itself, do those things. It’s your life. Step out of your comfort zone. Take a risk, and simplify your life by doing what excites you.
18. Pretend to go on vacation.
You don’t actually have to take a vacation to benefit from one. Just think about what you would do if and when you have the time. If the things you would do can be done where you live, start doing them. Save time normally wasted on meaningless tasks and use it to do what’s important.
19. Pretend that you have only five minutes to prepare.
If you truly want to declutter, imagine you only have five minutes to pack. Now imagine the vacation is permanent. You’ll quickly realize most of the stuff in your life you don’t need. If you want more suggestions, Tim Ferriss has some great tips in The Four-Hour Workweek.
20. Simplify your calendar.
If your to-do list never ends and keeps getting longer, it’s time to put your items on a calendar. Scheduling may seem like the opposite of simplifying, but when done properly, it actually makes you feel less overwhelmed and increases your effectiveness.
Evidence shows only eleven percent of people complete their to-do list. When you put your items on a calendar, you commit to completing it, but you also have a clearer perspective of the time available and enhanced judgment about what can be completed in a given day.
21. Schedule buffers.
Create buffers during your day to regroup and decompress. Schedule them on a calendar, and be religious about avoiding appointments and other work during that time. It will improve your focus.
I’ve read the reports that creative minds are more cluttered. That may be true, but if you organize your home and your life, it’s easier to see what you need, what you want, and what is simply trash. A cluttered home is a cluttered mind.
23. Simplify your life.
One powerful way to simplify your life is to systemize it with a master document. I prefer Google Drive because I can access it wherever I go. The document contains clickable links to other Google Docs that focus on specific areas of my life.
In business, systemization is necessary to scale up effectively. In life, it’s easy to forget what you’ve learned and what works if you don’t write it down. A master document can also include your action plan, goals, and habits. It’s a shockingly powerful way to simplify your life and accomplish more with minimal effort.
24. Be flexible.
A master document may sound rigid, but it’s actually easy to change. In life, if you’re stubborn, you create unnecessary headaches for yourself. Be willing to go with the flow when things take an unexpected direction, and listen to different opinions. You don’t always have to agree, but if you refuse to move, it will only be a matter of time before your life’s branches break.
25. Simplify your errands.
Group similar tasks. Don’t waste time switching back and forth between things. Quit checking your email every time you get a notification. Doing so reduces productivity and increases stress. Shut off your notifications. Instead, do those tasks all at once. Apply the same principle to other actions. When you do, you’ll feel less busy and have more time to do other things.
26. Supercharge your focus.
Quite wasting time on the eighty percent of things that have minimal impact on moving you forward. Use the Pareto Principle and focus on the twenty percent that matters. This requires that you first take inventory of your time.
27. Give yourself the slight edge.
Think like the tortoise instead of the hare. If you produce small but consistent action towards your goals, you’ll progress more than the person who gets excited, overworks and burns out. It’s the slight edge over time that makes all the difference.
28. Use the Pomodoro Technique.
Drop the multitasking and focus on what needs to be done using the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for a desired length of time, and shut out all other distractions while you work on the task. Reward yourself when complete. You’ll be more productive, and you’ll start looking forward to completing the tasks on your calendar.
29. Say No.
Don’t spend time doing things you don’t want to do. Learn the art of saying no and allow yourself the opportunity to say yes to the things that truly matter.
30. Simplify your priorities.
Your daily calendar shouldn’t be littered with too many things. Pick the three things that will help you be most effective at your current life priorities and do them as early as possible or at times that work best for you.
31. Simplify your goals.
Goals are great, but supercharge your life-plan with a singular focus. Take the advice of entrepreneur expert, John Lee Dumas, and elevate one goal to the top of your list with a completion deadline. Break that goal into smaller milestones and achieve them with the magic of your daily three priorities. When you focus on one goal at a time, it will be easier to accomplish more without feeling overwhelmed.
Now that you know the 31 secrets, apply that knowledge. You have the tools needed to break the cycle of stress and distraction, but you won’t realize the benefits if you don’t take action, so do something about it, and do it now.