3 Basic Steps to Simplify Your Day
One of the things that I struggle with, and receive frequent emails about is feeling overwhelmed and stressed because of too much to do and not enough time.
I’ve tried different approaches from waking up early, using lists and notebooks, to free styling it and doing whatever comes up.
Everything works for a while, then either the enthusiasm wears off, or some interruption throws me off the wagon, and I get back to scrambling and reacting.
I’ve stumbled upon a few steps that are by no means new or unfamiliar. The combination, however, seems to help in keeping the day flowing with ease and getting the important stuff done.
I recommend starting with the first step and working with it for a couple of weeks, before moving on to the next step, and then the one after. If you’ve used these steps before, then by all means try the entire combo.
1- Start and end the day with simple routines
A routine is a chain of habits that we do without much thought, or resistance. We all have habits and routines that we’ve formed, either consciously or unconsciously.
One of the best things we can do is start with a very simple morning routine. It will set the tone for the day.
A morning routine will start from the time you wake up. It can be short or long, depending on how much free time you have in the morning. I’d say it would be between 45 minutes to an hour.
To keep it simple, it shouldn’t have more than five steps.
Here’s my current morning routine:
- Meditate - 20 m
- Get coffee & breakfast
- Read with coffee - 25 m
- Get ready - 15 m
Sometimes I choose to write instead of reading in the morning. The sequence also varies. But the above steps remain the same, unless I have to deal with an early morning interruption.
Take a look at how you spend your first waking hour and see how you can optimize it.
Most morning routines will include time to shower and get ready. But they tend to lack a calming or centering practice (like meditation, contemplation, or prayer). This doesn’t need to be long. You can start with giving yourself five minutes to just breathe, and get adjusted to waking up.
The other routine that’s equally important is your bedtime routine. It will help you let go of the day and ease into a restful sleep. It should have a few steps that won’t take too long.
Here is my bedtime routine:
- Brush & floss
- Neck stretches
- Clean my eye glasses
- Read till I pass out
It’s a simple enough sequence of actions that are relaxing and easy to do. The first three steps take about 20 minutes and I usually read for 20–25 minutes before I start drifting.
Do your night routine at least an hour before your bedtime so you don’t feel tired, and rush through it. You want to move at an enjoyable pace.
Just like a morning routine, look at what you do every night and see how it all fits into a nightly ritual.
I wouldn’t recommend meditating just before you fall asleep, unless you use meditation as a relaxing and sleeping aid. You can meditate earlier in the evening if your purpose is to cultivate awareness.
Also I wouldn’t recommend exercise, or stimulating activities (especially staring at a bright screen). You can instead listen to relaxing music, read, or just breathe deeply.
When it comes to routine, the most important thing is to consciously choose the few actions you’d like to start and end the day with. For each routine, experiment and modify till you find the right actions and sequence.
2- Determine the two most important work actions, and the most important passion action
There are commitments (things you feel you have to do) and there are passions (things you really would like to do). And if you’re fortunate, the two might be one and the same. In this case, choose three things that you feel are the most important things for the day.
If the two are separate, then choose two commitment actions and one passion action.
Depending on your attention stamina and energy level, start with allocating no more than an hour to each. I recommend starting with 30 minutes and building up to an hour.
No passion? If you have a lot of commitments, and no passion actions, give yourself some time to explore the underlying reasons.
Get lost in action or passion, and do the best you can. These are the main intentions and points of focus for your day.
As an example, my most important actions are finance & writing for a total of two hours a day, followed by about half an hour of music.
If you determine the most important actions ahead of time, and prioritize them as your number one priority, you’re more likely to get them done.
When your three actions are done, you can do more, play, or not do anything. You’ve done your most important stuff. Breathe into the space of getting things done.
Once you get into the groove of doing a few things with focused and intentional effort, you’ll feel more motivated, and you’ll get more done—without stress.
Also, you’ll become more aware of what’s important, and what’s just busy, or reactive action. Which brings me to the last step.
3- Reflect and prepare
One of the most calming things we can do is to have quiet and peaceful time to catch our breath and reflect on the day. This is best done after you’ve completed your work. You don’t want to leave this to the end of your day when you’re exhausted and ready to unwind.
You can do it mentally by just reviewing the day, or by writing in a journal. Celebrate your successes, and think of ways to do things differently in areas you found challenging. Then let go of stressing over what wasn’t done. Think of the payoff, and the lessons learned.
And when you’re done, take a few minutes to prepare for tomorrow by choosing your most important actions, and getting things ready. This way you’ll start the next day with your morning routine without distractions and stress.
This step won’t take more than 15–20 minutes. It’s time well spent. You’ll gain more insight into your thought process and behavioral patterns, and you’ll release any lingering anxiety.
Tension and stress have never been great motivators for effective action, and long-term fulfillment. They’re just the most familiar and reactive options. Stepping out of familiarity takes awareness and courage. Change may not be easy, but it’s always possible and within our reach.
No matter how many commitments you have, you can choose to simplify your day, and stop the madness of busyness. Routines and conscious priorities, combined with reflection and preparation can help you in making better choices with calm ease.