Posts Tagged time managment

How to Destress Your Life

How to Destress Your Life

how to destress your lifeI get asked for advice by a lot of readers. One of the most common is how to destress your life and live a simpler, calmer existence.

Now, I’ll admit, paring down and living a life with less stuff has helped address the root cause of my stress quite a bit. The simpler your lifestyle, the less chaos you need to worry about. Minimalism lends itself to a calm, orderly way to focus on what matters.

But, of course, there are plenty of times when I get stressed out about money, too many commitments, or social drama. Even though I’ve managed to cut way back on the typical stressors, there are times when I still have to step back and destress. So, if you’re wondering how to destress your life, here are the practical steps I take to cut out the chaos.

1. Recognize Your Stress

recognizing stress

Many people don’t know how to recognize stress or figure out when they’re feeling it. Yes, there are obvious signs of anxiety or distress, but with “normal” stressors, many people don’t even realize how much they’re feeling.

Sometimes, small stressors will eat at you. You won’t realize it until you’re completely stressed out, seeing effects on your sleep, eating habits, and happiness. This is especially common when people are very busy. You may look back on periods of your life and think, “Woah, my stress was way out of control and I didn’t even know it at the time.”

Personally, when I get stressed, I clean. Suddenly it’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m scrubbing down my kitchen and I’ll stop and realize there’s something weighing on my mind. I don’t normally grab a broom and start cleaning just because. It’s typically a sign I’m really feeling pressure and I need to figure out how to destress my life.

recognize what gives you stress

Maybe cleaning isn’t your coping mechanism. Some people eat sweets, some people run, some people sleep, others stop sleeping, while others lose themselves in a TV show or video game. Whatever your coping method is, it’s important to recognize it.

If you recognize the signs of a stressful time, it will better help you know how to destress your life by taking the right approach to mitigate the problem. From there, strategize ways to address the root cause of your distress.

Some people experience common signs of stress, while others show very minor symptoms that go unnoticed (but still ultimately take their toll. A friend of mine told me she really only notices she’s stressed when every little thing gets under her skin—an offhanded comment, traffic, minor inconveniences. Another friend grinds his teeth in his sleep.

Discover your signs of stress and learn to recognize them right away. This will help you start to plan your approach to address the stressors.

2. Cancel One Appointment

cancel one appointment to reduce your stress level

If you want to know how to destress your life, take a look at your calendar first. How packed is your agenda? How much free time do you have scheduled? Is your calendar full and your to-do list long?

The first action I take when I’m feeling stressed is to look at my schedule for the week and find something I can cancel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fun social outing with a friend, an activity I had planned, or a show I have tickets for. I write it off.

Now, a lot of people push back on this idea. There’s a lot of guilt tied up in our commitments. People are convinced they can’t possibly cancel anything.  It would be laughable how predictable humans are on this point if it weren’t for the fact their health was taking a hit by being so stressed. So, put aside your excuses, your reasons, just choose something, and cancel it.

cancel appointment to make life easier

Even if you live a minimalist lifestyle and simplify your routine as much as possible, chances are, your calendar still gets booked now and then. Be mindful of how you schedule your time.

The counterfoil to stress is time to step back, catch your breath and collect your thoughts. What helps you destress? Is it exercise? Cooking? Reading a book? Whatever your hobbies are, take that chunk of (now free) time and enjoy yourself.

Going forward, learning to say “no” is one of the most empowering actions you can take. Avoid scheduling or committing when you know it will cause you undue stress. Learn to say no to perceived obligations and let go of feeling guilty. Remember, when your schedule is less stressful and packed, your work will improve, you’ll feel happier, and you’ll get more enjoyment out of the activities remaining on your calendar.

3. Fix the Actual Problem to Destress Your Life

fix the problem to fix stress

Many people attempt to fill up a leaky bucket by adding more water instead of stopping the hole. When it comes to stress, people feel like they should pour more time, energy, and effort into the problem, rather than addressing it at the root. This is a vicious cycle, one that will run you into the ground, leaving you sick, tired, and worse off than before.

The next time you’re wondering how to destress your life, step back and ask, “Why am I stressed about this? How did I get in this situation in the first place?”

Money is a good example of this. People often stress about their finances and debt without addressing the root cause. How do you minimize your spending and figure out a way to stop living a lifestyle you can’t afford? I’ll admit, when I decided to shift into tiny space living, it was mainly out of financial necessity. I realized I simply couldn’t afford to live otherwise. Once I made the choice to address the problem, money became much less stressful. I could afford the way I was living and that was freeing.

I still push myself to address the money stress often. I’ve been on a buying freeze for the last year (buying only consumables and necessities), which has gone very well. I’m surprised at how much it’s helped me really focus on my needs and prioritize.

what bothers you, fix that

There’s not enough credence given to creatively fixing problems, either. For example, if your house is always a mess, instead of stressing out over cleaning (or not having enough time to clean), why not look into how much a housekeeper costs? Is it worth it to you to hire a housekeeper and eliminate the root cause of your stress? Another example: I hate doing laundry. I pay $15 per week for someone to do my laundry. Is it an extra expense? Yes, but it’s 100% worth it. One of the most stressful jobs on my plate is gone.

We can often fix problems simply and cheaply for good if we think about new ways to address our stress. Can you afford to outsource the problem? What could you do preemptively to avoid the problem in the future?

If you have financial issues, could you schedule time to review your budget each week or month? If you hate doing dishes, could you commit to rinsing them each night before they pile up too much? Could you schedule laundry time twice a week to avoid falling behind?

4. Set Up Rituals and Routines

setup routines to help with the chaos in life

Ritual and routine are the secret way to destress your life. When we face chaos and uncertainty, it adds to our stress. Even deciding what to wear each day, what to eat, or how to plan your workday all become additional stressors.

Minimizing your lifestyle helps to reduce these extraneous stressors immensely. For example, dressing in a sort of uniform style takes the stress out of deciding what to wear to work each day. You don’t have to eat the same food for lunch every day, but packing your lunch routinely each night will help you prepare without hassle in the morning.

When you wake up every morning, aim for a similar time. Set up a regular morning routine (especially since mornings are notoriously stressful for many people). Wake up, take a shower, make breakfast, sip coffee. Personally, I like to drink my coffee on the front porch while I figure out my plan for the day.

set up routines to help with every day stress

These rituals become anchors for us in times of chaos. The idea is, even if your life is a mess over there, you know what to expect over here because you have a ritual and a routine. It helps to create more balance.

Be sure to build in something you really love in your daily routine. Take a short walk, listen to music, check out a podcast. Whatever it is, that calms you down, build it in. Take time for those little rewards so you feel refreshed and recharged.

On the same note, don’t let your ritual or routine become an obsession. Stress often stems from fighting against the flow and trying to keep up with everything in our lives. If your routine breaks for a day, no big deal. You may forget, may not have time, or may simply want to do something else. That’s totally fine. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Staying on a routine even offers health benefits like better sleep and less anxiety. So yes, it may seem a bit boring to stick to a routine but in the long run, it will help you figure out how to destress your life and keep up with whatever life throws your way.

5. Schedule Time for Nothing

schedule nothing to make life eaiser and happier

When I had a big corporate job, there were times when I had to create pockets on my schedule to destress (and to keep my boss and coworkers from requesting my attention). I would put a webinar or another “away” note on my calendar, giving me a little uninterrupted time to finish up my projects, think creatively, and problem solve.

If your schedule is back-to-back all day, you may need to sign yourself out of your email, put an away message on your office Slack channel, or simply block out “busy” time on your calendar. These little breaks give you a chance to breathe, collect your thoughts, and will honestly enhance your performance.

schedule nothing to relax and enjoy life

If you can’t afford to take time out of your workday, be sure you’re at least taking full advantage of your breaks and lunchtime. Employers should give you time to get in a walk, eat your food away from your desk, and recharge. There’s a tendency in today’s corporate culture to see if employees can out-do each other by taking on more and more work. This tendency leads to burnout and stress.

When you’re out of the office or outside working hours, take time for yourself at home as well. Allow yourself time to do the activities that refresh you and recharge your batteries. Block out time on your calendar to simply think or if you like, meditate. No matter what you do, don’t feel guilty about it—this free time is helping you perform better at your job and life!

6. Put Away Your Phone

put away your phone and enjoy life

Phones are a real problem for many people. Try as we might, most of us can’t get rid of (or put down) our phones. There’s a constant barrage of messages, notifications, emails, and activities pulling at our attention and eating away at our time.

Unless you’re a doctor, a heart surgeon, nurse, or EMT, most telephone communications aren’t critical. Typically speaking, you can wait 20-30 minutes to return a phone call and even more time to return an email. (After all, if it was really all that urgent, wouldn’t they call?) Put down your phone and give yourself a chance to focus on what’s going on around you. The more you give yourself permission to stop being at the literal beck and call of everyone around you, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Cutting back on your phone (and internet) use is one simple minimalist habit that will make your life better. Remember, you don’t need to be there emotionally or mentally for everyone right away. It will only add to your stress.

Similarly, don’t answer work-related correspondence outside of work hours. Whenever you reply to an email or take a phone call, it sets the expectation with your boss and coworkers (or clients) you’re readily available all the time. Give it a break when you aren’t on the clock. No career, no matter how critical, should expect you to stay on-call 24 hours a day. Even doctors know they can burn out and make mistakes under stress.

put away your phone and talk to people

Recognize how social media may stress you out as well. If you want to know how to destress your life, stop comparing your life to others online. Don’t get involved in the drama we often see in online conversations. If you find yourself stressing about something someone said on social media, it’s probably time to take a break.

Stress is a natural part of life. There are many people who tell us adding more “stuff” to our lives—from lavender scented candles to white noise machines—will help us destress. There are others who encourage building in more time at the gym, more yoga lessons, or classes on stress reduction. While some of those suggestions may help in the long run, most people simply need a fast way to destress now.

Think of ways to remove stressors from your life. Spend less money on stuff you don’t need. Cut back on social obligations you don’t enjoy. Say no to commitments that rob you of your free time. Destressing your life is doable, especially if you cut back and learn to live with less.

Your turn:

  • How do you destress?
  • What do you do to make time for yourself?

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life


You’re late to work again. You forgot your niece’s birthday. You double booked yourself. You forgot three items at the grocery store…You’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule.

Here’s the deal: there are literally hundreds of decent time management tools out there to help you reclaim your time, get organized, and take back your schedule. And you know what? Not one of them will work if you don’t address the root of your busy schedule problem.

In fact, the advice you hear about time management (write a to-do list, download a scheduling app, buy a planner, set priorities) is completely WRONG if you don’t have control over your time in the first place. I mean, the tools aren’t exactly bad. In fact, many of them are quite effective (and I’ll tell you which ones are really worth it). But before you buy a time management tool, you need to address the real issue here.

The Root of the Busy Schedule: Saying Yes When You Should Say No

saying no to a busy schedule
In a given day, we all know we have 24 hours. Over an 80 year lifetime, you get 700,800 hours. That sounds like a lot of time, right?

Subtract out the time you spend sleeping. Figuring most of us get 7-8 hours ideally per night. We’re left with 16 hours, of which many people spend half at their jobs. 8 hours for work, an hour to get ready (prepare your breakfast and lunch for example), and an hour for commuting leaves you with 6 remaining hours in the day. For many people, the number is even smaller. Let’s say, 5 hours.

So, what do you do in those five remaining hours each day? If you exercise, cook dinner, watch a movie, or spend the average 2-4 hours on your phone…well, you’re left with precious little time. Becoming more productive and laser focused, is the answer, right? After all, if you only have a few hours of free time during the day, you must manage it carefully.

For many of us, myself included, the better time management solution didn’t work until I shifted my mindset. If you’re seeking a simple, minimalist lifestyle, chances are you’re trying to minimize clutter including the clutter on your schedule.

simplified life without a busy scheduleWhen I started to live more simply, my schedule underwent a big transition. To take back my schedule and simplify my calendar, I had to change my mindset and weed out the timewasters. This was long before I started using time management tools. First it was about getting into the right headspace and social practices.

We think if we had better tools, we could manage every second of our days. In reality, the answer is a little more complex. Going out and buying the latest planner, spending hours setting up a bullet journal, downloading and learning Trello or Asana, won’t help boost your productivity if you don’t address the root cause of your busy schedule. In fact, all these tools may leave you feeling overwhelmed and inclined to throw in the towel on your busy schedule (in other words, setting you right back to square one).

If you want to reclaim your time, you need to start saying no.

Getting Past the Fear of Saying No

get your time back and have a simplified schedule
For many of us, the thought of saying no grips us with fear. We don’t want to sound rude. We don’t want to miss out. Maybe we feel an obligation to our boss, our spouse, our friends, or our kids. We have a difficult time turning down the request to stay longer at the office, coach Little League, or attend a birthday party.

But realize every time you say yes, you are saying no to something else. Every time commitment you set is subtracting time from another commitment or activity.

  • Say yes to staying late at the office? You’re saying no to family time.
  • Say yes to happy hour with friends? You’re saying no to the gym.
  • Commit to helping your buddy out? You’re saying no to your personal time.

At first, this thought is jarring. Most of us don’t like choosing between, say, happy hours with friends or cooking dinner at home. But each day, and every time we commit to adding an item on our busy schedule, we’re making an either/or choice, inevitably. If you’ve never thought of saying no as a chance to reclaim your time, it’s an eye-opening realization.

If you want to take back your schedule and reclaim your time, you need to start viewing your time as a precious resource. Instead of focusing on the items you’re saying yes to, think about what you’re choosing NOT to do instead. Is it worth the extra commitment?

When we distill down our choice, not only are we tackling our busy schedule, but we’re regaining control over our time. Look at our time as a resource, we can start to figure out how we’re going to fit the necessities in and eliminate the unnecessary items. It’s not about saying “no” to your boss, your friends, or your kids, but about saying yes, to simplifying your schedule and finding time for the activities that are really important to you.

Understanding the Reason Makes it Easy to Say No

set priorities in your schedule to avoid being busy

Go through your commitments and start to separate them out into the yeses, and the noes. When you’re saying yes, what’s the flip side? What are you declining in the process?

When you change your mindset, it also helps ease the stress of saying no. You’re no longer saying no because you don’t “want” to do a task. You’re saying yes to another task instead. In fact, one of the best ways to say no easily, is to offer up a reason. If you’ve explored the yes/no question about a task, your reason becomes evident.

“I can’t stay because I’m doing something with my family.”

“I won’t be able to meet you tonight, I have an appointment at my gym.”

“My schedule’s full this week, and I can’t commit to another activity right now.”

Having the reason and rationale behind the “no” makes saying it much simpler. No guilt. Remember, your time is a resource, if there’s not enough to go around, there’s simply not enough.

Never Waste Your Precious Time

don't waste time and free up your schedule
When we’re too busy and frazzled, we often cease making practical deliberate decisions about our time. If you’ve ever felt you’re running around, or find you’re forgetting the purpose of an errand, you’re probably not deliberately managing your time resource. In fact, the more we multitask and take on too much, the higher the likelihood we’ll miss something, make a mistake, or run late for an appointment. If you want to boost your productivity and free up your busy schedule, stop packing in extra tasks.

When we narrow our focus to the activities that truly matter, we’re able to become much more efficient. It’s about eliminating the extra steps and processes that don’t make sense. For example, when I started a new job a few years ago, I was training and noticed we were running the same report over and over. I spoke up and asked why we were running a report that seemed redundant.

The woman training me stopped dead in her tracks, and said, “I have no idea. No one’s ever asked before.”

focus your life and your calendar on what matters

After an exploration, they determined the report was truly superfluous and a waste of time. There were many other tasks like that on the to do list. Whether it’s simplifying your work life and office, or deciding to take back your time at home, always explore the reasons why you’re doing something. If it doesn’t make sense, or seems unnecessary, don’t be afraid to ask!

If You Say Yes to This, What Are You Saying No To?

Eventually, it will become habitual to ask, rather than simply perform a job or do an activity. Each time you’re presented with something to complete, ask yourself:

  • If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?
  • Is this worth using my time resource?
  • Could this be done more efficiently?
  • What is the reason for this task? (the reason may simply be fun!)

Once you’ve really clarified the necessity of a task and deemed it worthy of your schedule, mindfully commit! Block out time, to dedicate solely to the task at hand. This will help you really simplify and pare down to the job in front of you. You’ll complete the task faster and more efficiently.

If you’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule, adopting this strategic approach will help you parse your schedule down to the items you really want to do. You will feel at peace when you say no, and you’ll get the items on your to do list down faster and more efficiently.

The Best Time Management Tools For You

best time managment tools for you to master a busy schedule
If you purchase a planner, adopt the Pomodoro method, or download an app like Asana, before you’ve simplified your schedule, the tool becomes more of a distraction and an excuse. That’s why it’s so important we understand our priorities first.

We may spend hours writing items down, organizing our to do lists and planning out our tasks without really achieving anything. When we’re unproductive, we place blame on the tool. It’s important to remember each tool is only as good as the user. If you’re prepared and narrow down the items you need to tackle to what’s really important, any tool is useful. If you haven’t addressed the underlying mentality that comes with a jam-packed schedule, then any tool, no matter how great, becomes a procrastination excuse.

In reality, almost every commercial tool out there is pretty useful. They’re intuitive and user-friendly. It’s really about finding a tool you love and will stick to using. As long as you’re committed, a paper planner is as good as a robust program like Trello.

Here are a few of the better time management tools I’ve found:

Paper Planner

What it is: A paper planner may seem a bit old school, but for many people they’re easy to carry and give a nice, clear overview. Typical paper planners include a calendar and a daily/weekly/monthly agenda where you block out your time. A planner may also include goal setting tools and other helpful pages.

Who it’s best for: Those who are comfortable with paper, but like structure. If you love having something tangible to refer to, then a paper planner is a great place to start. The drawbacks of a paper planner is that it’s bulky and it’s harder to erase/change/move appointments. Paper planners to check out: Panda Planner, Erin Condren LifePlanner, Franklin Covey Classic Original.

Journal

What it is: Journaling is a different style of planning—more free-form and customizable. Some journals offer prompts or grids you fill in to track a variety of habits and activities. Journals are as simple as a notebook, or much more involved.

Who it’s best for: Goal-setters, creative planners and those who prefer a visual interpretation of planning. If you’re artistic, paper and list-oriented, and plan using mind mapping, then a journal planner could be a good fit for you. Look at resources on Pinterest for bullet journals, goal-setting journals and daily journals. A few journals to check out: The Habit Journal, The Mastery Journal, The Morning Sidekick Journal, The 6-Minute Diary.

Electronic Calendar

What it is: Google Calendar is available through Gmail. MS Outlook also uses a Calendar program. These calendar programs sync with the respective email programs and are accessible from nearly any handheld device or desktop. Both calendars offer multiple calendar options, automatic scheduling, and are very user-friendly.

Who it’s best for: People on the go, who don’t like carrying paper, and those who need a relatively simple calendar planning program to manage their schedule. If you always carry your phone with you and are comfortable with an electronic calendar, then these are two very easy-to-use programs. Outlook is available as part of the Microsoft Office Suite, and Google Calendar is free for Gmail users.

The Pomodoro Technique

What it is: The Pomodoro Method or Pomodoro Technique has been around for decades. This productivity method uses time blocks (typically 25 minutes) to work on a task. You decide on a task, set a time, work for 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break when complete (and a longer break when the full task is complete).

Who it’s best for: Procrastinators and those who struggle with distraction. If you enjoy working in short bursts and feel more focused “under pressure” then the timer is a big productivity booster. You will still need a calendar or a paper to track your tasks and block out your time. The method is explained in Francesco Cirillo’s book, Pomodoro Technique; there are Pomodoro apps and online tools as well, such as: Tomato timer and Focus Booster.

List Making Apps

What it is: When it comes to list making apps there are a huge variety out there. Most list making apps offer an opportunity to manage your to-dos, sync with your calendar and set follow up reminders. Certain apps are collaborative, allowing you to share tasks and projects with a team, while others are best for a single user. While, all list making apps aren’t created equal, at the end of the day, they all do a similar task: help you manage your lists.

Who it’s best for: If you’re a list maker, you may find any of the list making apps quite helpful. From the palm of your hand you’re able to access to do lists, receive reminders and keep track of all the tasks on your plate. Many of the list making apps are great for helping you break down goals into small, manageable steps. A few list making apps to check out: Wunderlist, Todoist, Remember The Milk.

Productivity Apps/Project Management Programs

What it is: A more robust and work-friendly project management tool, these apps are great for teams. For personal use, they’re helpful for families and for big projects with a lot of moving pieces (like building a tiny house). Some users simply prefer the interface and find project management tools help them really set goals and keep track of many different parts at once.

Who it’s best for: Those who use project management software at work, have large projects to manage, or really enjoy digging in. There are plenty of comparisons online between project management programs, but two of the most popular are Trello and Asana. Both have pros and cons but are worth checking out. One word of caution with project management software—if you’re new to planning, and simply hoping to manage a busy schedule and take back your time, the software is often too robust. Remember, you don’t want to use the project management software as another excuse to procrastinate (“I’ll get a handle on my schedule as soon as I figure out how to use this software.”)

At the end of the day, the tool you use is really about finding the best fit for your lifestyle. If you prefer an app, paper, or a timer, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you stick with it and apply it to your time management.

Taking back your time and getting a handle on your busy schedule, doesn’t need to be a battle, but it does mean shifting your mindset. Remember, if you only have 24 hours in the day, you need to use them wisely. Once you decide to prioritize and take back control of your time, you’ll find yourself more relaxed.

If you want the peace that comes with a simple schedule, start saying no to the extra tasks and commitments weighing you down!

How To Organize Your Life With Trello

Trying to keep on top of things in life is sometimes daunting.  If you’re like me, I’ve tried a lot of different things over the years, but finally I have found something that works for me.  It’s called Trello and it’s a free web app and also has a really good iphone app for free too.

how to organize life and keep organized

Before I get into Trello, I wanted to share a little bit about my philosophy of use and then also a break down of other things I’ve tried over the years.

Applying a philosophy of use to productivity tools

A tool is only as good as the skill of the user.  The truth is that most tools work really well, it’s when you bring a human in the mix that things go awry.  We have a plethora of tools at our disposal, what we need to do is bring in a way of thinking on how we use them and form habits around them.

Start with your goals

know where you want to go

The biggest thing I see people failing on is not having goes.  If we don’t know where we are going, how can we figure out which direction to even go?  How can we validate that the things we do are even the right things?  What if we are doing things that are actually working against us!?

Take big goals and break them down to bite sized pieces

When you are setting out on a ambitious journey it’s very helpful to think about the first step you need to take.  If you focus too much on the entire goal it can be overwhelming, it can seem impossible, but when we break it down into smaller parts, we then realize all we have to do is this one thing today.

Understand you can only work on a few things at any given time

focus on one thing at a time

In many cases it’s better to focus on one thing at a time, tackle that head-on.  I will often work on a few things at once because there is often time when I’m waiting on someone else (email response, contractor to finish work, etc).  Have a select few things means I can work until I have to stop, then transition to work on that other thing.

Understand you’ll get to the other things later

This is something many people struggle with a lot.  I see it time and time again.  When you set your goal, you must understand that trying to do all of them at once will get you nowhere.  Like I said above, focus on 2 or 3 things at once and put the rest to the side.  This is where people falter; putting things aside for now, isn’t the same as putting them aside forever.  We need to get over the emotions that

The Tiny Life guide to using Trello to manage your life

 

Your Turn!

  • What do you use to organize your life?
  • What tricks work for you?