We’d all like to make life easier, right? Who likes complicated? Not me. Life is hectic enough, as it is.
Whether or not we want it, there is an abundance of just about everything we can think of. As if that’s not enough, we’ve got information and “things” coming at us from all directions. These can be freebies, unnecessary snail mail (yes, I still get a load of it), that extra packaging when we order online (ugh!).
Decluttering—or clutter clearing has become an ongoing process. If we’ve got work deadlines, this gets put off. And if you work from home, seeing stuff lying around can raise stress levels. Ask me about that! Once upon a time I used to be a fanatic about keeping the home spotless but all that went out the window over the years.
What with mothering a growing and rather hyperactive kid and taking care of my Mom who had a chronic health issue, being perfect was not even the last thing on my mind. I followed the Dust if you Must policy, barely managing to hold it all together. My idea of happy was this: if we had nothing to complain about at the end of the day, life was good. I was also fortunate to have a Mom who constantly reminded us to be mindful through example.
Also, as technology made our lives easier, it also brought in some complications. You know what they say – every advantage has a disadvantage. And it isn’t hard to put off things for “someday”. My old friend procrastination is alive and well and still motivates me.
In my quest to enjoy life by living mindfully, I constantly ask myself: what’s my excuse?
That stimulating question taught me to simplify life and worry less through being mindful, rather than over-stress when things did not go the way I wished.
Here are fifteen mindfulness hacks that definitely made my life easier and happier–and freed up time for the things that really matter!
Yes, that’s a fancy word for doing only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is not a badge of honor. Research shows that multitasking lowers IQ, shrinks the gray matter, and lowers productivity by 40%. Let’s face it—how much of your attention can be focus when you’re doing five things at a time? You’re bound to miss a step or forget something. Of course, this is followed by feeling bad and leads to stress. None of which is welcome. To top it all, less than what you aimed for accomplished! So try doing one thing at a time. You’ll find that you’re way more efficient and enjoy the satisfaction of completing what you set out to do. I know that even when focusing on one task, there are many distractions. So prioritize and decide that you will not budge until you finish what you started. If you work at a computer, there is no dearth of apps that help you stay focused.
I use a free desktop app called Toggl to track my work time, stay focused and raise my guilt-meter when I wander around. There are apps that also block social media sites and other sites you tend to waste time on. (I think productivity apps is a topic for a whole new post.)
2. Get your day off to a good start
When the day begins well, there’s a pretty good chance that the rest of it will go well, too. If you don’t already have a morning ritual, now’s the time to pick one and practice. Here’s my routine: as soon as I wake up, I stretch for two minutes. Just some simple stuff. Then I brush my teeth, wash my face with soap (yes, good feeling), light my lamp and incense and pray for a couple of minutes (I chat with her divine self) and start making coffee. The coffee making in itself is a ritual—setting up my filter, filling it with coffee powder while I heat water to pour into it to get my fresh brew. Then I heat the milk and make my coffee—sit peacefully and enjoy it, savoring every sip. All this takes about 20 minutes. And when I am able to begin the day this way, I am in a great frame of mind and ready to tackle anything. It also helps that I’ve already have a meal plan in place – I sit for 15 minutes on Sunday to make this so I can also organize my grocery shopping accordingly.
So – point is, begin the day in a way that makes you feel good. Big difference! Maybe you’d like to meditate or go for a walk or listen to music. Whatever it is, do something that soothes you and motivates you to take on the day.
3. Minimize your paper clutter
About a couple of months ago, I went crazy looking for a particular document. And you wont believe where I finally found it, hours of searching later. We keep most of the paper stuff in a chest of drawers. Now every time a drawer is a little full, there’s a good chance of the paper getting pushed to the back—and tipping over into the cabinet. This can be accessed only when we dismantle all the drawers. Ugh! I ended up resolving to go through all our files and shred what we didn’t need. Five bags later, still shredding. What a mess!
We live in a digital world and we also have a responsibility to protect the environment. These days we can minimize the paper by opting for online payments. It is also easier to organize this without having to deal with the paper clutter. Also, paper tends to get misplaced and adds to the stress. So, only keep documents that you absolutely have to keep and digitize the rest. Demat your investments. Set up reminders for bill payments in your Google calendar and it will faithfully remind you on your phone to ensure you don’t miss a payment. You know what I mean. So many ways to deal with paper clutter.
4. Shop smart
When I say shop smart, I don’t mean look for the best deal. I mean go easy on that shopping binge usually triggered by spending way too much time browsing endlessly. I can tell you that impulse shopping is perhaps the worst – pretty much like those Happy kiddy meals that come with a toy—the minute the toy is over the threshold of your home, it is forgotten and ignored and only comes up to induce guilt. Who needs that? Why shop spur of the moment and waste money and add to your clutter? Instead, make a wish list. Revisit that list in, say, a month—and review. You will probably find you no longer feel like buying that stuff. Also, a smart move is to remove two each time you buy one. Donate!
5. Cut down your emailing
You know you don’t have to respond to every email you receive right away, right? Set yourself an email goal. Say 5 a day—depending on what you do. Limit the length of the email. When you do this, you’ll learn to attend to only the most important emails. And? Your emails will be to the point.
6. Start decluttering, a little at a time
The thought of decluttering can be intimidating. I know it paralyzes me to the point that I take no action. The problem is this: I look at the big picture and it scares me. I had this all or nothing approach. And because my goals were huge, I never seemed to accomplish them. I would stress over this. Then I learned something.
Set aside 15 minutes per day. Tackle one small area. Say, a drawer. A corner. The entryway. And focus only on that spot. No wandering, no getting distracted. I say that because that always happens to me. I’ll start with the doorway area – thinking I’ll just put away the shoes inside the shelf and straighten the living room. Before I know it, I’ve picked up a duster to dust. Then I stop at the bookshelf and…oooh, let’s not even go there! So, set that timer and go at it. And stop when it goes off. Every little helps. The journey of a 1000 miles…. You know what I mean!
7. Unplug once a week
Yes, unplug. Literally. Just one day a week. For me, that day is Monday. If you can’t imagine a whole day – try half a day. Unplugged means no TV, no computer, no radio, no iPod/iPad. No Kindle. Plan the day around this. Perhaps catch up on your reading. Cooking. Going out. Visit family/friends. Go to a park. Explore your city. Go on a picnic. Spend time away from your screens. Go call that friend and make a date now!
You’ll be amazed at how you feel after just two weeks. After the initial “withdrawal” for want of a better word—after all, it takes consistent practice to adopt a habit—you’ll find yourself enjoying yourself. You’ll love the freedom!
8. Practice saying No
If there had to be a list of ten top secrets for success, saying “no” would probably be at the top of the list. If you want to be in control of your time and be productive, you want to be choosy about what you take on and what you let go of. You’ll initially hesitate, feel bad, wonder if you’re letting the other person down. Truth is, the other person will get things done anyway. If not from you, from someone else. So, focus on your own priorities first. Charity really does begin at home. I learned this the hard way. I’d take on way too much simply because I find it hard to say no. But I’ve realized that if I always say yes, I am not respecting myself. I am making myself miserable, getting stressed. That’s not nice, is it?
9. Set up a routine for recurring tasks
There’s magic in routine. A routine is a sequence of activities that’s part of your life, that you carry out in a scheduled manner. Examples are brushing your teeth in the morning, showering, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and so on. Create a routine for recurring tasks like paying your bills, grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, and so on. When you schedule these for a certain day of the week, not only will you make sure the task is done but avoid the stress of delays.
I used to wait until the due date to pay bills and go through the stress of an iffy internet that didn’t allow me to do it and forced me to postpone it, thereby adding a hefty fine to an already annoying bill. The worst thing is that credit card bill—the late payment fees are exorbitant.
So, assign a convenient day of the week for all those regular tasks. The less time you spend thinking about it, the more you get done. This will automatically mean more time to do the things you enjoy!
10.Make your bed, etc.
I know, right? There are entire dissertations on the benefits of making your bed in the morning, besides the obvious one of going back to a neat bed. Nice feeling! The same way, make it a habit to put back things in their place after you use them.
- After you have your coffee, rinse that mug and put it away.
- If you pull out three outfits from your closet and wear one, put away the other two.
- Got a stack of books? Keep the one you are reading and put the rest away.
- Have designated areas for your bag, your keys, your shoes, your accessories, etc.
Yes, I know, like me, you wish your laundry would fold itself and put itself away—but until that happens, for now, do it. Add it to your routine. It is easier that way and you’ll find yourself doing less unscheduled maintenance. Way better to tackle it than pile it up.
11.Pay attention to your health
It is the norm to telecommute to work these days and spend a lot of time at the desk. Find time to exercise. When you are fit and lead a healthy lifestyle, you minimize your chances of lifestyle diseases. Be mindful of how long you sit, when you eat and what you eat, and when you sleep. Make it a point to get up and move for every 30 minutes you sit. Since I work from home, I also have a standing desk that lets me stand and work.
Try and build the habit of going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up early. The Chinese have a theory about an organ repair schedule where they believe that when we sleep, each organ resets itself. However, if you stay up very late, those organs don’t get a chance to refresh themselves, leading to health issues. Healthy body, healthy mind. Make that your mantra.
12.Take mindful breaks
You know how, when your PC freezes, you reboot it? Do the same for yourself. Schedule mini breaks throughout the day. Even 5-10 minutes will do. What can you do during this time?
- Stare out of the window, enjoy the breeze
- Take a quick walk
- Enjoy a cup of tea
- Pass time with a coloring page
- Do breathing exercises
- Look at motivational quotes
- Read jokes
These mini mindful breaks will keep you stress-free and help you tackle the day and your to-do list.
Did you know that even a fake smile is a big stress-buster and makes you happier? So smile more. Feel free to smile for no reason. Smile to yourself. Smile at your reflection in the mirror. An “I love you” to that reflection is great, too. Smile when you see family, friends, colleagues. It feels amazing. That old adage—the day will go the way the corners of your mouth are turned may just be true.
Read: Smiling meditation
14.Be mindful in relationships
Pause before you speak. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean and can’t un-say the words. Relationships are much better and easier when we hold our tongues. Feel free to express yourself, but also remember that not every conversation needs a wordy comeback. This way you’ll have less clutter in your relationships.
As a mindfulness practice, gratitude expands your consciousness. You can practice gratitude in many ways.
- Maintain a gratitude journal where you note 3/5 things you are grateful for every day before you go to bed or as soon as you wake up.
- Keep a Happiness jar where you drop gratitude notes
- Simply sit in a quiet place and think about what you are grateful for.
- Set a timer and write 3/5 things you are grateful for
Whatever suits you – although I must say that writing it down makes a big difference rather than just thinking it. Gratitude changes your perspective on life and opens the door to happiness. I host the Gratitude Circle blog hop on the last Thursday, every month. All are welcome to join in with your own feel-good post. (the February Gratitude Circle linky will open on 28 February. Do join me!)
The point is to take stock of those areas that seem the most chaotic and tackle them, simplify them. I promise that even if you pick one from this list of 15, you’ll feel much happier, because your life will be easier.
Can you add to this list? Tell me in the comments!