Simplify – Ten Steps That Can Change Your Life

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By now, 2012 is in full swing, your dance card is full and life is getting complicated. Longing for simpler days and a quieter life are but a dream.  Just the thought of trying to simplify your life and streamline the number of things you have to accomplish each day can be overwhelming.

Most of us long for simplification, but the most daunting part of creating the life we want is “where do I start?”  Many of you are probably thinking, “its too much to think about right now, I’m too busy!”   This is the Aha moment!  – identifying the need to take hold, change your life and create the life you dream of.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits has outlined ten easy things that you can do today to make your life more meaningful.  Start slowly, take on one item a day and slowly but surely, you will realize that you have made progress and it feels good!

1. Make a short list.  Create a short list of the 5 most important things in your life. What’s most important to you? What do you most value? What 5 things do you most want to do in your life? Make these your priorities and as you make room in your life to accomplish these things, you will find that you are simplifying other areas to accommodate your goals.

2. Drop 1 commitment. We all have obligations that we have committed to but don’t really fulfill us and take up valuable time such as participating on a committee, being on a team or coaching a sport, something that you do each day, each week or each month.  Pick one of these tasks and eliminate it – Today.  Make the call, write the letter and resign.  You will feel a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.  Long term, begin looking at all your commitments and if they don’t support your short list of priorities, consider eliminating those as well.

3. Purge a drawer. Pick a shelf, a drawer or a corner in your room.  Just organizing one small area can be liberating.  Make that space your base of simplicity and use it to launch a bigger area from there.  The key to purging is: 1) Empty everything from the drawer or shelf or corner into a pile. 2) From this pile, pick out only the most important things, the stuff you use all the time and love. 3) Get rid of the rest. Give it away or throw it away right now. 4) Organize the things you kept in a neat and orderly manner so they are easy to locate when needed.

4. Set limits. Set limits for the things you do regularly such as household tasks, email, etc.  Try to stay within the limits you have set for yourself.  Today – try setting limits for a few things in your life and tomorrow, try to stick with them.

5. Shorten your to-do list. Take a look at your list. If it’s longer than 10 items – simplify it. Try to find at least a few items that can be eliminated, delegated, automated, outsourced, or ignored. Shorten the list. This is a good habit to do once a week.

6. Free up time. Simplifying your life in general is a way to free up time to do the things you really want to do. It can be difficult to find the time to even think about simplifying. If that’s true for you, free up at least 30 minutes one day to think about simplifying. How can you free up 30 minutes a day?  Wake earlier, watch less TV, eat lunch at your desk, take a walk for lunch, disconnect from the internet, shut off your phone, do 1 less thing each day.

7. Clear your desk. It’s such a simple thing to do, and yet so liberating! Get started:  1) Clear everything off your desk and put it in a pile. 2) Process the pile from top to bottom, one item at a time. Do not defer decisions on any item – deal with them immediately and quickly. 3)  File each item, forward to someone else, dispose of it or put it on your to-do list or make an action file. If it’s a gadget or office supply, find a place for it in your desk drawers or get rid of it. 4)  Be sure to remove all knick knacks. Your desk should have your computer, your inbox, perhaps a notepad, and maybe a family photo. 5) Going forward, place everything in your inbox, and at least once a day, clear and organize your desk to keep it neat and the to-do’s prioritized.

8. Clear out your email inbox. This has the same psychological effect as a clear desk. Is your email inbox always full of read and unread messages? That’s because you’re delaying decisions on your emails. If you have 50 or fewer emails in your inbox, you can process them all today. If you have hundreds, organize them in a temporary folder and deal with them in batches of 20 at a time.  How to get to zero: 1) process them top to bottom, one at a time, deciding and disposing of each one immediately. 2) Your choices are to delete, archive, respond immediately (and archive or delete), forward (and archive or delete), or flag it and note it on your to-do list to respond to later (and archive). 3) Work through the emails until the inbox is empty. 4) Each time you check your email, process to empty. Liberating!

9. Move slower. We rush through the day, from one task and appointment to another, until we collapse, often exhausted at the end of the day.  Simplify your life by doing less as outlined in items 1,4 and 5 and doing them more slowly. Eat, drive, walk, shower, work – slower. Be more deliberate in everything you do, and mindful of the present. This isn’t something you’re going to master today, but you can begin the process!

10. Single-task. Instead of multi-tasking, do one thing at a time. Remove all distractions, resist any urge to check email or do some other habitual task while you’re doing the task at hand. Stick to that one task, until you’re done. It’ll make a huge difference in both your stress level and your productivity.  Try these steps and see your life become fulfilling, more satisfying and giving you the time to pursue your dreams – simplified!

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