Simple strategies to simplify your life

Simple strategies to simplify your life

Often, life can feel complicated and overwhelming. A never ending To-Do list, family commitments, work commitments, cooking, cleaning, exercising, and more…

Phew! It never ends.  

This month, I’m on a mission to dial things back to uncover what really matters in life.

I’m going on a journey of simplification.

In this post, I’ll share eight practical strategies to help you streamline your day and find more joy in the simple moments.

We live in a world of information overload and constant distractions. It is easy to get swept up in the noise, and other people’s agendas. The more complicated and busy our lives become, often the more stressed we feel – like that little hamster on a wheel that. I’m all for getting the most out of life, but I also believe we need to stop regularly and reassess where we’re at. We need to ask ourselves if we’re living the life we want to live. Otherwise, we run the risk of getting to the end of our life and regretting the things we didn’t do, and resenting the people that prevented us from getting there. 

  1. Identify what you want

My first tip for simplifying your life is to identify what you want.

Writing goals is a great way to get clear on what you want in life, but a quick and easy starting point is to simply write a list. In the same way you write your weekly shopping list, write down your hopes and dreams for your life. Grab your journal or a blank piece of paper and do this quickly and intuitively. Don’t censor yourself, just let your thoughts flow onto paper. After ten minutes you’ll be surprised with how much you’ve captured.

You can then work through your list and write down the timeline of when you’d like to complete each dream on your Life List. I like to use 1, 3, 5 and 10 year time periods, but you can use whatever length of time works for you.

Then highlight the top three dreams you want to work on first, and you have three things you can flesh out in more detail as goals.

Once you know what you want, this will give your life focus and clarity, and help you to say ‘no’ to the things that don’t align with the direction you want to take your life.

Annie Dillard once wisely wrote:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”

2. Plan your time

My next tip for simplifying your life is planning your time. I like to spend some time on Sunday planning my week ahead. This includes reviewing my (and my family’s) calendar to see where we have to be and when, as well as reviewing my To-Do list.

I like to keep a digital calendar on my phone so I can set reminders for appointments etc. I also keep a To-Do list in the Notes section of my phone, so I can jot down anything I think of when I’m away from my desk.

I do also have a physical planner where I can break down my To-Do list by prioritising tasks. At the moment, I’m using Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Planner. I particularly like this planner as it has sections to record priorities, as well as prompts to set the intention of how you want to feel and interact with others throughout the day. There is also a reflection section which you can fill in at the end of the day to asses how your day went, and most importantly, what you can do better tomorrow.

Once I am clear on the landscape of my week, I continue to review my To-Do list daily – either the night before, or first thing in the morning to make sure I’m on track.

I addition to adding things to my To-Do list, I’m also always looking for things that I can remove to simplify my life. I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Does this really need to be done?’, ‘Can someone else do this?’, ‘Is this moving me closer to my goals?’, and ‘Does this fill my cup?’. These are all important questions to help you gain clarity on why you do the things you do every day.

3. Outer order equals inner calm

How much time do you spend each week looking for things, such as the car keys, your glasses, or that important piece of paper? My next strategy for simplifying your life is to create order in your physical space.

I personally find this strategy the most challenging. I’m always so excited or eager to move onto the next job and struggle packing things away from the previous one, so I’m definitely a work in progress when it comes to tidying my physical space. My mindset, however, is closely entwined with the state of my surrounding physical space. A cluttered physical space can contribute to a cluttered mind. For me personally, outer order equals in inner calm, so I certainly realise the benefits of keeping the space around you tidy and organised.

In my experience, tidying an entire house can feel overwhelming, so I suggest making a list of the areas in your home that need attention, and prioritising them.

Tidying sounds like such a simple job, and one I usually defer to the end of the day because I assume it doesn’t require much brain power, but since I still struggle with this task, I have realised this is not the case. Tidying and organising actually requires more focus and attention than we give it credit for. In fact, the largest part of this process involves asking questions and making decisions. For example, who does this belong to? Where does this belong? Do I need to keep this, or can I throw it out? Can this be recycled/gifted/donated/sold? This is actually an exhausting process.

A few things I have found helpful are:

  1. Setting aside dedicated time to go through things when I’m feeling freshest. Usually in the morning on a weekend when I know I have limited time before the kids need to get to their sports, but not on a weekday when we’re all rushing to get out the door to school and work.
  2. Getting the family involved. This is particularly helpful if there are things they need to put away. I usually use a bag or washing basket to gather up each of the kid’s belongings. I can then hand them the bag or basket to take down to their room and put away their items.
  3. Listen to music. I love listening to upbeat songs while I’m cleaning and tidying. It lifts my spirits and makes the task more enjoyable for everyone involved. You can also use the songs as a timer: How many items can we pick up and put away before the song ends?
  4. Do a little bit every day. Clutter is always more manageable and less likely to come back as quickly if you spend 5-15 minutes clearing the decks each day. It doesn’t need to be done all at once either – you can dedicate a few 2 minute chunks to tidying, such as putting the dishes away while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.

Before you know it, you will have created a tidy, organised environment that fosters clarity and tranquillity.

4. Streamline decision-making

Decision making is not only tiring when tidying and organising, it’s also tiring when it comes to deciding what to wear or what to eat.

Planning and making these decisions in advance can work wonders for simplifying your day.

I have a self-prescribed ‘work uniform’ which consists of a dress and tights with short or long boots. I love dresses because I don’t have to think about what top to pair with what trousers or skirt. I rotate them in my cupboard in the order I wear them, so getting dressed in the mornings is a cinch. If I’m feeling particularly organised, I’ll pull the dress out of my cupboard the night before and hang it with the tights so I can get dressed as soon as I get out of the shower. I no longer purchase clothes that need to be ironed, and thanks to the great range of fabrics available these days, it’s pretty easy to find garments that don’t require ironing.

When it comes to food prep, I don’t create a daily meal plan – I still like to leave room for spontaneity with what I eat each day. I will, however, plan the selection of meals I want to eat throughout the week when I do my weekly online grocery shop. I still feel like I have choice when I can select from at least five different meal options, but I’m not overwhelmed by choice. I can then also select meals based on how much time I have to prepare them. For example, I will slow-cook a meal if I finish work early, but might have left-overs on a night when the kids have activities.

I strongly recommend looking for any opportunity to streamline your daily decisions, and batch tasks, such doing a weekly shop (rather than going to the supermarket each day), and cooking extra portions to freeze and eat on the days you’re time poor.

5. Limit distractions

I am one of the most easily distracted people I know. It takes me a while to get focused, so if my attention is diverted by a beep, buzz or bing from unnecessary notifications, I easily lose precious work time.

I have personally turned off all notifications on my phone, and usually have my phone on silent when I’m working (which drives my family NUTS!). If I’m doing deep work, such as writing, I often put my phone in another room. My point is, we have become so attuned to distractions that I often find myself looking for them when I get stuck on a piece of work.

Distractions, especially from our devices have become their own form of procrastination. How many times have you found yourself looking at non-urgent emails when you should be doing something more pressing. I’m a big fan of scheduling time to check email, social media, etc. so you run your day, and the day (and distractions) don’t run you!

6. Create routines

Scheduling is a wonderful tool to use in any part of our lives for work, family, exercise, leisure and socialising. If it’s scheduled in our diary or on our calendar, we’re more likely to do it. 

In order to create routines that work for us, we first need to be clear on what’s important to us, and what our goals are, so don’t skip this step!

Next we can think about the structure of our week and the things we have to do, such as be at work for a specific number of hours, drop off and pick up the kids from school, as well as other family and personal commitments.

Once we have these blocks of time scheduled on our calendar, we can work out where other pockets of time exist, and how we can use them wisely. For example, I love to read, but was finding if I read before bed I’d fall asleep and not read as much as I wanted. I love rising early, and had already been doing this to exercise, so I added reading to my morning routine. I then purchased a stationary exercise bike and began to read on the bike, so got my exercise (albeit gentle) in too. My free course, Magical Mornings shares more of my tips on creating a vibrant morning routine, so check it out if you want some inspiration. You’ll be amazed where pockets of time exist once you establish a weekly routine and start looking for them!

7. Set boundaries and say “no”

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Jane Fonda, who shared some wise advice, which was: “No” is a complete sentence. For example, if someone asks you to do something, you can simply say “no” without the need for explanation, or apology. How refreshing is this?! I often feel like I spend my life explaining my motives and reasons for my actions, but it’s really not necessary, or frankly, anyone else’s business! Of course, there is a polite and kind way to deliver the “no”, especially if the person asking something of you is your boss or someone you respect or care about.

Once again, if you are clear on your values and what you want in life, you can assess each request to determine if it meets these. Don’t attend that function or assist with that request out of guilt or obligation if it doesn’t align with your priorities. You will be astounded at how much simpler life becomes (and how much time you save) by embracing the word “no” in your vocabulary.

8. Reflect and evaluate

Ensure you take some time each day to reflect on what went well and what could be improved.

Any wins should be highlighted to repeat again tomorrow, and any loses or challenges treated as lessons. I highly recommend using your journal to record these observations so you can look back on them in the months and years to come. This will help you refine your approach to simplifying your days, and you’ll be proud of the incremental progress you make.

So, there we have it – eight actionable steps you can take to simplify your day right away, which to quickly recap, include:

1. Identify what you want

2. Plan your time

3. Outer order equals inner calm

4. Streamline decision-making

5. Limit distractions

6. Create routines

7. Set boundaries and say “no”

8. Reflect and evaluate.

Which ones resonate for you?

Which one will you implement first?

I encourage you to grab your journal and write down one thing you’re going to try this week to simplify your day.

I’ll conclude with this quote from Bruce Lee:

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”