Last month I shared my thoughts about the increasingly complex lives we lead and some practical ways to simplify daily life. In an earlier article on the same topic, I had included ten tips, but in the spirit of keeping things simple, splitting that article into two parts felt like a more helpful approach.
If, like most people I’ve spoken to in recent weeks, the end of the year has felt particularly stressful, I invite you to take three deep inhales and exhales, make yourself a cup of tea and spend a few minutes in complete stillness before returning to reading.
A simple pause like this can be enough to remind us that life sometimes feels more complex than it needs to be and one of the easiest ways to find calm is to make a regular habit of stopping.
Included below are five additional ways to uncomplicate a busy life. Several of the tips involve carving out time for yourself, which may feel impossible if your life is already very full. My invitation is to keep the steps small – even taking five minutes in the morning or spending one evening each week without television can make a world of difference.
1. Review your relationships
Given our energy is limited, it’s important to ensure we’re spending time with people who make us feel good about ourselves and who enrich our lives in some way. The dynamic in a relationship should be symbiotic and based on mutual respect. If you find yourself second guessing whether a friendship is one you want to continue, a simple rule of thumb when evaluating is to ask yourself ‘do I feel more than or less than?’ after catching up.
Give yourself permission to spend less time with people who deplete you or whose values you no longer share.
2. Create a simple morning routine
The things that we do upon waking can set the tone for the entire day. Free up a small amount of morning time to create a positive start to your day. Upon waking, spend a few minutes deep breathing; reflect on the things you’re grateful for; meditate; journal; sit down to eat breakfast; drink your tea mindfully; take a brisk walk around the block or do some stretches or a short yoga practice.
After you’ve completed your morning routine, consider how you’ll be spending your day and think about what you’d like to bring to each of your tasks and interactions.
3. Get to know your workflow
Understanding which part of the day works best for each of your key tasks is the first step in streamlining your workflow.
If you’re unsure about your natural workflow rhythms, keep a week-long diary and note the times of day when your mind is most creative, social, analytical, active or tired, and plan your agenda accordingly.
4. Set aside time to be creative
Creative activities bring us fully into the moment, helping us to feel focused, centred and calm (as long as we don’t have huge expectations of ourselves). Creative expression is also a great way to cultivate self-awareness and connect us with our emotions.
Make time to pursue a creative activity of your choice and see if you notice a difference in how you feel. Approach the activity with lightheartedness and the intention to enjoy the process rather than being attached to the outcome.
Try playing with clay, sketching, dancing, watercolour painting, cooking a new recipe, arranging flowers, collage, planting a pot of herbs or designing a photo book.
5. Make space for you
Try not to fill every hour of every day with busy activities. When our schedule is constantly full, this can easily lead to burnout. Make space for being as well as doing.
Fill this time with gentle activities that restore you such as being in nature, listening to music, reading, journalling, resting or anything else you find soothing and relaxing.
In addition, aim to create pauses (like the one outlined at the beginning of this article) at least a few times each day.
In our productivity-driven culture, sometimes it feels that doing more, being more, achieving more and spending more are the most important symbols of success. While we’re busy juggling the responsibilities and demands of life, we need to stop sometimes and remind ourselves that it’s often in the simplest things that we find the most contentment in life.